Thursday, January 22, 2015

Change from the Outside

I have just watched another great Charlie Rose program with seven very intelligent historians, academics, and others taking apart the Obama presidency through the lens of the State of the Union Address.  As I listened to parallels of Jefferson, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, Johnson another Presidents. Doris Kearns Goodwin, a learned presidential historian, made a point that struck home with me.  
I believe we can all agree that Washington politically is broken. We can lash the Administration, deservedly, we can slash the Congress, rightly and we can, as I have, attack the entire landscape of what we call government in our nation.  Ms Goodwin brought some real, very real, reality to me with her remark that Washington has been broken many times through our history meaning dysfunctional and impedance was the norm; voila, today.  Her point was that in those times, it was external issues and the ensuing pressures that created the environment in Washington that literally forced presidents and Congress to meld into a cohesive instrument of effective change. Wow, think about that for a minute!
The slavery and states' rights forged via the Civil War for the government to begin to Constitutionally function in the mid 19th century.  The union movements in the early 20th century led to powerful legislation; actually good powerful that had to be throttled back but still, the external force cause real work to get done in Washington.  The civil rights movement in the mid 20th century led to the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act; all forced from outside Washington. So here we are in the early 21st century and the dysfunctionality of the Administration and the Congress, there for We the People, seems incapable of doing nothing more than naming a post office. 
So looking at the landscape of our nation and our world and assuming what I have written is more right than wrong, and it is,  then what "movements" are afoot that could cause real productivity to become a reality in Washington? Is it terrorism in its many, too many, forms with strange sounding names? Is it the 21st century version of the 20th century civil right actions? For if that is it, then the entire prism of civil rights has shift broadly for now, instead of simply blacks, aberrant lifestyles of LGBT are now celebrated from the White House all of which clamoring for their equal rights under the Constitution .. is the argument and justification.  So is that the movement that will propel our nation to productive leadership.  Or perhaps it is the China aggressive growth and influence on the global economy?
My point is that I do believe Ms Kearns nailed it which turned my light of reality on.  We can whine and get angry with POTUS and Congress, and I am, but what does that accomplish?  It causes only a few more gray hairs to sprout in all truthfulness.   I personally have never been one to see movements of any sort as game changers but perhaps, for me, that has been a paradigm shift for me as my mind processes our world, my continuing angst with this President and this Congress and the chest beating of the speech earlier this week that frankly left me soured even more on this President.  That is okay for I am just one but if one times ten million of me decided to actively do something about it, the statistics for change escalate to my view of things, right?
So as our new, less new now, century unfolds, my heart aches at the possibilities across the horizon of our landscape.  There is just too much money controlling and influencing too many legislators and presidents meaning We the People have become only a sideshow to what is being done I believe. THAT angers me greatly.  I personally believe on major thing our legislators could do, but will not, is scrap the IRS systemically moving to taxing consumption instead of income and eliminating ALL LOOPHOLES. I believe that would aid in the funding of our nation but that has to be linked with a defined, measurable plan to pay down our national debt; the cancer of my grand kids generation.
So it is about movements that create the foundation for real change in the political machinery. I find that very, very interesting!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Let's See, What do We Call Them?

It was actually a bit amusing last evening as I watched this CNN Special on INSIDE ISLAM over fifteen minutes of the one hour was spent with "experts" expounding on what is the politically correct name for the Islamic terrorists such as ISIL, Al Sebeeb, Boka Harem, etc., etc. It is important, they said, that we delineate the good Muslims from the bad ones. There is still this overarching belief, as stated, that all this chaos that will only worsen ahead, is only a small remnant of the "beautiful, peace loving religion" of Islam and that the Quran does not sanction such brutality ... and yet we witness daily more and more brutal Old Testament-style killings in the name of a dead Prophet. But, it is important that we designate a politically correct term to capture all these small bands of really bad people! SARCASM INTENDED.

We are at war! Let me restate that for clarity; WE ARE AT WAR with an ideology being prosecuted by armed, barbaric men, women and children brainwashed that anything existing outside the tenth century in lifestyle needs to be annihilated from planet earth; it really is that simple to understand!

People want to defend the Islamic religion on the ground that this is a small arm of Islam. Okay, I can buy that. But goes with that purchase is my belief, therefore, that it is for the "good" Muslims to embrace the prostituting of their religion and offensively attack it at its core meaning funding, soldiers, arms, infrastructure, etc. I learned, I think, last night that our great ally, the one our POTUS bowed and kissed the hand of in the early days of his Presidency, Saudi Arabia, is the primary conspirator in funding an array of the terror groups while America still plays the game of diplomacy with these people. I think John McCain has it right; you go and kill this serpent where it lives thus keeping it away from where we live. If Saudi Arabia is the funder of the serpent, then Saudi Arabia and all their kings and monarchy needs to pay a dear price and America continue to sell weapons, aircraft, etc. is simply wrong.

We drop or run less than a thousand air sorties and pat ourselves on the back for all the great "blunting" of ISIL we are accomplishing only a day or two later to see where ISIL has moved in another vector meaning we have not killed the serpent, only watching him react as any military would on the ground which is away from where the steel the thickest. The whole "boots on the grounds" conundrum is chilling to me and when I hear it I get this sick sense in my gut which, for me, is a term of defense, let's stay away from it, let's be politically correct, let's in essence, wait and see. Well how is that strategy working out for us? Boston, New York, Paris, Nigeria, Yemen, London, Libya; shall I go on? We all KNOW there are cells operational in America as I type this lurking for a major hit for the cause of Islam which is nothing more than a mob hit for the publicity it will generate. These people are slaughtering their own so please, do not insult me by telling me or trying to justify this is a Holy War inside Islam. Couching this is a Shia versus Sunni conflict is beyond ridiculous and insulting to humanity.

I have some amazing Islamic friends throughout this world and all that I know are kind, gentle, hardworking, caring and loving and respectful. So to see this unholy conflagration of a religion I know little about nor believe in is disheartening to say the least. But I do believe it is for those that claim to be Muslim to join together to attack this extremist arm of their religion at its root instead of what seems to me to be acting like sheep waiting for the slaughter to begin. Remember, the best defense on anything is an overwhelming offense and waiting on others or paying others to fight your battle is nothing but prostitution. It is past time for Islam to right itself in it's own eyes and in the eyes of the world and launch a holy war against those infidels that would rape an organized religion.

But here is where my mind gets boggled. What is different about this strategic situation with these jihadists in 2015 and the overwhelming force thrown at the Iraqi dictator in Persian Gulf 1 when Iraq invaded Kuwait.? Why, given what we are seeing every day in degrees of worsening, would the forces of the world not rise up in a massive coalition, three or four divisions of heavy armor and cavalry and infantry and hoards of artillery and special forces and annihilate this "small" group of radicals? Why is the world allowing such blatant atrocities to continue? Have we all, the great powers of the earth, gone soft or too diplomatic? Why is America still fighting on so many noble fronts with a relatively small volunteer force instead of establishing a conscription system that would provide jobs for the high unemployment in our nation training men and women to fight for our and their nation and freedom? The list of Whys can get very long very quickly but the key Why, for me, is why are we allowing these radicalize killers to roam freely at will and we seem to cower in the shadows hoping they will just go away, please?

Sun Tzu was very clear that in war you attack with overwhelming strength, OVERWHELMING does not rhyme with these palpitations of the term "boots on the ground" when used as a political football. I hate war but war is part of peace like death is part of life; yes, I said that. How is this different nationally from December 1941 when in the next few months millions of American men lined up to fight for our nation? My greatest fear, frankly, is that America and Americans have become so un-Americanized that the thought of fighting or the right to be an American has melted into an IPod screen or a video game. THAT IS SAD! I am a patriot but I often question if a compelling call was made for all patriots to stand to, who would be on my left and right for there would be nobody in front for I would be in the front and therefore who would have my back!

In other words, is fighting for what is means to be an American different in 2015 than it was in 1941? So sloshing around in trying to come up with a politically correct name for a group of barbaric young thugs bent on destroying anything and everything we Americans stand for seems, well, wasteful and of no value. Take the fight to the enemy, wait, that is what we should call them, THE ENEMY.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A War Between Two Worlds

A great lady sent me this via FB and I took time to read this blog finding myself nodding my head in the affirmative on the elemnts the blogger makes. So, I am admittedly borrowing this blog plugging it into mine as my way to say I fully agree with each word and appreciate the clarity of thought, historical rightness and the other side of the equation; that this all gets worse before it gets better. Europe is the lynchpoint of this global conflict the blogger rightly posits. This is a worthwhile read and word to reflect upon deeply.

      A War Between Two Worlds
      by George Friedman
      The murders of cartoonists who made fun of Islam and of Jews shopping for their Sabbath meals by Islamists in Paris last week have galvanized the world. A galvanized world is always dangerous. Galvanized people can do careless things. It is in the extreme and emotion-laden moments that distance and coolness are most required. I am tempted to howl in rage. It is not my place to do so. My job is to try to dissect the event, place it in context and try to understand what has happened and why. From that, after the rage cools, plans for action can be made. Rage has its place, but actions must be taken with discipline and thought.
      I have found that in thinking about things geopolitically, I can cool my own rage and find, if not meaning, at least explanation for events such as these. As it happens, my new book will be published on Jan. 27. Titled Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, it is about the unfolding failure of the great European experiment, the European Union, and the resurgence of European nationalism. It discusses the re-emerging borderlands and flashpoints of Europe and raises the possibility that Europe's attempt to abolish conflict will fail. I mention this book because one chapter is on the Mediterranean borderland and the very old conflict between Islam and Christianity. Obviously this is a matter I have given some thought to, and I will draw on Flashpoints to begin making sense of the murderers and murdered, when I think of things in this way.
      Let me begin by quoting from that chapter:
      We've spoken of borderlands, and how they are both linked and divided. Here is a border sea, differing in many ways but sharing the basic characteristic of the borderland. Proximity separates as much as it divides. It facilitates trade, but also war. For Europe this is another frontier both familiar and profoundly alien.
      Islam invaded Europe twice from the Mediterranean — first in Iberia, the second time in southeastern Europe, as well as nibbling at Sicily and elsewhere. Christianity invaded Islam multiple times, the first time in the Crusades and in the battle to expel the Muslims from Iberia. Then it forced the Turks back from central Europe. The Christians finally crossed the Mediterranean in the 19th century, taking control of large parts of North Africa. Each of these two religions wanted to dominate the other. Each seemed close to its goal. Neither was successful. What remains true is that Islam and Christianity were obsessed with each other from the first encounter. Like Rome and Egypt they traded with each other and made war on each other.
      Christians and Muslims have been bitter enemies, battling for control of Iberia. Yet, lest we forget, they also have been allies: In the 16th century, Ottoman Turkey and Venice allied to control the Mediterranean. No single phrase can summarize the relationship between the two save perhaps this: It is rare that two religions might be so obsessed with each other and at the same time so ambivalent. This is an explosive mixture.
      Migration, Multiculturalism and Ghettoization
      The current crisis has its origins in the collapse of European hegemony over North Africa after World War II and the Europeans' need for cheap labor. As a result of the way in which they ended their imperial relations, they were bound to allow the migration of Muslims into Europe, and the permeable borders of the European Union enabled them to settle where they chose. The Muslims, for their part, did not come to join in a cultural transformation. They came for work, and money, and for the simplest reasons. The Europeans' appetite for cheap labor and the Muslims' appetite for work combined to generate a massive movement of populations.
      The matter was complicated by the fact that Europe was no longer simply Christian.
      Christianity had lost its hegemonic control over European culture over the previous centuries and had been joined, if not replaced, by a new doctrine of secularism. Secularism drew a radical distinction between public and private life, in which religion, in any traditional sense, was relegated to the private sphere with no hold over public life. There are many charms in secularism, in particular the freedom to believe what you will in private. But secularism also poses a public problem. There are those whose beliefs are so different from others' beliefs that finding common ground in the public space is impossible. And then there are those for whom the very distinction between private and public is either meaningless or unacceptable. The complex contrivances of secularism have their charm, but not everyone is charmed.
      Europe solved the problem with the weakening of Christianity that made the ancient battles between Christian factions meaningless. But they had invited in people who not only did not share the core doctrines of secularism, they rejected them. What Christianity had come to see as progress away from sectarian conflict, Muslims (and some Christians) may see as simply decadence, a weakening of faith and the loss of conviction.
      There is here a question of what we mean when we speak of things like Christianity, Islam and secularism. There are more than a billion Christians and more than a billion Muslims and uncountable secularists who mix all things. It is difficult to decide what you mean when you say any of these words and easy to claim that anyone else's meaning is (or is not) the right one. There is a built-in indeterminacy in our use of language that allows us to shift responsibility for actions in Paris away from a religion to a minor strand in a religion, or to the actions of only those who pulled the trigger. This is the universal problem of secularism, which eschews stereotyping. It leaves unclear who is to be held responsible for what. By devolving all responsibility on the individual, secularism tends to absolve nations and religions from responsibility.
      This is not necessarily wrong, but it creates a tremendous practical problem. If no one but the gunmen and their immediate supporters are responsible for the action, and all others who share their faith are guiltless, you have made a defensible moral judgment. But as a practical matter, you have paralyzed your ability to defend yourselves. It is impossible to defend against random violence and impermissible to impose collective responsibility. As Europe has been for so long, its moral complexity has posed for it a problem it cannot easily solve. Not all Muslims — not even most Muslims — are responsible for this. But all who committed these acts were Muslims claiming to speak for Muslims. One might say this is a Muslim problem and then hold the Muslims responsible for solving it. But what happens if they don't? And so the moral debate spins endlessly.
      This dilemma is compounded by Europe's hidden secret: The Europeans do not see Muslims from North Africa or Turkey as Europeans, nor do they intend to allow them to be Europeans. The European solution to their isolation is the concept of multiculturalism — on the surface a most liberal notion, and in practice, a movement for both cultural fragmentation and ghettoization. But behind this there is another problem, and it is also geopolitical. I say in Flashpoints that:
      Multiculturalism and the entire immigrant enterprise faced another challenge. Europe was crowded. Unlike the United States, it didn't have the room to incorporate millions of immigrants — certainly not on a permanent basis. Even with population numbers slowly declining, the increase in population, particularly in the more populous countries, was difficult to manage. The doctrine of multiculturalism naturally encouraged a degree of separatism. Culture implies a desire to live with your own people. Given the economic status of immigrants the world over, the inevitable exclusion that is perhaps unintentionally incorporated in multiculturalism and the desire of like to live with like, the Muslims found themselves living in extraordinarily crowded and squalid conditions. All around Paris there are high-rise apartment buildings housing and separating Muslims from the French, who live elsewhere.
      These killings have nothing to do with poverty, of course. Newly arrived immigrants are always poor. That's why they immigrate. And until they learn the language and customs of their new homes, they are always ghettoized and alien. It is the next generation that flows into the dominant culture. But the dirty secret of multiculturalism was that its consequence was to perpetuate Muslim isolation. And it was not the intention of Muslims to become Europeans, even if they could. They came to make money, not become French. The shallowness of the European postwar values system thereby becomes the horror show that occurred in Paris last week.
      The Role of Ideology
      But while the Europeans have particular issues with Islam, and have had them for more than 1,000 years, there is a more generalizable problem. Christianity has been sapped of its evangelical zeal and no longer uses the sword to kill and convert its enemies. At least parts of Islam retain that zeal. And saying that not all Muslims share this vision does not solve the problem. Enough Muslims share that fervency to endanger the lives of those they despise, and this tendency toward violence cannot be tolerated by either their Western targets or by Muslims who refuse to subscribe to a jihadist ideology. And there is no way to distinguish those who might kill from those who won't. The Muslim community might be able to make this distinction, but a 25-year-old European or American policeman cannot. And the Muslims either can't or won't police themselves. Therefore, we are left in a state of war. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called this a war on radical Islam. If only they wore uniforms or bore distinctive birthmarks, then fighting only the radical Islamists would not be a problem. But Valls' distinctions notwithstanding, the world can either accept periodic attacks, or see the entire Muslim community as a potential threat until proven otherwise. These are terrible choices, but history is filled with them. Calling for a war on radical Islamists is like calling for war on the followers of Jean-Paul Sartre. Exactly what do they look like?
      The European inability to come to terms with the reality it has created for itself in this and other matters does not preclude the realization that wars involving troops are occurring in many Muslim countries. The situation is complex, and morality is merely another weapon for proving the other guilty and oneself guiltless. The geopolitical dimensions of Islam's relationship with Europe, or India, or Thailand, or the United States, do not yield to moralizing.
      Something must be done. I don't know what needs to be done, but I suspect I know what is coming. First, if it is true that Islam is merely responding to crimes against it, those crimes are not new and certainly didn't originate in the creation of Israel, the invasion of Iraq or recent events. This has been going on far longer than that. For instance, the Assassins were a secret Islamic order to make war on individuals they saw as Muslim heretics. There is nothing new in what is going on, and it will not end if peace comes to Iraq, Muslims occupy Kashmir or Israel is destroyed. Nor is secularism about to sweep the Islamic world. The Arab Spring was a Western fantasy that the collapse of communism in 1989 was repeating itself in the Islamic world with the same results. There are certainly Muslim liberals and secularists. However, they do not control events — no single group does — and it is the events, not the theory, that shape our lives.
      Europe's sense of nation is rooted in shared history, language, ethnicity and yes, in Christianity or its heir, secularism. Europe has no concept of the nation except for these things, and Muslims share in none of them. It is difficult to imagine another outcome save for another round of ghettoization and deportation. This is repulsive to the European sensibility now, but certainly not alien to European history. Unable to distinguish radical Muslims from other Muslims, Europe will increasingly and unintentionally move in this direction.
      Paradoxically, this will be exactly what the radical Muslims want because it will strengthen their position in the Islamic world in general, and North Africa and Turkey in particular. But the alternative to not strengthening the radical Islamists is living with the threat of death if they are offended. And that is not going to be endured in Europe.
      Perhaps a magic device will be found that will enable us to read the minds of people to determine what their ideology actually is. But given the offense many in the West have taken to governments reading emails, I doubt that they would allow this, particularly a few months from now when the murders and murderers are forgotten, and Europeans will convince themselves that the security apparatus is simply trying to oppress everyone. And of course, never minimize the oppressive potential of security forces.
      The United States is different in this sense. It is an artificial regime, not a natural one. It was invented by our founders on certain principles and is open to anyone who embraces those principles. Europe's nationalism is romantic, naturalistic. It depends on bonds that stretch back through time and cannot be easily broken. But the idea of shared principles other than their own is offensive to the religious everywhere, and at this moment in history, this aversion is most commonly present among Muslims. This is a truth that must be faced.
      The Mediterranean borderland was a place of conflict well before Christianity and Islam existed. It will remain a place of conflict even if both lose their vigorous love of their own beliefs. It is an illusion to believe that conflicts rooted in geography can be abolished. It is also a mistake to be so philosophical as to disengage from the human fear of being killed at your desk for your ideas. We are entering a place that has no solutions. Such a place does have decisions, and all of the choices will be bad. What has to be done will be done, and those who refused to make choices will see themselves as more moral than those who did. There is a war, and like all wars, this one is very different from the last in the way it is prosecuted. But it is war nonetheless, and denying that is denying the obvious.

    Saturday, January 10, 2015

    A Light in a Darkening World

    On this frigid, clear morning, my mind is a blur in going through my news updates, finished reading the Bible through the book of Lamentations and have not turned on the news on TV yet knowing pretty much what I will see. The world has taken a deep, sorrowful and angry breath again this week with the barbarous acts in France; places where I have been that makes it all the more real.  Seeing Al Qaeda has claimed, unsurprising, credit for the heinous acts only causes more venom to boil in side people, rightly I believe.  I am convinced all of this portends other even more heinous acts in other nations in the days ahead for the cancer is metastasizing. In today's local newspaper, a respected columnist whom I admire greatly, Charita Goshay, has an excellent piece built around three local Muslims in Canton, OH expressing their disdain on this terrible side of Islam the world is witnessing.  I assume that is designed to make us feel better about Islam as a religion but, for me, if that is the goal then that goal has not been met.
    As has been stated over the last twenty four hours, the only way to stop fundamentalist jihadis is when people of their own kind get fed up enough to rise up and destroy the beast in their own camp. We have witnessed the brutality exacted by ISIL on the Sunnis, all Islamists, but it is like watching a herd of lambs watching other others in the flocks be slaughtered and the survivors pack up their things and move off to another feeding ground.  Change begins with a decision to change.  There is no change until there is a measurable change in behavior.  When Muslims realize that there are those claiming the same Prophet are destroying the credibility of the teachings of their Prophet and they begin a jihad to destroy those that foment and exact such chaos on people, then and only then will the world present Muslims and their faith with respect.
    But I believe that the real target of the ISILs and the Al Qaeda's and other splinter affiliates of hatemongers are only using Islam to shelter a more sinister target approach and that is anything with a  Western, free market lifestyle.  Having now read page for page the Bible from Genesis 1:1 now through Lamentations, you see clearly the level of depravity that Man can drop to, you see death and destruction by God time and again after warnings, signs, indications and still the people continued worshiping false gods, Asheroth poles, eating their own children, sacrificing their daughters, etc, etc.  It is 2015 and the reality of the journey through the Old Testament is as real today for God's People, not some other god, but the true God that created each of us and this planet in six days, is no doubt so disappointed by what His creations are doing.  
    I have many Muslim friends in this world and to even try to envision a single one of them participating or even condoning this horrendous behavior is beyond reason for they are decent, kind, caring, gentle, hard working men and women.  So all this terrible mockery of Islam is being generated by a minority, probably my infamous twenty percent, that is painting the entire Muslim world as the same colors and hues by the non-Muslim world; meaning they are "all" radicals and deserve to be eliminated." No, I do not believe that at all.  But I do believe it is for the kind, loving Muslim's of the world to assume the responsibility to gather together in one accord and establish, with teeth and fury, WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH in the name of their Prophet.  But I more strongly believe that there is but one God and His Name is God.
    While our hearts hurt and our eyes ache at the views on television, it is all fixable but not by a few bombs being dropped on isolated targets, external forces trying to hold a weak coalition together. No, it begins when those being most hurt to decide THIS STOPS NOW with fury, with action, with force and with duration until the cancer is eliminated.  Many nations will rise to assist but the initiative must be derived from within the Islamic world.  A relatively small remnant is being allowed to bully the rest of their own and now the powers of this earth and the world seems powerless to stop it in its tracks. I cannot help but believe this world has the means to shutdown this strongly if properly organized, led and enforced. If I am wrong in that sentence, God help us all!
    This is the time for leaders on this earth must come together and stop kicking cans through the desert or down the streets and choose to coalition together to eliminate the root structure of these radicalized people bent on destroying mankind and inflicting the world with Sharia law from centuries ago. It is ludicrous of allow these gangs to push the world including the US around.  I am still waiting for our Commander-in-Chief to pound the podium, show real emotion and point into the cameras and shouting THIS STOPS NOW!
    But I think I will be waiting long after he is out of office for such a retort! This is about leadership so I am looking to see leaders LEAD!

    Sunday, January 4, 2015

    Passing the Batons in Life

    I heard an amazing sermon by one of our missionaries home from Tanzania and he used the baton drop in the 1988 Seoul Olympics 4/40 relay to impress deeply into me the array of people that have direct impact and influence on my life to bring me to this LZ (landing zone) as our 2015 gets underway.  When  you really stop and think about specific people that have entered your life both for long term and short term points on the journey and drill into specifically what each brought, their baton to you, it is those crucial hand offs of life that define who we really are, right?
    At sixty-six years old, it is hard to focus on all the batons handed off to me but with each hand off is the implicit reality that I, as the recipient of the baton, has the challenge and responsibility to find ways to hand my special and unique brand of my baton to others with that same reality of believing each person you touch will then move down their pathway handing off to others. So the issue is less about the baton itself but more in the hope, belief and expectation that what you hand off is worthy of passing ahead.
    So many names bubble from my heart that have brought me to this moment of my life in just being able to type these words coming onto this screen. I hope this blog will inspire each reader to seriously think about those that have handed you their baton and exactly and specifically what it was about that person and that hand off that was so vital to the whole life journey. So I guess the core question is something like, what are the elements of my life today that define who you are and from where did that element derive from and how?
    For me, today, many that know me would say music defines me. I know beyond a shadow where that baton was given me and her son is on FB with me. Mrs Ruth Epley was a major force in my early years in creating a love for God's music. She was a taskmaster in the teaching and expectation which, if you know me, know I need that type discipline.  That love for singing was further fueled by my grammar school principal, Mrs. Wright that complimented me in the four grade telling me God would always use my voice if I would let Him.  Then later was Ms Tatum in high school and she broadened my love for music and taught me to appreciate music as an art form of expression.  In my more recent years, Ms Sharon Rohrer at my church has had major impact on my music in sharpening the technique of singing, listening to parts, dynamics, etc.  All those women at different points of my life with music as the nucleus have given me a baton of loving to sing God's praises to people that need and want the message of the song at church, in prisons and jails, assisted living locations, etc. Such a blessing for me and I believe the real blessing resides in seeing God's Hand ease, calm, soothe a troubled soul in the midst of terrible chaos in their lives. So it is I that gets the real blessing! Others touched my life musically but this quartet of women were crucial to the joy I get to savor today. I am blessed!
    My salvation is in spot number one in my life and two people share that stage of my life.  Mr. Glenn Avery and Mrs Zeddie Morton were so unbelievably crucial to me hearing, feeling and understanding the love Christ had for me at a young age.  So many times I wish I could have spent more time with them in my adult years but I know that time will be afforded in Heaven. 
    Work ethic came directly from my mother for her mantra was embodied by what she would say to me often ... " do your job so your boss likes it and he will always take care of you .."  That is not always true in operation but the concept of her mantra prepared me to always give my best and my all what whatever I did be it in work, in basketball, in singing, in life.  Work hard, stay focused and never giving up is a triad of success I believe regardless of who you are or what you aspire to be or become. IT TAKES WORK and never seek to avoid the process even when painful.  Learned all of that from my mother in eighteen years of life.
    Two men affected my life for life both of which are in Heaven now. Both were gentle, caring, encouraging, giving and made me want to be better.  Lamar Berry and Joe Cowan are two men that touched my canvass with their very special brushstrokes of values. I saw in them both men of character, great men of faith, lovers of their wives and their children in Randy, Ann and Anita.  When I think of Mr. Berry I think of basketball for he saw potential in me at a very young age in the church basketball leagues and  pushed and taught me the fundamentals of the game.  I loved him so very much.  Joe Cowan was on of the most gentle men I have ever known not realizing until years later that he was a WWII Marine that saw tough combat. Oh how I wish I could have a day with them both just to talk.  Joe taught me the love of fishing.  I want to believe, since he had two great daughters, that maybe I was that son he did not get to have; he taught me as a father would teach; through example. I am blessed!
    I love leadership and the science and the art of leading and love to study leaders.  I have had the joy of working for some great ones but would say Jerry Butcher at Goodyear and Bill Sharp as well jointly taught me so much about effective leadership. The learning not always user-friendly but the learning was invaluable.  When I think about each leader I ever had, many of them gone now, I learned something from each whether I actually liked them or not but their brushstroke on my arsenal of leading is indelible. COL Alton Barnes, the Commandant at the Alabama Military Academy which is and Officer Candidate School that I chose to invest a year of my life in seeking a commission as an armor officer. In that year I got to be close to greatness as President of my OCS class in dealing with COL Barnes. A man I still communicate with via FB and email. His touch on my life is simply undefinable but his class, his poise and his commanding presence all honed me for the years ahead.  He is simply amazing!
    Many pastors have touched my life with three that have touched me more deeply than others would be Tim Heijermans in Luxembourg, Mike Frazier, my current pastor, that is simply amazing at his preaching skills and leading of a large complex organization and thirdly would be Pastor Neal Wheeler that I have come to love and appreciate so much for his frankness to preaching God's Word.  Again, I am blessed!
    I will close this baton hand off blog with the person that knows me better than any other, has never said no to a change in our lives, is amazing as a mother and a grandmother but especially as my wife. Alicia Stone is a girl that had her pick of men but she will tell you quickly that God led us to be together for life. A true Southern lady that is caring, loving, giving, supportive, encouraging and helpful; yes, I am blessed.  Forty-four years together is a miracle in these days of our world but the journey has been worthy and I had to take this moment to thank her for her baton hand off to me.  Two children, both married to Godly spouses with five amazing grand kids; wow!
    So many friends, so many people that have crossed my path and so many gone from this earthly walk but there is that special few that have crafted a pathway to this moment.  To look forward to each day, to enjoy good health, to be surrounded by a close family, to still enjoy learning, to sing, to minister in places most people would not want to think about, to teach, to coach, to mentor to hundreds of students and with all that, knowing the best is yet to come; Yes, I am blessed!
    So my challenge; do a baton hand off inventory and think deeply about how each has changed the course of your life.  I heard a short but amazing prayer this morning which, simply, said, "God, change us.!" See, life is about change isn't it but change is manageable.   To each of you, thank you for being part of my life.  Basketball coaches, players, Goodyear and military leaders, students, prisoners, singers, preachers, teachers; see, the list becomes endless. But what an amazing list!

    Saturday, January 3, 2015

    Cool, Crisp, Warm and Nice

    Good morning.  Returned late yesterday afternoon from a long drive from Pigeon Forge, TN back here to Canton and averaged 32.8 mpg which, for me, affirmed why I love the Chrysler 300C but then, it was a really good week Alicia and I spent in that mountain location.  As a college freshman at a small college in Alabama with only a two lane state highway running through it, for enjoyment I would sit on the side of the road looking at license tags learning the counties of Alabama and relishing seeing out of state cars passing be. Yes, it was a boring existence you must admit but you make do, right?  Anyway, since that time I have enjoyed looking at auto tags and especially Alabama tags which tests my memories of the counties represented by their tag number; IE. 31 is for Etowah County, my home county in Alabama.
    We have lived out of the South for many years now but found ourselves, for the most part, back in the environ from which my wife and I both grew up in and found ourselves in a Back to the Future mentality; a great thing!   People in the South regardless if it was Bubba at the filling station in the middle of Northern Virginia, a heavily tattooed young girl registering me for the night in a small West Virginia Motel 6 with that light left on for us, SMILE, the deeply accented ladies that checked me in at Pigeon Forge or the waitresses in a few restaurants I had to really watch their lips as they  spoke their introductories about the menu in wanting to understand what was being said; people were all just warm and nice. So many examples in shoe stores, restaurants, hotels, walking the sidewalks, making candy; just nice and I found myself being renewed that some things really have not changed during my lifetime and Southern hospitality is one.
    But I must temper my previous paragraph that I also was reminded that people, generally, will reciprocate warmth and friendliness if you offer it. We have lived in the North for many years and have hoards of friends and acquaintances most of which readily fits into the previous paragraph's description of my Tennessee experience this week.  What has been renewed, thus, is that people generally are warm and nice and mix that with clear blue skies, cool, crisp air and at no time having a cloud of having to do anything at any time was, well, refreshing and welcomed. I guess you could call it a vacation for I had no laptop, watched very little news, saw some interesting things, was amazed at how Pigeon Forge has explosively changed since the years since I was last there; life does go on!
    It always feels good to be home. however.  We have a GPS now, yes, it is true, and I was fascinated by it thinking about all the connectors of technology operating so close to my steering wheel and realizing how dependent one becomes oh so quickly to its lines and sounds. WOW! 
    But we are home and I love that knowledge! We are back close to our family and I a starving to see my grandchildren.  I cannot wait to be back at my church tomorrow and hearing the Word preached powerfully, getting to sing with my Quartet to some wonderful friends and supporters and encouragers, getting to share some of our stories of this week, looking forward to life and all that entails. Yes, it is great to be home in my chair, in my bed, going to eat food prepared in my house and relishing God's blessing of safety, enjoyment and astounding beauty of His Creation in mountains, lakes, creeks, laughter, watching people be nice to other people and people they did not know.
    Yes, Alicia found this den of sin called Sweet Frog where you drew your own ice cream from this machine and then walked down what I called Pig Alley slathering all sorts of goodies as much as you want onto the mountain of ice cream you have just filled your bowl with; oink, oink, OINK but oh so good. But I was more especially just enjoying watching people of all shapes and sizes, accents, family configurations all gathered in this Frog place and seeing the smiles, the friendliness and warmth of the collective from many locations around the Frog pig sty of good ice cream. I loved getting into conversations that begn with "whur y'all frum" and the conversations that ensued.
    There was this older couple sitting near us in Cracker Barrel and I was taken aback by how much he looked like General Eisenhower in his older years.  Waiting for our food I walked to their table, saluted the elderly gentleman expressing to he and his wife by thoughts about his parallel to Eisenhower and it thrilled them both. I quickly learned he was a WWII veteran, a retired judge and he thanked me profusely for speaking with him and his wife beamed.  That was Southern warmth uncanned and I loved it.  Of course, Alicia thought I had lost my mind in doing that but that is the price for being married to me, right.  Smile!
    As I snuggle in my recliner this morning, covered by my favorite blanket as the house is quickly warming, that amazing reality of being home is my cloud cover. I made some discoveries this week which is to be more friendly, more open, more communicative to and with people I may not know but within each is a story and a conversation that will yield that magical opportunity to speak about Christ and God's Love during that brief respite on this journey of life. 
    Oh, and did I get to hear some wonderful Southern Gospel music on a local radio station out of Knoxville, TN. Talk about Pig Heaven for me!
    It was great being gone but it is immeasurably great being home even though it is still dark and not a creature is stirring, not even anything but me.  I have missed Facebook but realized how much time can be sucked into the atmosphere in investing too much time accomplishing nothing on its threads, photos, etc but still, FB for me is a wonderful platform to encourage, to express and to catch up. But some time, there is a time for FB to evaporate as is access to computer news, weather or anything that blocks the enjoyment of people in our world too often ignored or not even noticed.  People have a myriad of stories and most yearn to get to tell their stories. I got to meet, shake hands and salute many veterans over these last few days and to a person, they loved taking a few moments to share their stories of Germany, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, etc, with me. I felt the brotherhood and it was warm and cozy and I loved that as I always do.
    So it is great being back but have enjoyed the cool, crisp mountain air and the warmth and niceness of a wide variety of people. I wonder if any are in their recliners writing about some of our conversations this week. Oh well; let me check FB right quick to see!
    I felt the majesty of God in His mountains. I was amazed at the hundreds of church buses filled with young people throughout the area with their Bibles in hands, laughing and enjoying each other's company in God's name.  Wow, my Southern roots were renewed and revived and no doubt my accent has more heavily returned I would imagine but in the same breath, I cannot wait to be with the many friends I have come to love so much here in our hometown of Canton, OH in our church and the other walks of this life. 
    Just feeling blessed this morning!