Category Archives: personal

31 Years

I am connected to so many varied circles of people and it occurs to me that most of them only know that part of me that connects me to them.  My neighbors know me as the guy with the near perfect lawn (sure).  My church friends know me as the irritating guy that won’t stop asking questions.  My musician friends know me as the guy who hardly plays anymore.  My work friends know me as the guy who gets things done at work (or not 🙂 ).  My running buddies know me as the slow old man.  Drew knows me as the webmaster (see Danny’s Ride).  My kids know me as their flawed dad who loves them dearly.

But there’s one who knows me better than anyone else. She’s the one who puts up with me when I’m in a bad mood.  She tolerates my musical taste.  She listens to me whether I’m dreaming up one of my crazy schemes or overwhelmed with the problems  of life.  She laughs at my jokes (sometimes).  She knows my vulnerabilities and my hot buttons.  She not only knows I am broken but knows how broken I am, and she loves me in spite of it all.

I was moved to tears last Saturday as I read these words of Ruth Bell Graham (wife of Billy Graham) writing about her 64 years of marriage…

“We have often said that we would not choose to go back to some of the early days of our marriage. Too often, early love is a mirage built on daydreams. Love deepens with understanding, and varying viewpoints expand and challenge one another. So many things improve with age. Those who abandon ship the first time it enters a storm miss the calm beyond. And the rougher the storms weathered together, the deeper and stronger real love grows.”

Thirty one years is not nearly long enough.  I’m thinking we should give it 31 more, just to see if we are compatible.  What do you think, Sweetie?

Fifty one Years Ago

Fifty one years ago today a beautiful, young and very pregnant woman gave birth to a baby boy.  She and her husband (the boy’s father) loved the boy and cared for him like good parents do.  They gave him food and shelter and love.  They made sure that he was brought up in a Christian home.  Every Sunday they took him to church.  In fact, the boy cannot ever remember just sleeping in on a Sunday.

He grew up big and strong and one day he left and started a life of his own.  Eventually, the boy had children of his own and in the process of caring for his own children, he began to understand some of the difficulties that come with being a parent.  Now that his children are all on their own, the boy has a depth of thankfulness that he could never have experienced  as a youngster.  There’s just no way to explain those kinds of things to a little guy.  He doesn’t have the years of experience.  He only has what experience he has lived.  As much as the parents want him to learn from their experience, there are so very many limitations on that kind of understanding.  The boy learns best from his own experience… the hard way!

Now, the boy is a grandparent and more thankful than ever!  As he looks back from his 51 year old perspective, he wants to say, thank you to his parents.  Thanks for giving him life.  Thanks for taking care of him, loving him and doing your best to shape him into the person God made him to be.  He knows that he has let you down many times.  He remembers hurting you.  He wishes he could redo so many things from the past.  Alas, he understands better than ever how this show only has one performance with no rehearsals.

Despite all his regrets, the boy is happy.  He is glad to be alive and glad to be who he is.  Sure, there are many things he would like to change, but when he is honest, he realizes that there is no one else in the entire world that he would rather be.  I think that’s pretty cool.

Danny’s Ride

Most of my friends know I am a musician.  A lot of people have influenced me (musically) through the years.  None more than a band director from my high-school years, Danny Leonard.  Danny had (and still has) a music school in Charleston, SC where I grew up.  My junior year of high-school, I joined the school.  As a member of the school, I took private music lessons and was part of the concert band and the jazz dance band.  Every year we had a week long intensive music summer camp, took a tour and made a record.  What a wonderful experience!

Danny was an exacting and demanding music director.  One of my favorite memories (although it was terrifying at the time) was how he would occasionally stop the rehearsal abruptly and point to someone and ask them to sing the part of another section in the band… usually when you were playing too loudly.  So I and the rest of the trombone section would be playing our parts proudly and loudly only to have him stop the band, point and ask one of us to sing the flute part.  The flute part!  Are you kidding?  You mean those quiet little woodwinds way over on the other side of the room!?  He wanted each of us to be able to hear the whole piece; to be aware that our part wasn’t everything.  There was actually other music happening right in the same room.  What a great life-lesson!  Each part is important, but the music of the band is all the parts together.  I could tell you a hundred more stories just like this one.

Last November, Danny and I met at the new music school and caught up on more years apart than I care to admit.  I learned that in recent years Danny had not one, but two battles with cancer and beat it.  If you have ever met Danny, you know that he has a passion that just draws others in.  As he told me about his plans to make a second bike ride across America to raise awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I was hooked and ready to join him.  I offered to help by creating a web site for the trip.  I’m happy to say that they web site is live and the trip begins next week!

Please check it out and subscribe to join me in following their progress as they journey from San Diego, CA to Charleston, SC.  If you are in Charleston this Friday night (April 17th), check out the Blues Brew & BBQ send off bash.

Women!

   Isabelle Allende opened her talk with an old Jewish saying; “What is truer than truth?”  “Stories,” she answered, and began to tell some stories that stirred up a blog entry…  Listening to her stories, I found myself stirred in a way that she probably didn’t intend, but then again, she doesn’t know my story.  Isn’t that the power of a story?  Each of us hears the same story, but we hear it from our own perspective.  Stories don’t lead us all to the same thoughts or the same behavior.  They have the power to stir fires of passion that already exist.

   reading-1986.jpgIsabelle’s told stories about women throughout the world who are making a difference, or sadly, who cannot make a difference.  The 18 minute video is at the end and I hope you will give her a listen. Her stories fanned the flames of a passion that I didn’t even realize was smouldering in my heart.  She told three stories of women making a difference and women who have no voice whatsoever.  She told stories of women who were (and are) raped and beaten for no reason at all.  Shoking and saddening!  She mentioned Wangari Maathai, whose story I heard on Speaking of Faith a few weeks ago… about how she made a difference in Kenya teaching the village women to plant trees which led to changing the livelihoods and even the very climate of her home.  Inspiring!  But that is not what stirred in me.

   I am the proud father of four wonderful daughters (who are very much grown up despite the implications of  this photo).  Without ever really articulating it to myself or to them, I always wanted my daughters to be strong, independent women.  I wanted them to be able to think for themselves and to have the power to follow their passions. I recognized that they were all beautiful and smart, but they were each so unique.  They have gifts, strengths and abilities that no one else on the face of the planet has.  I knew my life was better because they were in it.  Now that I see who they are and who they are becoming, I realize that the whole world is a better place because they are in it!

   My daughters have a voice!  I want a world where their voice is heard… free of preconceived notions about what women can (or should) do.  I have every confidence that they can overcome these obstacles, but it is unnecessary friction.  The friction limits what they can accomplish with so much energy wasted just making heat.  Let’s make the world a better place for my daughters (and all daughters) to succeed.  We need them more than we know.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/isabel_allende_tells_tales_of_passion.html

Underwhelmed to Overwhelmed and Back Again

late-clock.gifI am frustrated because a project I am working on at work is behind schedule.  The causes of the “behind-ness” are many, which is part of the frustration, but not part of my topic.  Maybe it’s an old-guy thing, but I am learning to take the opportunity when I feel strong emotions to observe myself.  It is almost like having an out-of-body experience. I’m going through a circumstance and feel a strong feeling.  I’m still in the circumstance, I still feel the feeling, but at the same time, I am asking myself all kinds of questions about what’s going on.  I understand that my emotions are about what’s inside of me and not so much what’s happening around me or to me.  In an attempt to understand me better, I ask myself what is going on.  What emotion do I feel?  What are the circumstances?  What do I believe or what story do I tell myself that causes me to feel this?

It is not unusual at times to feel overwhelmed with the tasks I have to do and then at other times, I find myself waiting on others with nothing that I have to do.  With only a few tasks to keep up with, I can multitask and juggle the tasks in my memory just fine, but when I have way too many tasks, I need a list to manage things or I start to forget them. This list can be on paper or computer.  It can be many different formats like a checklist or a mindmap.  Anything will work as long as I am not depending on my pea brain to manage the list alone.

The other day, it occured to me that when I have just a few things to do, keeping a list is cumbersome.  Since I don’t really need a list, creating and managing one feels like a waste of time and a little like a crutch.jpgcrutch.  On the other hand, when I feel paralized with all I have to do, I need a list and I need it now!  It doesn’t matter if it is a crutch, just give it to me so I can start walking.

The thing that just occured to me is that the passing from the state of underwhelmed to overwhelmed is stressful!  When the number of to-do’s passes a threshold from a few to too much, I feel a different kind of stress than just having too much to do.  I need a list and it doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is only as current as the last time I needed a list.  It is like someone reaching for the crutch they need to walk now, only to find that is unassembled.  On the other hand, when the new tasks slow down and I begin to catch up on the list, I fall back into the I-do-not-need-a-list mode.  I still have the list I needed, but I feel like I can get along without it.  It is then that I find myself in a different kind of struggle.  Part of me wants to keep the list current, but that part of me always loses in this phase. It is too much work for something I can do in my head, so it fades from my awareness and gets stale again.

Understanding that the movement from one state to the other is stressful helps me because I can recognize it in the moment.  An uncontrolable feeling becomes a recognizable pattern.  When I first begin to feel overwhelmed, I can recognize the pattern and ask myself what’s going on inside, take a deep breath and then make choices that help me handle that to do list.  Not to say that it is easy, but it is possible.

Us&Them Community

Facebook
fblogo.pngI remember the day I joined Facebook.  In the beginning, FB was for students only.  The only way you could get an account was to have an email address that was in a .edu domain.  On September 26, 2006, I woke up to NPR telling me that that restriction had been lifted effective that day.  So I joined.  Although I didn’t do anything with it for a long time, I just have to try out all the new stuff.

One of the FB features that I find myself getting into are the Status Updates.  This is a one liner that is ostensibly there to tell people what you are doing or how you feel at that moment.  FB gives you a page where you get a running list of the statuses of all of your “FB friends”. It can be quite fun to just read through them and add your comments.  I find it fun and fascinating to “keep up” with details about people I know.

Another unexpected feature for me is the ability to connect with old friends.  I have many FB friends who I knew in Boone back in the early 80’s. Other FB friends are from our time when we were in Charleston.  Watching their statuses tells me about what’s going on in their lives in a way that was never possible before.  Think about it.  Before internet social networking tools like FB, the only way to “catch up” with a friend was to write them, call on the phone or visit.  All of these take a fair amount of effort.  I could never keep up with what hundreds of my friends think is important or what they are feeling at any given time.  I suppose we could use public access TV or a newspaper to publish what is going on in our lives, but that would be weird. My friend, Mark would say the transaction cost is way too high.

Enter FB.  Now by virtue of the ease with which I can post my status and knowing that my friends can see it instantly, I put things up like, “Jim Anderson is sad” or “Jim Anderson is writing a blog about FB statuses”.  In fact these are my latest statuses.  A dear FB friend asks, “why sad, Jim?” I’ll tell you…

The Election
election-2008.gifWatching the posts and statuses of my friends as the election approached, I was struck by the polarity of it all.  I have some friends who were nuts about Obama and others who were fearful of Obama.  I may be wrong, but I did not see many posts that were pro McCain… just anti-Obama.  I recently wrote about how I chose to be much more involved in the political process than ever before.  To a political junkie, it was nothing, but compared to years past, I was way more engaged and informed.

Now that the election is over, my overall feeling is sadness.  Some of you will automatically assume I am sad about the outcome of the presidential race.  You would be wrong.  I am sad because of the lack of personal awareness that I see in people and the lack of respect that people show for others who disagree with them.  I am sick because of an “us” and “them” (us&them) mentality.

One of the greatest things about our nation is the freedom that we have to express ourselves and our ability to vote for whomever we want to for whatever reason we want to.  We don’t need to hide our feelings or express them. That is a wonderful privelege.  Although it is one of the most natural behaviors in the human race, I detest the polarization of us and them.  It happens so quickly and easily.  We gather together and find our commonalities over time and others who share that join us.  Before you know it we are an “us”, which automatically means there is a “them”.  Politics is fertile ground for us&them.  I am sure it always was, but I did not realize it as much as I do now.  Add to the politics the us&thems of religion and race as in this election and it’s like freshly composted manure to grow a “healthy” crop of us&themism!

As I sorted out my own feelings about the issues and attempted to process who was the candidate that I aligned best with, I realized it was a study in futility.  Neither of these guys represented my ideals.  Some of the issues I feel strongly about were a complete wash.  It did not matter who I voted for.  As I tend to do, I used the opportunity for self examination.  What was the process showing me about myself?  Here are a few items that I feel very strongly about and which guided my vote for the highest offices (President, Governer and Senate).

  • I hate lies and inuendo.  I received so many scary messages about Barak Obama that I was almost ready to totally unsubscribe from email. They did help me come to a decision, although probably not the way that was intended.
  • Looking across the landscape of my FB friends, I was reminded that the assumption that Christians vote Republican is alive and well.  From what I have read recently and my own experience with the Emerging Church, I think that more Xians have recently abandoned that paradigm.  News flash! Many committed Xians hold liberal political views and vice-versa.  While politics can certainly be influenced by our faith, it doesn’t alway add up to the same thing in every person.
  • Fear is alive and well.  At each of the debates, I saw the candidates on both sides deflecting the questions.  Rather than telling us what they would do if elected, they told us how bad it would be if the other guy got in.  This clinched it for me.  I decided that I would not vote out of fear.

There were a few other factors that guided my decision in a positive way, but I am sleepy and the post is too long already.

Let me close with a paraphrase of the words of Jesus.  When asked what was most important, he replied, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”.  My hope and prayer is that we can all move to a place where we respect and value the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of those who disagree with us.  Who knows, it might be the beginning of something big.

Politics

election.gifKeeping in mind that the purpose of this blog is to communicate first and foremost who I am to my family, both present and future, I want to express some thoughts about the political process.  This post is not about who to vote for (or against) nor is it about any of the particular issues that this particular national election seems to turn on.  These are just my thoughts and observations:

The Game

The political process is not really about solving issues.  It is about getting into office.  Not that I doubt the sincere desire of those who are running for office.  I am sure that they truly care about the economy, the environment, human rights… it is just that right now, they are trying to get into office.  It is understandable.  If they don’t win, they don’t get to put any of their ideas into practice.  The other candidate does.  As a result, they say whatever they think will get them into office knowing that at best they won’t have full control to do what they say anyway due to the checks and balances in our system of government.

Fear

This irritates me to no end.  I hear more arguments against “the other side” from the candidates (and folks who have already decided) than reasons to vote for “us”.  These kinds of statements attempt to persuade out of fear of what will happen if the other guy gets in i.e.  “Obama is a closet Muslim”, “McCain = four more years of the same thing” etc.  They capitalize on our fear of the unknown.

I am afraid of fear.  Fear causes us to react without thinking.  It appeals to our primitive nature, which works very well for escaping danger, but sucks for making political choices.  Fear causes suspicion.  It hinders listening to one another.  Fear polarizes us.

Polarization

As a friend said in my group this morning, we are all in the same boat.  We have different ideas about how to solve real world issues, but we all have a vested interest in making the world a better place.  Broadly speaking there is no right way or wrong way.  The democrats/republicans didn’t create this mess and the democrats/republicans cannot get us out with their policies.  I am not saying that both sides are saying the same thing, nor am I saying that it doesn’t matter.  I am saying that each “side”  has something to bring to the table and if we could just learn to listen to and value the thoughts that each side presents, we would be able to live together more peaceably.

One huge obstacle to listening to one another is an irrational belief that if we hear and acknowlege someone, we are somehow sanctioning their thoughts.  I want shout out loud, that it is a lie.  The most powerful tool we have for coming together as a nation is to listen to people we do not agree with and reflect back to them what they believe so that they feel heard.  That alone can create an atmosphere in which we can present our side of the disagreement… disagreeing agreeably… or as Stephen Covey put it, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  This is one of the most powerful tools for communication and collaboration that we have… and we are afraid of it.

Disenfranchisement

This might sound strange coming from a middle aged, middle class white guy, but I feel marginalized by the lack of dialog.  I don’t know of any better system of government, but at the same time, I didn’t have a voice in determining the candidates we are voting for.  At the same time, I cannot imagine how it could be done better.  I almost erased this paragraph because I don’t have a solution.  This feeling of being marginalized or disenfranchised may be completely irrational… but it is what I feel… so it stays.  I hear lots of people saying that they aren’t happy with either choice.  I guess that could be sour grapes, but it could be a feeling that we are stuck with two candidates and neither side represents our individual desires for government very well.

Repeated History

I frequently hear the cliche, “If we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it.”  I think that statement only works in hindsight.  History is too complex to really be repeated a la Ground Hog Day.  In retrospect, we can always see patterns of repeated history that we had we recognized, it would have prevented some repeated historical problem. It’s not the same though.  It never is.

Each of us sees things differently.  If each of us has a voice, we can evaluate things along the way from a much greater perspective.  Remember the Indian tale of the blind men and the elephant.  “It’s like a rope.” “No, it is like a wall.”  “You are both wrong.  It is like a tree trunk.” Most of the time, it is not about right and wrong.  Most of the time, it is truly about perspective.

Fun

Doesn’t Tina Fey make a great Sarah Palin?  I’m kicking myself this morning because I forgot to record SNL last night.  DOH!

World Views

While I think that as a country we need to take the right  actions for the right reasons, I also believe it matters very much what the rest of the world thinks of us.  As Thomas Friedman describes in The World is Flat, we are living in a global economy.  Whether we like it or not, we are no longer an isolated world power that gets to dictate to the rest of the world how things are going to be.  I believe that protectionist measures that are founded on a desire to keep things the way they have always been are dangerous.  We are not repeating history.  The rules are changing and we need to stay in the game.  The stakes are too high for us to shut off from the rest of the world, or worse engage with the world solely through acts of war.  We  must pursue peace… not peace at any cost, but neither peace on our terms alone.  We must negotiate from a position of strength, but one of compassion by choice.

Who am I voting for?  Wouldn’t you like to know!


Update – Do we really learn from history?  Check out the facts below…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs3SfNANtig]

Blog Action Day – Poverty

boots.gif I promised the folks at Blog Action Central that I would write about Poverty today.  The idea is invite bloggers to all write on an important topic in order to influence the conversations that we have today with family, friends, co-workers…  Most of the time we talk about the weather, politics, the economy and other things outside our circle of influence.  Today, let’s talk about poverty.

At the beginning of this year, I set some goals for myself, one of which was to

Move my spiritual journey from one of “learning about” to intentionally expressing God’s love in a tangible way to people who are in need. (hurting (everyone), poor, hungry, homeless…)

Even as I read that statement, I am stirred.  What does it mean when your own words stir your heart 10 months later? One of the biggest lessons of my year is around humility in my beliefs.  I want to hold my faith with open hands up to God and declare, “I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t believe the same things I believed 30 years ago.  I don’t even believe the same things I believed 10 years ago.  I am constantly changing, learning, adapting and I won’t believe the same things in 10 years that I believe now.  With that in mind, I pray God to help me have a humble heart that values the thoughts, beliefs and feelings of others.  Help me to see your thumbprint in everyone.”

This year has been one in which I am intentionally moving my focus from my intellectual beliefs to actually doing more of what God is calling me to.  Moving from talk to action.  you might say that I am adding more orthopraxy to my orthodoxy.  With that goal, the Justice Project has truly captured my heart; “a yearly comprehensive service initiative, where we invite a diverse collection of churches, organizations, & individuals to help us make a change for good in an inner-city community through selfless service, radical hospitality, & a message of God’s love & ability to transform the human heart.” I can hardly tell you how excited I am about what is going on here.  I am such a small part of it with such a huge desire to be more involved.  Folks from all over Charlotte have joined together to help folks in just one inner city neighborhood.  It’s a grass roots organization with little funding and the intention to remain that way.  It is relational from the ground up.  The focus is on building relationships with the community in Villa Heights as we serve them and partner with them to promote positive change in their community.  It’s about building relationships within the helper groups as well as those who have needs.

When I think about poverty (like any other problem), my troubleshooting skills take over. Let’s solve this problem once an for all!   I begin to consider the causes of poverty, but to find a solution, not just to blame.  The problem overwhelms me.  Part of me would like to explain away why it cannot be solved then walk away having appeased my own conscience.  H. L. Menken said, “There is always an easy solution to every problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.”  There is no easy answer… and I fear that many “easy answers” exacerbate the problem.  I could be oversimplifying things by saying so, but I believe that the solution begins in Jesus’ answer when someone asked him what the greatest commandment was.  He replied that nothing is more important than loving God and loving our neighbor.  Oversimplified or not, that’s where I am focusing my efforts.

Anyone want to join me in Villa Heights this Saturday?

The Day of the Office Chair

cimg4427.gifIt was just another day in my geeky programmer life.  I got up and rode my bicycle to work.  At that time, my work location was such that I could ride the 4 miles to work without riding on any streets.  When I arrived, my boss asked me if I wanted a nice office chair for free.  I must have had a look of bewilderment on my face because he began to explain.  “You see, I got this nice chair a while back, but my wife doesn’t like it.  You can have it if you want it.  It’s in the trunk of my car.”  I said, “sure.”  So we went to his car and drove out to my house to drop off the chair.  I am sitting in the chair as I type this.

Along the way, we chatted about this and that… nothing important.  When arrived back at the office, the guards in the lobby were all looking at a small TV screen and talking about something that had captured their attention.  They said a plane had flown into a buildng in NY.  I dismissed it thinking that was a strange accident and how silly it was that folks got so engrossed in something just because it was unusual.  It didn’t have anything to do with me, for sure.  As we entered the workplace, I noticed that folks were huddled in little groups.  Someone had a little black and white TV and several were gathered around it.  By this time they were saying that a second plane had flown into a building.  My first thought was that this was no accident. My interest was piqued.

I tried to find something on the internet news sites, but they were all jammed up and unresponsive.  So I thought I would try one of the newsgroups since most people didn’t know what they were, I expected them to be accessible.  They were accessible and a flurry of activity.  I began reading the news and opinions about what happened, whether it was really an attack and by whom.  I was taking everything with a huge grain of salt because of the nature of an unmoderated newsgroup and then I saw a post from someone saying that the pentagon had been hit.  I thought to myself that the alarmist crazys had taken over the newsgroup and decided that it wasn’t reliable enough to be worth reading.  I returned to my work.

Somehow, I got news that they Pentagon part was true and that it was definitely some sort of attack, but I continued to emmerse myself in my work.  Jeanie was was sleeping in. She had been up the wee hours of the morning delivering newspapers and had returned to bed.  She woke to the local talk radio station going on about the events assuming that all of its readers understood the context.  She was completely in the dark about the events.  She called me to find out what in the world was going on. An hour or two later, I got an email telling me to go home due to the events of the morning.  I had an appointment to give blood that day and my first thought was that I should keep that appointment because they were going to need blood, so I went to the collection location, but it was deserted.  So I went home.

I remember feeling shell shocked.  It wasn’t long before I had seen enough of the news on TV.  The repeated images and the incessant talk about the same thing over and over was getting to me.  I needed a diversion.  A few weeks earlier, I had started a project to create two large natural areas in the front yard.  So I methodically walked to the garage, picked up my tools and started mindlessly raking and digging.

Seven years have passed.  The natural area is part of the yard now and looks pretty nice, I think.  It was several months before I gave blood again.  There was such an outpouring of donations from folks who wanted to be a part that  I thought (correctly) the Red Cross wouldn’t be able to handle it all.  After donations started to drop off again, I began donating again regularly (and I still do). The office chair still holds my butt up off the floor.  The world is upside down from the repercussions of the events of that day, September 11, 2001.  My heart still aches for those who lost loved ones.  I still love hearing the stories of what folks remember about that day.

Thanks to my “Dull Geek ” friend.   His story prompted me to write my story.