Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What’s in a Name?

I think about names.  Names can be pretty powerful stuff.  Stuff that reveals to others who a person is . . . what a person is made of . . . the pure essence of understanding another.  Names are supposed to mean something about us as individuals . . . about us as families.  Names are pretty important; so, every-so-often, I think about names.

First, I guess I should explain my fascination with names.  It all began with Moses.  You know Moses . . . the guy in the Old Testament who was left by the Nile River by his mother when the Pharaoh had declared a decree against all the male babies born to the captive Israelites . . . the guy who was raised by Pharaoh’s family after Pharaoh’s daughter found him floating on the Nile River . . . the guy who flees Egypt after killing an Egyptian for beating on an Israelite . . . the guy who runs off to become a shepherd for his future father-in-law . . . and, the guy called upon by God to return to Egypt to free the Israelites—God’s people—from their bondage . . . the guy who leads the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years and never gets the opportunity to enter into the Promised Land of God despite being within spitting distance of it.  You remember Moses.

Well, Moses was not stupid.  He knew the power of names.  When he encounters God one day at a burning bush he pushes God to the limit to give him information so that the people would believe that God had actually spoken to him.  The information he wants from God is a name . . . what is God’s name?  Moses understood the power of names and how they described the essence of the person or deity.  A name gave another all the information that he or she needed to be known.  So, Moses wanted God to give him a name that he could tell the people.

The only problem is that God was smarter than Moses.  Finally God concedes to Moses and give him a name.  God tells Moses that the name that God goes by is YHWH (or YahWeh).  YHWH means “I am who I am.”  That was God’s name . . . YHWH . . . I am who I am.  Of course, this floors Moses . . . what in the world is that supposed to mean . . . I am who I am?  Unfortunately for Moses, God did not pull any punches and laid it out there for Moses . . . God is who God is . . . God can be whatever God needs to be . . . God is God.  YHWH says it all while saying nothing at all.  Moses was floored when God trumps him with God’s name.

Names have power.  Names tell us about people.  Tells us characteristics about people.  Tells us who they are.  Gives us the essence of their identity.  For example, take the name of Moses.  Moses, in Hebrew (which he was), can mean “deliver” or to “draw out”.  That was the role of Moses in the Exodus story.  Moses was the one who would deliver God’s children to the Promised Land . . . he was the one who “drew out” the people of God from their captivity.  Pretty impressive that his mother named him that without knowing what the future would hold for him.  So, names have power to describe us to others.

The other day I had business at one of the schools near Crow Agency.  Crow Agency is the main community of the Crow Reservation.  I had to go to a nearby school and do hearing rescreens for the Montana Hearing Conservation Project.  While there I was given a list of kids that I needed to test their hearing.  Fifty-eight of the last names of these children were what many would classify as being “Native”.  These names were wonderful . . . lyrical . . . beautiful in their description . . . and, revealing as they described the child and their family ancestry.  To say the least, as I went down the list and met the kids, I was in awe of the power of their names . . . actually, I was jealous.

Jealous because they had these wonderful names.  Names like: Otter Robe; Old Horn; Bad Moccasin; Elk Shoulder; Rides the Bear; Not Afraid; Old Coyote; Yellow Robe; Pretty on Top; Walks Over Ice; Pretty Weasel;  Bear Cloud; Rides the Horse; Spotted Eagle; Takes Enemy; Hugs; Old Crow; and, Little Light.  Of course, these were last names . . . for the most part their first names were pretty common.  But those last names got the imagination going and stirred up a little jealousy on my part . . . I wanted a cool last name.  A name that would explain to everyone who I am . . . that would share the essence of who I am.  Keener just doesn’t seem to quite hack it when it comes the names of these Native American kids.

Keener means “a person who is extremely eager, zealous, or enthusiastic”.  It also means a person who displays this eagerness, zeal, or enthusiasm with social inadequacy, sycophancy, or natural ability.  I am pretty sure that this does not describe me.  No one would ever vouch for me as being “eager, zealous, or enthusiastic.”  That is not me.  I am not the first to raise his hand in class . . . not the first to volunteer . . . not the first to lead an uprising.  Nope . . . no one is going to describe with those words.  But . . . and, this is a big but . . . there are a lot of folks would say that I am inadequate when it comes to social skills.  On the end of the Urban Dictionary’s definition of “keener”—which they refer to a “keener” as in the same classification as a nerd, geek, brown-noser, or smarty pants—there are many would probably agree.  This is not the way that I envision myself as a person . . . nor is it the way that I want people to think of me.  I think my name is way off base.

Yet, that is what I have to deal with.  And, over the years, people have run with it.  The greatest pun play on my last name growing up was, “Keener Weiner”.  Or the tiresome, “Who you keener than?”  That was when people would accept the fact that “Keener” was really my last name . . . others thought it was a nickname.  There is nothing cool about being named “Keener”.  As a kid there were days l longed for a different last name . . . something cool . . . something like the names of those Native American kids I met.

I guess I should be thankful that my first name is a little cooler when it comes to meaning.  “John” is a biblical name derived from Hebrew that means “the grace or mercy of the Lord.”  One description of the names states that those who are named “John” have a deep inner desire for a stable, loving family or community, and a need to work with others and to be appreciated.  That is pretty cool . . . I guess.  Yet, at the same time, “John” is a another name for a toilet . . . a crapper.  The truth is that I was named after my father.  I will admit that there are parts of me that are regular old chips off the block that was my father . . . some good, some bad . . . but, none the less indicators of who I am.  There was really nothing special about being named “John”.  I still caught all of the toilet jokes . . . still got all the “Dear John letters” . . . and, put up with the “John-boy” references.  Not quite the same as Knows Gun or bear Cloud or Little Light.
Same goes for my middle name . . . Martin.  Shoot for the first fifteen years of my life I couldn’t even spell my middle name correctly . . . kept spelling it “Martian” . . . yeah, I was a strange kid growing up.  Turns out, when looking up its meaning, that I was probably pretty close to its meaning when I couldn’t spell it right.  Martin means, in English, “warrior of Mars”.  In Spanish it means “warring”.  Same with the American meaning.  People with this name have a deep inner desire to use their abilities in leadership, and to have personal independence.  They would rather focus on large, important issues, and delegate the details.  They are creative and excellent at expressing themselves.  They are drawn to the arts, and often enjoy life immensely. Like attention.  Enjoy careers that put themselves in the limelight.  Tend to get involved in many different activities, and are sometimes reckless with both their energies and with money.

I have to admit that Martin has points where it fits.  Yet, Martin does not strike fear in people; nor does it render itself to easy interpretation.  The only “warrior from Mars” I am even aware of is Marvin the Martian from Warner Brother’s Looney Tunes cartoons.  I am not green.  I am not from outer space.  And, I am far from being a warrior.

Nothing about my name is impressive . . . John Martin Keener.  Sounds like some geeky religious person . . . hey, that is what some people truly think I am since I am a minister.  This is getting scary.  Hitting close to home.  Yet, it still is not some cool name that describes me without a whole lot of thinking.  I really want a cool Native American name that would let people know the essence of me without having to scour the Internet or pulling out the Oxford English Dictionary.  I want a name that people get a visual image that describes me.  “Keener” just does not hack it . . . geek, nerd, brown-noser, or smarty pants.

If I could choose my own name, what would it be?

Well, I imagine would say something along the lines of “Old Balding Man” . . . that is descriptive of me since I am getting old and am folicly challenged.  I have been called “Four Eyes” because I wear glasses, but a more accurate name might be “Four Eyes to the Third Power” since I wear trifocals.  Some would probably vote for the name of “Smart Ass” since I like to kid so much.  Others might cast a vote for “Spreads in the Middle” as everything seems to have gone south on my body.  I imagine that as I get older there will be those who might refer to me as “Breaking Wind”.  I guess if I asked some of my Native American friends they would probably tell me that “Silly White Man” would fit. 

That is the problem.  Names mean something.  Surprisingly . . . with dumb luck or karma . . . most of our names fit us as individuals.  When I look at the names of all of my children, the wife and I are amazed at how much the names we chose for our children fit them.  Shoot, despite not wanting to admit it, even the names that I have fit me to a certain extent . . . whether I can spell them or not.  If someone was to take the time and actually look up my name I can picture them shaking their heads, saying, “Yeah, I can see that.”  And, they should know.

My name might not be cool . . . but, it does describe me to a point.  My name might not be as powerful as other names . . . but, that is the name people know me by.  My name might not sound as cool as other names . . . but it is my name.  I have taken a lifetime to learn how to spell it and I am used to it by now.  That’s how God knows me . . . at least it is how I hope God knows me . . . and, that is good enough for me.  Oh, sure, there will be those moments when I wish I had been named something else; but in the end, I am John Martin Keener . . . “grace of God” . . . “warrior from Mars” . . . and, somewhat “eager, enthusiastic, and zealous”.  What more could I be known for?  There’s power in that name . . . at least, there will be when I find it. If it worked for Moses, it can work for me.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Stop It!

A guy goes into the doctor’s office and begins complaining about his elbow hurting whenever he bends it.  The doctor asks him to demonstrate.  The man lifts up his arm and then bends it at the elbow . . . the man screams in pain.  Then he asks the doctor what he can do to relieve the pain.  The doctor tells him, “Stop it.”

My grandmother, God rest her soul, always griped about the shows on the television.  She hated watching shows with children actors . . . she hated watching game shows . . . she hated watching sports . . . she complained all the time about the news . . . she moaned and groaned all of the time about whatever was on the television.  Nothing made her happy.  Being a precocious grandchild I suggested that she just turn it to another channel . . . or, heaven forbid, that she turn it off.  I told her to “stop it.”

In college I had a roommate who liked to go out and party really hard on Friday nights, and was always hung over the next morning . . . actually it was usually late afternoon.  But he was always hung over and complaining about the room spinning and having a head that felt like a drum being pounded.  He would moan and groan while searching for the fastest cure for a hang over . . . something he never found.  I’d tell him to “stop it” . . . stop going out and getting plastered every Friday night.  Just “stop it.”

When the kids were little they would complain about this or that hurting when they did certain things . . . the wife and I would tell them to “stop it.”  It is like when I sit at the table and stuff myself so full that I am uncomfortable and about to burst almost to the point of being sick . . . of course, I complain . . . the wife tells me to “stop it.”

“Stop it.”  Such simple advice.  Your elbow hurts when you bend it . . . don’t bend it.  Don’t like the television show you are watching . . . stop it and change it.  Don’t like getting hang overs . . . stop drinking to excess.  Overeat and feel uncomfortable . . . stop eating. 

I recently saw a short video skit in which Bob Newhart played a rather unorthodox counselor.  He charged five bucks for five minutes of counseling . . . all his counseling sessions only lasted five minutes.  In those five minutes he would promise that he could solve any problem or issue.  Of course, in the skit, he demonstrates this skill with a person seeking his help.  The woman explains her problem and he tells her to “stop it.”  Stop doing whatever it is that is causing her the issues and problems.  That is all the advice he gives . . . to “stop it.”

The man is a genius.  I wish I had thought of this when I was in the counseling field . . . stop doing whatever it is that is causing all the problems.  It is so simple . . . just “stop it.”  Think about it . . . if all of us stopped doing the things that create issues and problems we would have wonderful lives.  All we have to do is to stop . . . Had I used this approach when I was actually working in a counseling office I would have been able to see ten times the number of people I saw in a typical day.  If only I had known this secret . . .

The only problem is that we are human beings and human beings don’t do things the easy way . . . just stopping is not good enough for us . . .we want to know.  We want to know why we do the things that we do that are not good for us.  We want to know what makes us over eat . . . what makes us drink to excess . . . what makes us do stupid things that hurt us and others . . . we want to know, WHY!

Just stopping it does not work.  I have known many alcoholics who have quit drinking . . . given up the sauce . . . and, they continue to do the behaviors that hurt others and themselves.  They stopped the drinking, but didn’t stop the behavior.  They were what people refer to as being dry drunks.  The reason?  Usually because they did not deal with the issues or reasons why they drank to excess in the first place.  Unfortunately whatever it is within us human beings that has the need to know why is an important part of actually stopping . . . we’ve gotta know.  That is why just taking medicine for a mental health issue is not enough . . . it must include the opportunity to talk . . . to talk and discover the roots of whatever it that makes us want to do the things that hurt ourselves and others.  But, it would be so much easier if we could just “stop it” and be done with it once and for all.

It just doesn’t work that way.  I wish it could, but it doesn’t.  The world would be such a better place if “stop it” was all we had to do to solve all the pain and ills of the world.  War—stop it!  Injustice—stop it!  Racism, genderism, all –isms—stop it!  Bullying—stop it!  Just stop it once and for all. 

It is not that easy no matter how much Bob Newhart promises us it will be if we just stop it.  No there is a lot of hard work involved in understanding what it is that makes us do the things that we do . . . a lot of work understanding why our bodies and minds work the way they do . . . a lot of work in coming to know who we are and who others are . . . a lot of work.  As much as I like the idea of just “stopping it”, I realize that I could never minimize the anguish and pain that others have when it comes to real issues in their lives that hurt them and others.  It is not that easy . . .

I guess I should take Bob Newhart’s advice and just “stop it!”  Like the woman in the skit . . . “stop it” doesn’t work when you are you are trying to understand.  In understanding the healing begins to take place.  Healing is the goal . . . to be made whole and holy once again.  That takes work.  Just stopping doesn’t hack it.  Think about it the next time you are ready to tell someone to “stop it” . . . wouldn’t it be better to just ask, “Can I help?” 

Monday, November 10, 2014

I Knew It!

I knew it!  I knew it!  I knew it!

What did I know?  I knew that people could not be stupid without a reason . . . that there had to be a reason for there being so many stupid people in the world . . . and, I was right.  According to American scientists they may have found a virus that attacks human DNA which renders those infected by it to be less intelligent, having impaired brain activity, learning and memory.  There is now an excuse for stupid people and it is the “stupid virus”!  I always knew that people just could not be stupid on their own.  Now there is evidence . . . and, an excuse.

Researchers from John Hopkins School of Medicine and the University of Nebraska have identified traces of algal virus—known as ATCV-1—in throat swabs drawn from healthy volunteers which seem to lessen their mental capacity.  Approximately 44 percent of the volunteers were infected with the virus.    According to the study, those infected with the virus performed worse on tests.  What the researchers discovered is that those infected by the virus had lower attention spans, decreased spatial awareness, and a “statistically significant decrease in the performance on cognitive assessments of visual processing and visual motor speed.”  In other words, the virus made the infected stupid. 

Not wanting to confine their findings on purely humans the researchers decided to test it out on mice.  The researchers injected the virus into the mouths of mice and put them through a series of lab tests.  The result showed that the mice became stupid . . . the infected mice took ten percent longer to find their way out of mazes and spent twenty percent less time exploring new objects . . . just like it did on the human subjects.  According to the study, the virus seemed to impair the “learning, memory formation, and immune response to viral exposure” in the mice.  It was nice to know that the researchers were able to replicate their findings in mice to prove that their original study proved that there is an excuse for stupidity.  Seems a little backassward to me . . . almost stupid . . . I wonder if they tested themselves for the virus?

I have been waiting for this for a long, long time . . . an excuse for stupidity.  That time when I stepped on the yard rake to see whether or not it would smack in the face—and, it did . . . it wasn’t stupidity, it was a virus making me stupid.  That time I wanted to see whether or not my tongue would stick to the flag pole on a sub-freezing day in the fifth grade . . . yep, a virus making me stupid.  That time I sat on the park bench with the “wet paint” sign because I thought it was a joke . . . yep, a virus.  That time when I was in Wyoming on vacation during college with a bunch of friends and they told me to ask the cowboy if it was true that in Wyoming “men are men and sheep are scared” . . . got me stuffed into a trash can . . . yep, virus. 

Man, I could have used this when I was a kid and my father would ask me, “Are you stupid?”  I could have replied, “Nope, it is a virus!”  When a principal wanted to know why I threw the snowball in the hallway between classes . . . “Are you stupid?”  Nope, just a virus.  It is just a virus that drops my IQ by ten percent . . . that makes it difficult to think . . . difficult to remember . . . difficult to compete with mice in a maze run.  It is not stupidity . . . it is an algal virus known as ATCV-1.  Researchers at John Hopkins School of Medicine and the University of Nebraska . . . two of the most prestigious research universities in the world . . . proved it.  Everyone knows that the “N” on the University of Nebraska football team’s helmets stands for “’nowledge”.  I’m not stupid . . . I’m viral challenged.

Knowing this now, I think the federal government should screen for stupidity . . . I mean, ATCV-1 . . . at birth.  To make it a requirement so that people know from the beginning as to why they are stupid.  I also think that if it is truly a virus that is making people stupid, then there also has to be a cure.  It seems to me that there is a shot for just about every virus out there, so why not one for ATCV-1?  We could hold annual telethons to rid the United States—shoot, the world—of stupidity.  We could hold it every April 1st . . . raise millions to stomp out stupidity.  We could get someone like Jim Carrey to be the celebrity host . . . or any number of rappers out there . . . or maybe the latest and hottest politician.  We could rid the world of stupidity.

Wouldn’t it be great.  Then again, this whole thing sounds stupid to me.  Must be the virus talking.  Stupid is as stupid does . . . at least now I have an excuse. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014


“A cold wind was blowing from the north,
and it made the trees rustle like living things.”
(George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones)

“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?”
(JB Priestley)

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
(Carl Reiner)

Anticipation.  It is in the air as the National Weather Service has forecast a winter storm warning for most of Montana for the next two days as an arctic front from Canada makes its way south bring snow, ice, wind, and sub-zero temperatures to Big Sky country.  The predictions are for up to eight inches of snow with temperatures and wind chills below zero . . . it is going to be cold!  Who blames the arctic front for not wanting to head south and a warmer climate?  I just wish it would take a different route on the way to Arizona or Texas or wherever it is heading for the winter.

It is kind of apocalyptic in how people approach the first snow storm of the year . . . end of the world stuff.  There is a rush to the local grocery store to stock up on the necessary staples of survival . . . lots of milk, bread, and beer.  It seems that the consumption of these staples goes up when a winter storm is in the area.  The sales of snow shovels and snow blowers will peak and shortages will be declared . . . it is as if people forget that winter comes every year to Montana . . . every year!  They batten down the house . . . close the storm windows . . . replace the filters in the furnace . . . pull out all the quilts and comforters . . . search for their long underwear . . . and hope that they remembered to pay the utility bill.  Life as everyone knows it is about to change . . . nothing will ever be the same . . . the end is near.  The end of autumn, that is.  For some folks this is the saddest and most depressing annual transition of the year . . . from autumn to winter.

It is apocalyptic in that its coming is prophesized daily in the newspaper . . . it is stated by the talking prophets—I mean forecasters—on the radio and television . . . and, it is felt in the bones of the Mr. Smith down the street who swears by his arthritis that the cold and snow is coming.  In the prophecies that are shared they start out with caution and build to apocalyptic warnings that the end is near . . . the prophets—the forecasters—have fine-tuned the anticipation . . . the frenzy waits for the first snowflake to tip the scale and upset the balance.

I’m lousy when it comes to anticipation.  I am one of those who embrace the apocalyptic vision of the local forecasters as they preach the gloom and doom of approaching winter storms.  I am one of those who sees the worst whenever there is mention of freezing temperatures, snow, and ice in the evening forecast.  I am a winter wimp.  My winter wimp reputation is famous among family and friends . . . the source of much ribbing between November and late March.  The first word of wintry weather and my mind slides into anxiousness . . . slides into the world of winter wimpdom . . . slides into a fear of having to get out into the weather . . . the snowy, icy weather.  I’d rather go to the dentist for a root canal than brave the winter weather when it has reached it apocalyptic proportions.  

Confession is good for the soul.  I confess that I have not yet mastered driving on snow and ice at 90 miles per hour . . . at least not without six inch studs and snow chains on my tires.  I have not yet learned how to appreciate scraping my windshield and windows in a blinding snow storm only to have to turn around and do it again before I have even finished.  I have not yet learned how not to panic when a semi-truck passing by spewing snow and ice and rocks because it cannot appreciate my cautious driving at 25 miles per hour.  I have not come to appreciate my car’s tired freezing to the pavement.  I have not come to appreciate making a right-hand turn only to end up making a left-hand turn across two lanes of traffic because there is ice on the road.  I have come to appreciate seeing my breath inside my car despite having the heater set on high and blasting away . . . it is no fun having to scrape the inside of the windshield.  I have come to appreciate the windshield cracking when the warm air from the car’s heater hits the glass activating every window pit into the Etch-a-Sketch mode.  I have not come to appreciate how the wintry weather makes my heart race . . . makes my blood pressure rise . . . and, makes me grumpy.  Yeah, confession is good for the soul, but the longer I think about it the more anxious it makes me.

I guess I should be appreciative of these apocalyptic weather events.  I have learned to be more colorful in my language to describe other drivers and the weather . . . if four-letter descriptive words count.  My sign language has gotten better.  I have learned how to walk with sixteen layers of clothes encasing my body . . . I have the perfect mummy walk during the winter.

The fact is . . . that the truth about the weather, at least the weather forecast . . . is always between here and there.  It rarely comes out exactly the way that the prophets, I mean forecasters, prophesize it . . . no, it is usually better or worse.  But, it is all a matter of perspective and my perspective is lousy . . . you see an inch of snow, I see a foot.  You see wet roads, I see two-inch thick ice coating the road.  As I stated, I have embrace the apocalyptic spirit of winter . . . the end is near . . . the snow is coming.

But, I could appreciate winter if we would all just relax and enjoy it.  Instead of rushing out to get from here to there, we should do what it is intended to do . . . stay home, drink hot chocolate with Schnapps, while reading a good book or listening to some great music or watching a classic movie.  My mother always thought of winter as the season of slowing down, regrouping, and contemplating life . . . as a time of respite.  She was a wise woman.  When I have the ability to stay home and stay out of the wintry weather, I really like it.  I really do.  It is almost like being on a retreat.  It is a time to be still and know . . . know one’s self and know one’s God. 

The anticipation is in the air.  As I write this it is raining, the temperature is dropping, and the snow is just waiting for its curtain call to make its entrance.  We missed an earlier storm a few weeks ago, but this one is on track.  A forecast of eight inches of snow . . . temperatures dropping to the single digits, if not below zero . . . blustery winds definitely dipping the thermometer below the zero . . . ice . . . and, possibly near blizzard conditions.  Apocalyptic in nature.  The snow is coming!  But, I am ready.  I have the next two days off . . . I have made my run to the grocery store and gotten my beer frig restocked, the Schnapps refilled, and found my long underwear.  I have nowhere to go for two days . . . let it snow.  I just hope the snowplows have the roads cleared by the time I have to go back to work on Wednesday . . . if not, well . . . if not, I might run out of beer.  If that happens it might as well be the end of the world!

Let it snow!