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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Project

The work begins . . . this evening the youngest son and I will begin digging up lawn in the backyard to create an "evening recreational area" for the family and guests.  The north end of our backyard has primarily been a haphazard garden of sorts--the first year it was a vegetable garden, then last year a wild flower garden.  What it really was was a cultivation area for exotic weeds, and probably several noxious weeds that are illegal in the state of Montana.  After visiting a church member's house and having a nice evening around their newly installed fire pit (a tractor tire rim buried in the ground) I was inspired to convert the north forty into a "evening recreational area" complete with a fire pit.  The work begins this evening.

My original idea was to keep it simple.  I was going to dig a hole in the yard, drop a tractor tire rim in the whole, and call it done.  When I explained my plan to the wife I got one of those looks that let me know that this was not acceptable and would never make Martha Stewart happy.  Well, after nearly thirty years of marriage I have learned one thing and that is: If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!  So, to keep the wife and Martha Stewart happy that plan was scuttled for a more elaborate and detailed plan.

This evening we begin with the removal of unnecessary lawn.  To broaden the garden area to make it an "evening recreational area" we are going to have to remove a four foot by twenty foot patch of grass and redistribute throughout the rest of the backyard.  Ideally a bulldozer would be the best tool for the job, but having no funding to rent the monster tool I will be relying upon the skills of the youngest son and myself using shovels.  Having never done this before I am sure that it will work like clockwork--NOT!  Anything and everything that could go wrong will probably go wrong--it is the Keener Way!

After enlarging the garden area the next step will be in "weeding" the ground.  One thing that I will state about Montana is that it has some of the toughest weeds in the world.  I have sprayed, pulled, chopped, and cussed out weeds in that garden plot for the past two summers and the weeds always win.  The goal is to sterilize the ground this time around with Preen.  According to Preen's propaganda using their product will keep weeds and wayward grass from consuming whole areas of dirt.  My experience with any of these products is that they actually are like fertilizer and makes things grow even faster.  I am holding them to their "money back" promise, but to take them up on their challenge I am going to till the ground after applying the stuff . . . then I am going to apply it again.  It will probably kill all the unwanted plants while at the same time making "evening recreation area" uninhabitable without face masks!

 Next will be the black canvas garden tarp.  This will be spread across all the exposed, weeded ground.  This should be an adventure!  Even though the rock/gravel will probably hold it down, I imagine that I will have to buy some stakes or pins to secure it to the ground.  I have no faith that the rocks will hold it down effectively, or that one of the dogs might find it an attractive pull toy.  If I had my way I would just throw the rock/gravel right onto the ground.  It would probably work except that I would end up adding rock/gravel to the area each year as we pound it into the ground.  In a couple of years I would have several tons of rocks/gravel, plus they would be all over the yard.  Rocks do not work well with lawn mowers!

The rock/gravel--I prefer river rock--will be added once the garden tarp is secure.  Rock/gravel is cheap in Montana as it a plentiful resource here.  There is rock and gravel every where in Montana--just go hiking in the mountains and you will understand what I am saying.  This will be quite a task as there is no way to get the gravel into the back yard without tearing down fences.  So the rock/gravel will be placed at the end of the driveway and we have to haul it back in a wheel barrel or in buckets.  My body groans at the thought of it all, but it is the finishing touch to the actual "evening recreation area".  I don't understand why there is no such thing as "plastic rock/gravel"--I guess when you are surrounded by the stuff who needs the artificial stuff?

Since my tractor tire rim fire ring was voted down, the wife purchased a fire pit that looks a lot like the one above.  It is nice, but it came unassembled.  Unassembled and I do not get along well.  It is not pleasant when I have to assemble things that arrive in a box and have to be put together in order to look like the picture above.  Assembling things is the one activity in which I come perilously close to losing my ordination.  It is not a pretty picture--lots of what I call biblical proportions of lamenting and swearing.  Usually the family leaves whenever I have to assemble something, but this time I think I will share the "joy".

Also to be assembled will be the log furniture that the wife purchased for the "evening recreational area".  I think she purchased a two-seater with a table between the seats and two chairs.  My original intention was lawn chairs or maybe an abandoned couch--but, again, the wife gave me one of those looks and a long pause.  So . . . I will be lamenting and assembling furniture for hours on end, but the wife will be happy.  She will remind me, "Oh, but wait until you see it--it will be wonderful!"

I imagine that it will be beautiful . . . and, if it is not no body better say differently if they want to live when the "evening recreation area" is completed.  Thus it is that I have begun the work on the "evening recreation area" that originally was just going to be a fire ring in the backyard.  Shortly the work will be done--for better or worse--and the family and friends will start gathering for some fun under the stars.  I'm looking forward to that day when I can sit back in the glow of the fire, enjoy the atmosphere, and have myself nice cold beer while swatting the mosquitoes and other insects of the night.  Nothing beats an evening around the ol' campfire--even if it has been relegated to being an "evening recreation area"!

Friday, June 24, 2011

What Others Think

On Facebook there is an activity that subscribers can play called "21 Questions".  Basically the idea is that people/friends can answer questions about the people/friends they know on Facebook.  Like any of the other multitude of games and activities that Facebook offers to fill wall space on their site, I have blocked this particular activity from appearing on my wall.  Despite my blocking of this activity from my wall it has not stopped people from answering question about me--or what they think they know about me.  I was shocked the other day when I clicked on that particular app and discovered that there were 57 questions answered about what people thought they knew about me.  It was both humbling and embarrassing.  And, there was also some misinformation about me.  So, I am here today to clear up some of the myths and fallacies about who I am.

First, appearances.  I want to thank all of those who answered questions about my cleanliness and how I looked.  Yes, I do take daily showers--brush my teeth several times a day--use deodorant--comb my hair (what hair I have left)--put on clean clothes daily--and attempt to dress nicely.  I especially appreciate those who say that I dress nicely.  I agree with those who stated that I would not look good in a pair of tights or a mini skirt, but I appreciate those who do.  For those who thought I would look good in a mini skirt . . . well, you might want to check your eye glasses.  For the person who stated that I have eaten a booger I can only say that if I did it was not on purpose--I'm not into green, slimy stuff as a food source.  And finally, I do not sing in the shower!  If you have ever heard me sing you would know why--there are laws against noise pollution.

Perceptions often can be wrong.  Folks need to understand that there is a fine line between intelligence--or the appearance of intelligence--and bull.  Apparently there are many of you out there who do not know the difference.  It seems that there are those of you out there who seem to think that I am fairly smart . . . remember, perceptions can be deceiving.  I do not know what I scored on my SAT test, or even if they had the SAT test when I went to high school in the dark ages, but if you want to think that I scored over 1500 on it . . . well, more power to you.  As for the individual who thought that I was smarter than him or her--don't believe it!  Don't let all my intellectual razzle and dazzle fool you, it more the baffle of bull that has swayed you.  The fifth graders on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader kick my butt--the questions they anser were the ones that I answered on the SAT to score higher than 1500!

Being an introvert I figured people would have a hard defining how well I relate to others.  For the most part I try to leave people alone and let them live--it takes me a little time to warm up to people.  Yeah, I know, ministers are suppose to be "people" persons, but there is always one who throws the demographics off--I am that one!  It's not that I don't like people, it just takes me a while to warm up to them.  Once I get to know them things are different.  My relationships with the opposite sex are good--I like females and yes I have kissed a girl (though I have never kissed a guy--thanks to whoever answered that one).  I get along with females quite well and presently work in an office where all the rest of the 12 employees are female.  In my last assignment at work I was the only male in the project dealing with domestic violence.  They once sent me to a conference in which I was the only male out of the 250 attendees.  Making that situation worse was the fact that the conference was being held in a convention center where there was a breast feeding conference with over 500 women in attendance.  Talk about being a boob out of place!  Yeah, I like females--it is kind of a matter of life and death when you are the only male in a group of 750!

In all relationships there is tension, stress, and moments of great disagreement--that's what makes it a relationship!  I have had those moments in some of the relationships I have had over the years.  I was disappointed to learn that there were those of you out there who thought I had never been in a fist fight.  The truth is I have been in two fist fights--one out of ignorance and the other out of anger.  My fight record, depending on who you ask, is either one win and one split decision--OR--one win, one loss.  My first fight was with the school bus bully who tormented me to no end.  Billy Zapor was a big, mean kid who loved to pick on little, skinny me.  Finally I had had enough and told him to knock it off or else we'd settle the matter once we got off the bus.  He just laughed.  I knew that my only chance against the brute was to get the first punch in, which I did--right in his mouth full of braces.  This only encouraged him even more to pound me into a pulp.  I hurt for days after that beating, but surprisingly the bully declared it a draw.  Who was I to argue with him.  After that no body wanted to mess with me because I was that crazy kid who took on Billy Zapor!  The second fight was with a friend who finally had it coming--two quick punches and it was over.  Changed our relationship for good.  Though I do not condone violence, I have resorted to violence when nothing else was available.  For the person who thought I would not hit a girl--WRONG!  Girls can be bullies too and a person has to protect him or herself.  But, truth be known, I have never hit a girl despite wanting to a time or two!

Though I love sports, I have never thought of myself as an athlete.  Through junior high school I participated in football, basketball, wrestling (one season was enough to convince me that looking at the ceiling flat on my back on a mat wasn't for me), and track.  I had the most success in track and by the time I got to high school running became my sport.  I ran track and cross country all the way through my second year in college.  I was never the best, nor was I the worse at any sport I attempted--except miniature golf.  That is a game straight out of hell!  So, I appreciate those of you who thought of me as being athletic.  Yes, most of the time I can throw a football with a spiral--I can catch and throw a baseball--shoot and dribble a basketball--but I do not play anything that is related to golf.  Extreme sports like bungee jumping--though I appreciate the person who said I would give it a shot--I doubt it.  I do not understand the fascination of jumping off a perfectly good bridge with a rubber band wrapped around my feet.

About my driving skills . . . if speeding is driving five miles over the speed limit, then yes there have been times when I have broken the speed limit, but hey, have you ever driven across Nebraska or eastern Montana and Wyoming?  If you have you understand the need for speed!  I appreciate those who think that I own nice cars--I love my Volkswagen Jetta and Ford Ranger pick-up.  They suit my tastes just fine and get me where I need to go.  My temperament while driving varies from situation to situation, but lets just say that I learned to drive from my father and he drove fast with a running commentary about all the other drivers.  Which brings me to whether or not I can curse like a sailor--whoever said yes must know me well.  I'm also pretty fluent in sign language when I drive.  Thankfully we have a forgiving God because there are times when I drive that I need that.

As for everything else people thought they knew about me: Yes, I am funny if not funny looking . . . we all have secrets and I have more than my fair share of them, wouldn't you like to know . . . I am disappointed no one had a crush on me, despite having a face that others besides my mother would love  and being better looking than Rosie O'Donnell . . . Yes, I do have good credit but that and two bits will only get you a cup of coffee in Montana . . . I appreciate those who appreciated that I don't lie to them, cheat on them, steal from them, and see me as a reliable, non-greedy person who would make a good friend . . . I'm glad that there are those of you out there who see me as religious, it helps when one makes a living as a minister . . . No, I do not like to dance unless I have had a few beers and the music is not rap . . . I've never skinny dipped . . . I do not sing karaoke--Montana has an ordinance that states I have to stand five feet from any microphone whenever I sing . . . I am nor a pervert nor will I ever be one . . . I have had long nights, but not to the point that I would admit that it was an all nighter!  And, yes, I did vote for Obama--one of two votes he garnered in Montana.

So, there you have it--a little bit about me straight from the source.  I hope that this helped to displace some of the myths, rumors, and lies about who I am that one might get from reading the answers to "21 Questions" on Facebook that people have answered about me.  Again, you may disagreed with what I have said, and you may know me better than I know myself, and that is okay.  One of my favorite sayings is "Ignorance is bliss and I am one of the most blissful people I know."  Hey!  I didn't even know that these opinions about me were even out there until the other day!  Now you know me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Big Bad Bear

Right now I am reading Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen.  This is Olsen's true account of two grizzly attacks, maulings, and deaths of two campers at Glacier National Park in Montana in August of 1967.  After more than fifty years of no human fatalities from a bear, in one night two unrelated campers, in two different parts of the park, we killed by enraged bears.  Olsen's book traces the causes of that tragic night as they built up throughout the summer and bemoans the fact that it is the invasion of humans that is slowly exterminating this grand old creature into extinction.  It is a good book and one that I would encourage anyone to read if he or she wants to learn more about the grizzly bear--especially before going hiking in any of Montana's beautiful wilderness.

The Grizzly Bear is not a cute cuddly "teddy bear" wanting to share hugs with humans.  The Grizzly is a wild, violent creature trying to survive in an wilderness domain that is growing smaller and smaller every year as humanity encroaches on the bear's home.  The Ursus arctos horribilis--the Grizzly Bear--is the largest of all carnivores in the continental United States.  The bear is called grizzly because of its silvery white-tipped fur looked, to the early explorers who named him, like the gray in an old man's hair.  A female can weigh between 330 to 770 pounds, while the male weighs in between 510 and 990 pounds.  When standing they can be between seven and eight feet tall.  For such a large creature they are fast--unlike the myth that they are big and slow--being able to beat the world's fastest human beings by 30 to 35 yards in the hundred yard dash.  Like humans they vary in their looks, colors, and size--but one distinguishing mark of a Grizzly is its hump upon its back.

Grizzly Bears have one of the lowest reproductive rates of all terrestrial mammals in North America for a variety of reasons.  This might explain why the big critters are so protective of their cubs, which they raise until they are a little over two years old.  There is nothing worse than getting caught between a mamma Grizzly and her youngsters--except maybe for a moose and its youngsters.  Beware the "mamma bear"!

Since moving to Montana I have heard the stories of the close encounters between humans and Grizzlies--always with a great deal of respect for the bear.  I have not yet encountered a Grizzly Bear while hiking in the  Absaroka and Beartooth Wilderness for which I am especially thankful, but they have been in the areas I have hiked.  I have seen their scat and little reminders of where they have rutted around in the dirt looking for something to eat.  Such signs keep me aware and on the defense--especially since I often hike alone or with my dog.  Grizzlies don't care too much for dogs and according to a report of a recent mauling in Wyoming the cause was the hiker's dog.  Typically I take my bear spray and bells--the bells are for warning the bears that I am out there, and the spray is to ward off an attack.  I don't have a lot of confidence in either one--I figure the bell is basically calling the bear to dinner, while the pepper spray is just seasoning for the feast.  I will say that my most recent hike was cut short due to a Grizzly sighting in the area I was hiking to--two different verifications of of personal encounters from two different hikes within thirty minutes of each other.  Seems it was hanging around the lake I was going to due to the fact that there was a cow Moose with a baby hanging around the lake.  It is better safe than sorry, besides I didn't think I could out run my Boxer, Maddie--I would have been the bear food that day!

The only two Grizzlies that I have seen first-hand--not behind a cage, but in the wilds--were in Yellowstone National Park.  The first one was quick as the bear was moving fast--I did not get a very good picture of the bear.  Primarily I got its back.

This bear wasn't stopping for anyone!

The second one, a year later and on the opposite end of the park, was a little more cooperative even though it was in a hurry too.  I got to follow it from the road for quite a while before it disappeared--it moved fast as I had to run to keep up.  As you can see in the picture below, it is much darker than the first one, but definitely had the hump.

My second Grizzly in Yellowstone!

With the heavy snow fall from this winter the mountains--the natural domain of the Grizzlies--has kept then down in the valleys a lot longer than normal.  With the slow snow melt it looks like it could be a long summer as the bears search for food wherever they can find it--human sources are the best!  Because of the increased  activity of the bears a lot of the campgrounds are closed in the area.  This is to protect the bears as much as the humans.  During this tense time both bears and humans need to show a healthy respect towards each other--typically the bears does unless it feels threatened.  Either way, one has to be careful.

I am sure that the first time I come upon a Grizzly Bear while hiking I am not going to stick around to determine whether or not it wants me not as a dinner guest but as the dinner.  So I keep my eyes and ears open whenever I am hiking--besides, I am still looking for the elusive "Beer"!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Laugh or Cry--The Weekly News

The news is always good for a few laughs on a slow day.  Today is a slow day.  This week's news does not disappoint . . .

Who says that coffee is addictive?  In Amsterdam the Dutch government is planning to privatize coffee shops for Dutch citizens only.  It seems that the government wants to save the "good stuff" for only the locals.  The "good stuff" isn't a double mocha chocolate latte with two shots--it is marijuana--pot--the wacky tobaccy!  The Dutch allow the legal selling of marijuana over the counter in coffee shops.  Can anyone say, "Killing two birds with one stone"?  I don't think that Folgers ever dreamed of this sort of coffee buzz.

Apparently this legalized practice has become popular among the tourists.  The Dutch Justice Ministry has stated that this interest has created a "nuisance and criminality associated with coffee shops and drug trafficking."  Opponents to this policy change have declared it "tourism suicide."  Opponents envision a growing black market if the law is kept as tourists--and locals--hit the streets for their coffee and pot.  "Coffee pot" sort of takes on new meaning--gotta have that morning pick me up!

The grumbling is intensifying over light bulbs here in the United States.  As of January 2012, the traditional 100-watt incandescent light bulb will be contraband.  According to the Wall Street Journal people are not happy about the switch--the new bulbs are more expensive, give skin a corpse-like pallor, and contain a trace amount of the toxic element mercury.  The real issue is freedom--not conservation or ecology--but the freedom to choose.  Most Americans prefer traditional light bulbs, which has created a rash of "civil disobedience" as folk stockpile the incandescent light bulbs.  The paper argues that if the new fluorescent are so superior, "why does the government have to force people to buy them?"

Also, we can quit blaming President Obama for this change in light bulb policy.  The guy actually has nothing to do with it--he's in the dark on this one.  The policy was signed into law in 2007 by President George W. Bush.  This is just another fine mess in Bush's legacy--we always knew he sat in the dark!

It seems the bright lights of the city are not as attractive and alluring as they used to be.  The New York Times reports that despite all the talk about people moving back to the big cities the reality is much different.  According to the Times more than 91 percent of population growth in U.S. metropolitan areas between 2000 and 2010 occurred in suburbs rather than in city cores.  Today more than 60 percent of Americans live in the suburbs.  That might explain the traffic congestion I experience on my commute from Joliet to the big city--suburban sprawl that creates a crawl!

A study by ScienceDaily.com proves once and for all that the color red is a "power" color.  The report claims that the color red makes us stronger and faster--at least momentarily.  The study conducted on students from elementary school through college showed that there was an improvement in muscular performance.  Also, humans are hardwired to pick up on red "as a danger cue," states the study's author Andrew Elliot--thus there is a mental toll.  Previous studies have shown that athletes facing a red-clad team tend to lose.  Now I know why my beloved University of Nebraska Cornhusker football team--affectionately known as "Big Red"--has been so successful and dominate.  All these years I thought it was because of the athletic superiority, hard physical training, excellent coaching, awesome training facilities, and teamwork . . . now I know that it wasn't any of that stuff . . . it is because people are scared of red!  Go Big Red!

On the political scene Americans speak out about politicians' morals--or lack of!  In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the Washington Post, 57 percent of Americans say politicians get caught in sex scandals because they are under greater scrutiny than everyone else.  Another 19 percent say it's because politicians have "lower moral standards than ordinary Americans."  I kind of lean towards the 19 percent--we're talking politics here where morals seem to be the fine print that no one reads.  The other is just an excuse.

Lastly, the closet dilemma is solved!  Esty.com reports that in 1930 the average woman owned nine outfits.  Today, thanks primarily to the lower price of garments made abroad in low wage nations, women purchase more than 60 pieces of new clothing a year.  This is why the wife owns 75 percent of all the available closet space in the house--not just the bedroom!  I used to think that it was a figment of my imagination--this discrepancy in space--that my side of the closet was smaller and more cramped,but now I know it is true.  The wife tells me that possession is 9/10ths of the law!

Until next week's news I plan on sitting around in my bright red long-johns, next to my fluorescent light bulb, sipping my coffee pot, as I contemplate whether or not politicians even matter, moving to the suburbs, or just taking a nap.  Until next week--laugh.  Laugh because life is to short to waste on the news!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Opening Day--Play Ball!

I love baseball.  I was not a good baseball player growing up as a kid--basically I survived on the field.  The instinct to survive being hit by a blazing ball made me a fairly good fielder, but I couldn't hit worth a hoot.  Despite my "love/hate" of playing the game, I found just as much love for the game in watching it.  I cannot stand to watch it on television (unless it is the College World Series), but I love to watch a "live" game whether it is Little League, Major League, or anything between.  I love the competition, strategy, atmosphere, crowds, and just being outdoors soaking it all up.  I love baseball and I especially love Minor League baseball.  I have watched Minor League baseball games all across this great land of ours.  For the price and atmosphere, Minor League baseball cannot be beat.

Besides having wanted to live in Montana for a good majority of my life with all of its openness and mountains, another bonus that attracted me to Montana--especially where the two job offers were--was the fact that the big city down the road had a minor league baseball team.  Deep in the recesses of my rock garden--I mean, mind--I probably thought this was as close to heaven as I could ever imagine.  Mountains, baseball, and throw in all the breweries and it is easy to see how I could mistake this for heaven.  Right now I have the best of all worlds!

The Billings Mustangs have been a mainstay in the big city and the Pioneer League since 1948.  The Mustangs were officially established on November 4, 1947.  The team is a rookie level entry into the profession of baseball.  This means that the teams are often composed of kids just out of high school or college plus a few journeymen thrown in the mix.  The Mustangs has been affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds organization since 1974--prior to that they were an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.  The team played its games at the historic Cobb Field.  Cobb Field was named after Bob Cobb who was credited with bringing professional baseball to the big city.  September 2007 saw the demolition of the "old school" Cobb Field to make way for the team's new field--Dehler Park.

I am not a Cincinnati Reds fan.  The wife grew up in central Kentucky--Bluegrass Region--only 90 minutes from Cincinnati and the "Big Red Machine" of the  early 1970s.  Because of this she is a Reds fan.  Also a Reds fan is the youngest son.  The Mustangs are a natural fit being an affiliate of the Reds.  I am first, and foremost, a Baltimore Orioles fan; secondly an American League fan (except for those damn Yankees).  Any baseball is better than no baseball.  They get to semi-root for their favorite team and I get to see baseball.

Though the Mustangs are associated with the Cincinnati Reds, I think that the coolest thing at the park is their tribute to a Baltimore Oriole.  Outside the main gate of the stadium is a statute of Dave McNally--a Billings native who had a stellar career with the Orioles in their heyday.

A lot of famous player got their start with the Mustangs.  Among some of the more well-known are George Brett (Royals), Reggie Sanders (Reds), Paul O'Neill (Yankees), Danny Tartabull (Royals/Yankees), Aaron Boone (Reds), Adam Dunn (Nationals), and Austin Kearns (Indians).

Tonight marks the start of the new season--it is Opening Day.  I have not missed an opening day since moving to Montana.  The Mustangs take on their Pioneer League rivals the Great Falls Voyagers.  I am excited to get the season under way--baseball, hot dogs, and some micro brew!  It doesn't get any better than this--Montana in the summer time!

Carly Simon--Take Me Out to the Ballgame 


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Prodigal Sons

I think to each generation of a family there is born a prodigal child.  There is that child that goes against the grain of the rest of the family and strikes out on his or her own much to the chagrin of the everyone else.  This is the child that takes off at the first opportunity that he or she gets to get as far away from the rest of the family--to put distance between him or her and everyone else.  It is not a matter of not loving the family, it is just a matter that this child must venture out on his or her own.  They sort of march to the beat of a different drummer.  I know, because I am a prodigal son . . . but I am not the first nor the last in the family.

John Walter Keener

John Walter Keener

In this story my father, John Walter Keener, is the first prodigal son--though I doubt if this is true in the Keener family genealogy.  I have often wondered about my grandfather, Clyde Keener, and whether or not he might have been a prodigal son.  Despite that, I begin with my father.  From the bits and pieces that I have gleaned over the years concerning the family tree, I do know that my father was not long at staying home once he graduated high school.  Within a year of graduating he was off to Washington, D.C. where he found a job at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  I wish that I could say that he was an agent, but the best that I can discern is that he was an ordinary clerk.  It was at the Bureau that he met my mother, they got married, and they eventually had four children in quick succession--like one almost every year for four years.  Of those four children I was the first born.  But, I am getting ahead of the story.

When my father left home he left home.  Rarely did he ever venture back to his home place.  In fact, he pretty much spent the majority of his life living pretty far from his family and had very little contact with them as I was growing up.  I think that my father grew up with a very difficult father who ruled with an iron fist.  I also know that my father and his family were dirt poor.  Life was tough and when he had his opportunity to leave he left. There was no looking back.  Around the age of 19 years old my father became a prodigal son.

John Martin Keener

John Martin Keener

At the age of 18 years old I left for college--1,500 miles from my family.  Outside of the summer between my freshman and sophomore years I never returned to live at home.  I ventured forth and lived life pretty much on my own--I had some good times, I had some bad times, but most of the time I just lived.  I doubt if I did everything quite the way that my parents had hoped, but I survived.  I am sure that I did not always please them, but hey . . . I was a prodigal just following in my father's footsteps.

John Andrew Keener

John Andrew Keener

Which brings us to our oldest son, John Andrew Keener.  John Andrew basically flew out the door as soon as he graduated high school, but did not really strike out on his own until we moved to Montana.  For a couple of years, whenever things got tough, he returned to the nest to recoup.  When we moved to Montana he struck out on his own and moved to Fort Collins, Colorado.  One thing I will say about my oldest son is that he enjoys a good time and he was the epitome of the prodigal son.  To say that he broke his mother and mine hearts would be an understatement--he did not always make decisions that we agreed with and he often paid the price.  He took off and he has never really looked back except with nostalgia.  He is definitely his generation's prodigal son.

In the New Testament Jesus tells the story of the "Prodigal Son".  It is the story of a man who has two sons.  The youngest son knows of the inheritance that both he and his older brother will get when the old man kicks the bucket, but he wants his share and he wants it now.  Surprisingly the old man gives in and gives the younger son his inheritance.  In a flash the youngest son is off to the races as he heads off to the closest big city.  There in the bright lights of the city the youngest son kind of loses his senses--he makes the most of his time with nothing but wine, women, and song.  It doesn't take him long before he has blown the whole inheritance--he is flat broke, a far distance from home, and scrambling just to survive.  He is alone.  He is scared.  He longs to be back to the familiar.  That's when he decides that he would suck it up, apologize, and come crawling back to his father in hopes that his father would allow him to at least be a worker on the homestead.  Much to the prodigal son's surprise the father does better than he expects.  The father runs to greet the prodigal son, throws him a big party, and welcomes him whole-heartedly back into the family's graces.

I imagine that the story of the "Prodigal Son" has always been one of my favorite stories that Jesus told--since I am a prodigal it only makes sense.  Yet, the reason I love this story is not because of the prodigal son, but because of the father.  For years I identified with the prodigal son, but it is the father that I am the most attracted to.  There is a sense of grace and love that the father displays that moves me because he takes back his son despite the shame and hurt that he has caused.  Not only does he take back his son, he welcomes with open arms back into the family to take his rightful place.  I agree with the biblical scholars who state that this story is incorrectly titled as the "Prodigal Son"--the story is not about the son, it is about the father.  Jesus wanted us to know that the father was God and that we are all the prodigal children.

As my father got older he worked hard at re-establishing his connection with his family.  In his last years he spend more and more time re-connecting with his parents and sisters.  Family became important to him and I think deep down he regretted the relationship he did not have with his family.  I do not know for sure if he experienced the grace and love that Jesus spoke about in the story, but I do know that in his heart he felt as if the prodigal son had come home.

Thus it was for me.  My father and I had a better and deeper relationship as I grew older.  I felt his love and grace in welcoming me into his life in those last years--I know that he cared.  And, like my father before me, I felt the joy in being welcomed back into the fold as the prodigal son.

So it is my hope for my son.

As we come to celebrate Father's Day tomorrow, we cannot ignore the fact that we are all prodigal children.  We have all created that space between us and those that we loved so that we could be who we are.  We have done it in a variety of ways, but we have done it.  Yet, we cannot escape the fact that we are loved despite the barriers we have created.  That we are welcomed into our families--desired and wanted.  Coming from a long line of "prodigal sons", I thank God for the love and grace that welcomes us prodigals home.  For my father--God rest his soul--I give thanks.  For my son I pray for his traveling mercies and that he finds his way home once again.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Holy Humor

If I had known what I know now about the ministry when I was ordained I'm not too sure I would have gone into the ministry.  Ministry is a tough profession--the pay is not the best--the hours can be long--the people can be feisty--and there are always a million bosses!  To make it in the ministry it helps to have a sense of humor.  I think that if I could not laugh about the ministry I would have given up long ago and would now be working at WalMart as one of those greeters with blue vests.  It helps to laugh.

Shortly after the flood hit Joliet and flooded the church basement I received an email with a whole bunch of cartoon--The Biblical Far Side.  The timing was perfect as it relieved some of the stress of the situation and helped remind me that this too would pass.  I really appreciated my seminary classmate and fellow pastor for sending the cartoons.  For a few moments I was lost in laughter.

On Sunday I am preaching on the Creation Story--how God created everything.  In verse 14 of Genesis 1 it mentions that God separate the light from the dark.  Since I have been doing my own laundry since I could reach the dials on the washer, I can fully appreciate the good Lord taking the time to separate the "lights from the darks"!  Of course, God would do it right!  This is something I can understand--that metaphysical stuff is beyond my reach!

I always enjoyed the stories about the "three wise guys", I mean "men".  I think their names were Larry, Curly, and Moe.  Of course, if we Christians were to be literal we would know that no one is sure exactly how many "wise guys" were actually in the story.  All we know for certain is that they were bearing three gifts--three gifts equals three "wise guys".  I know exactly what this guy is going through because I have done it too; and, yes, you can break your nose stepping on a rake!

The stories of Jesus have always fascinated me.  There was nothing this guy couldn't do--he was just super cool.  He was the sort of guy everyone wanted to hang out with in high school.  He could do it all!

I especially liked when he "cleared the Temple"--I never knew he could skate board!  Whoa, dude!  That is impressive!  Then again, anything that Jesus did he did better than anyone else.

Hey, the guy could even walk on water--stop the storming seas--heal people--bring the dead back to life--and, he even beat death himself.  The guy was--and is--impressive.  It is no wonder all of us followers of Jesus, us Christians, flock to him with blind and undying devotion--the guy was cool!  But that doesn't mean we always get it.  Sometime we misunderstand . . .

But, we try our best.  Though we do not always get it we have developed (at least I hope we have) a sense of humor about it all.  The laughing Jesus is one of the most popular portraits of him within Christianity.  Everyone loves a good joke and Jesus probably told the best jokes.  I will even venture out to say that he even understood my favorite joke--two men walk into a bar, the third one ducks.  Shoot, I bet he even told that one a time or two to loosen up the disciples.

When times get tough I thank God that God blessed me with a sense of humor.  I would not be in the ministry today if it were not for the gift of humor.  I truly believe that worship is not worship without at least one outburst of laughter.  We need to laugh . . . besides we Christians are a peculiar group.  We are a little different than everyone else.

We need to laugh to be whole . . . to be holy.  I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for humor and a little laughter.  Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor--I'm in the ministry aren't I?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


As a kid I remember my grandpa showing my siblings and I how to make our very own phone line using two tin cans and string.  He showed us how to poke the hole in the ends of each can, stick the string through and knot it, and then to walk in different directions until the string was taunt between the two.  Then he told us to talk . . . whoa, to a six-year old this was magical stuff.  We could actually hear each other through those tin cans.  Maybe it was the magic of science, or maybe it was that we were not more than six feet apart, but it was pretty magical. That was my first phone.

The next phone in my life was the good old rotary dial phone.  In the pre-teen years this phone was basically good for prank phone calls.  Like all good kids we made the old "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" calls to stores.  When it was affirmed that they did, we'd always yell, "Then you better let him out!"  We also did the "Is your refrigerator running?"  Which always brought the response, "Well, you better hurry up and catch it before it gets away!"  As kids we thought it was pretty hilarious stuff.  Then as I got older the phone was something I used for wasting time having conversations with my friends, if you can call laying on the floor saying, "Uh huh", a conversation.

For the most part I do not care for phones--they are kind of intrusive to us introverts.  If it rings we pray that someone else answer so we don't have to.  Besides, rarely are the calls for me.  As I got older the phones got more sophisticated--we eventually graduated to cordless phones that allowed us to wander around the house aimlessly while going "Uh huh."

When I started traveling back and forth to my church in Nebraska I got my first cell phone--for emergencies. I only turned it on while I was traveling.  It was a dinosaur according to my children, but it got the job done.  It looked like a six-shooter sitting in its holster on the side of my hip.  I loved that old Motorola!  But it was analog and digital was the "in" thing eventually.  I was forced to upgrade to a smaller and better cell phone. My kids thought my Razor was pretty cool and they didn't mind being seen in public with me.

Eventually I made the rounds through the cell phone circle and was convinced my "styling" daughter that I needed to move up to a Blackberry phone.  Now a Blackberry is basically a mini-computer that doubles as a phone.  Through her persistence she broke me down and I got my first Blackberry.  The first year I stood in awe at that cell phone . . . actually it was fear.  I wasn't use to a phone that could do everything including blowing my nose!  The most recent model of the Blackberry I have is the Curve 9300--the business work horse according to my oldest son.

Yesterday I received a letter from my cell phone service carrier explaining that the newest Blackberry was not available when we switched services, but that it was now.  Because it should have been I was eligible to upgrade to the newest Blackberry--the Blackberry Torch.  The Torch is a combination of the old Blackberry with the keyboard and a touch phone--and it does even more than just blow your nose it makes its own tissue paper!  It is a pretty fancy tool for business that allows one to also have a phone.  The deal was I have to decided by July 10th on whether or not I want to switch.  There is no cost--no need to change plans--no need to extend the contract--IT IS FREE.  All I have to do is say "yes" and it is mine.

Now this creates quite a dilemma for me as I have barely had my Blackberry Curve for less than six months and I really, really like it.  Plus I am beyond the fear stage and am actually learning how to use it.  Now they want me to upgrade to a bigger and better phone and learn it all over again.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.  So I put my dilemma out there on Facebook in hopes others might give me some clarification as to what to do.  The results?  It was 50/50 tie.  Half the people told me to get it, the other half told me to get an IPhone.  Now I was really in a dilemma.  Torch or IPhone?

I did my research.  I compared the two phones.  Basically it was a draw in what I found out.  It came down to personal preference and what an individual likes.  Basically the Blackberry is a work tool, the IPhone is a fun gadget.  If a person using the phone for work--Blackberry; if the person wants a phone that allows one to play and have fun--IPhone.  Tough choice--I thought I could always flip a coin to decide--stick with what I have or get the new Blackberry or shell out a hundred bucks for an IPhone.

Tomorrow I order my new Blackberry Torch and I am excited.  It won hands down over the Blackberry I have now--it is better and faster phone than the one I have now.  Plus it won hands down over the IPhone--it was free.  If anyone had any doubts about whether I would spend the money for an IPhone when I could get a free phone . . . well, they don't know me that well.

So, I am moving up.  But I still think phones--any phone--is an invasion of my privacy.  I like my little world and its quietness, but if I have to have a cell phone I want to at least look good whether I understand it or not!  Besides, I was that old fart in the cartoon for years--blackberries are for eating!