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.

Monday, January 30, 2012

O Winter, Where Art Thou?

Winter is nature's way of saying, "Up yours." 
(Robert Byrne)

We've not seen much winter around here lately--not even a good hint!  That is coming close to blasphemy here in Montana where winter seems to like to make itself "king" for almost six months of the year.  Basically since October we have had two storms with significant and measurable snow and lots of little one or two inch dustings of snow--but nothing that even comes close to a so-called normal winter here in Montana.  At this point, in the little rural town where I live, we are probably a good 20 to 30 inches below our normal snow fall for this time of year.  Typically at this time of the year it would have been at least two months since I last saw the grass in the backyard, this year is out in plain sight for everyone to see.  At least with the snow the yard looks like everyone else's yard.  Winter just has not showed up . . . at least not here . . . and at least not yet. 

 Winter usually blows into Montana in mid-November with a few preludes in the weeks leading up to that time, but not this year.  We had one storm that created quite a stir, but it was a false alarm.  It created a little anxiety, a little fear, and people began bracing themselves for a long, long winter.  But hey, Montanans are used to winter.  Winter is the six to nine long months Montanans endure to enjoy the two months of summer.  With the first storm the snow shovels sold out, the snow blowers became hot commodities, and all the sidewalk salt disappeared--then nothing.  The snow melted and basically never came back.  There was great joy for those who hate winter, sadness for those who love winter, and then confusion for the rest of us who sit somewhere in between.  O winter, where art thou!

 We have not had snow . . . and, no, I do not miss the snow when I have to shovel it or drive through it.  I do not miss creeping along the roadways at a snail's pace, feeling my tires slide, and watching ambitious ignoramuses sliding off into the borrow ditches.  The number one excuse they give the highway patrol: "I thought my four-wheel drive could handle the ice at 70mph!"  Oh, if were so easy!  Nope, I do not miss the snow when it comes to shoveling or driving . . . but this tardy winter is beginning to make me nervous.  It is beginning to make lots of Montanans nervous.  What will the spring bring?

 I guess we will soon know--Groundhog's Day is just around the corner--February 2nd.  On that day Punxsutawney Phil will either see his shadow and bring more winter, or he won't and spring will be right around the corner.  The fear, at least here in Montana, is that it won't matter what ol' Phil sees --people are expecting the worse.  The fear is that Mother Nature is going to come in with vengeance and make up for lost time and snow--it will be nasty.  And, they might be right . . . at least based on experience.  

Last year a lot of snow fell in April and into May.  The Beartooth Pass did not open up until two weeks after Memorial Day--its traditional opening day.  The local ski resort picked up nearly 70 inches of snow after its last run on Easter weekend.  The hiking trails to get to the higher elevations were nearly impassable with snow until late June.  Experience tells us Montanan's that we better brace ourselves as the worse is yet to come.

It makes one anxious--especially me.  I am a weather worrier.  I check the local forecast every hour on the hour at the National Weather Service.  My only wish is that the weather forecasters would do a better job than they normally do--I have had egg on my face many times over the winter months when I braced for a blizzard and ended up with nothing more than a gentle dusting.  

I guess some will blame it on global warming--they probably are correct.  Others might blame it on an election year and all the "hot" air coming from the east.  Some might say that it is just the fact that winter flew the coop and went south for the winter with the rest of the snow birds.  Others just figure it is the lull before the storm and that Mother Nature is going to smack us good once we let down our guard.  I don't really know, but I do know that my snow shovel is getting rusty, the yard is drying up from lack of moisture, and there ain't no snow to be seen anywhere except up in the mountains!

 The only one who is relishing the fact that it hasn't snow is Dora the Dachshund--she hasn't had a belly dragging in the snow for over a month!  She loves the fact that she actually has ground clearance and it is nearly the start of February.  I love the fact that I don't have to go out to the backyard and shovel her paths to get around.  Yeah, we Montanans are getting use to the winter being tardy, but we also know that it is lulling us to sleep and we had better watch out.  Winter is out there and it is coming . . . we just don't know when!  That makes us nervous . . . real nervous.  O winter, where are thou?

It is coming.  Soon we will all be . . . 

Thursday, January 26, 2012



What happens when a big heart and a compassion for wild critters drives a person to do what the great state of Montana has deemed to be illegal?  You get busted!  Since moving to the Big Sky state the wife was been possessed by the spirit of Saint Francis and has been zealous in her care of all things wild.  This zealousness equates into seven different types of bird feeders in the front and back yards, a bird bath that must be filled at all times of the year, and the scattering of seed around the yard.  It has also equated into a smorgasbord of fresh fruit and vegetables for the bigger, non-flying critters--primarily deer--in the front yard. In the garage we keep a variety of bird seed because not all birds eat the same seed, thus we have seed for every type of bird there is.  The squirrels love this variety of seed to pillage and plunder much to the chagrin of the family dogs.  The result is a wild life refuge right on the Keener homestead smack dap in the middle of the community!  The wife's big heart and compassion for the critters is just not going to let them go hungry--especially in the harshness of the winter.

Despite my best effort over the years to discourage the feeding of the larger critters, the wife persisted in her daily ritual of feeding the critters.  I argued that it was tearing up the yard--grass always grows back I was told.  I argued that it brought in other critters--critters we don't want hanging around and reminded her of the skunk episodes.  Once when the dog food got soaked under the kitchen sink the wife decided that it would be better to throw it in the yard rather than to throw it away.  "Let the critters eat it," she said.  Well, a critter did decide to eat it--a skunk!

In fact, the skunk decided that it must be a five star eating establishment and started making nightly visits to the Keener homestead.  In one of those visits the skunk introduced itself to the family dogs.  Maddie had the common sense to run, Dora (react first, think second) ran straight toward it and paid the price--sprayed!  This did not happen once, but twice!  I think Dora was doing her best Pepe LePew imitation and thought she was in love.  The skunk wanted nothing to do with her.  She was one stinky dog for a while.  But it did stop the throwing of food into the yard . . . for awhile.

I argued that the feeding ritual was "baiting" and thus illegal in the state of Montana--which it is, but this did not stop the feeding frenzy.  I was told the critters were hungry!  But, I argued, it is a five hundred dollar fine!  For me, if it has to do with money, I don't have to think twice about it--I stop.  But you have to get caught . . . or, as in our case, turned in.

Somewhere in our community is a snitch.  Not only were we turned in for feeding the wild critters, so were a dozen other families.  Someone called town hall and complained.  Out of that complaint the local law officer spend last night going around town, knocking on doors, and asking the thirteen culprits to stop feeding the wild critters.  We were one of the thirteen that received an "official" visit.  Of course, the officer was quite nice as he explained the situation.  He mentioned how much the wild critters were becoming a town nuisance--they were forming into gangs and fighting around town.  There is nothing worse than wild roaming gangs of deer!  They were getting hit by cars and trucks leaving unsightly splatter marks on the roads.  They were tearing down fences, trampling yards, picking on the squirrels, and making neighbors upset.  And, he said, some people just don't like deer.  Then he reminded us that it was illegal and carried a fine.  So, knock it off!  That pretty much was the lecture from last night and the one that the wife got when she went to the town hall to confess her guilt.  Busted!

As much as it broke the wife's heart the buffet has been eliminated--the bird feeders can stay, but the free smorgasbord is now history.  I am sure that the critters are not happy, but they will survive as they always have.  In all honesty we are not at a shortage of deer in our area--nope, far from it.  As much as it breaks the wife's heart she is a good person and good people do the right thing--especially when threatened with expensive fines!  For now the bird feeders will have to do . . . compassion sometimes hurts.  So we offer an extra word or two in our prayers, may God watch over the wild critters and keep them fed.  May God bless the creatures . . .

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unholy Witness--The Bethlehem Brawl

I had to laugh when I saw the small article in the most recent issue of the Christian Century (January 25, 2012) detailing a brawl that erupted between Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.  Then I had to wince---what a witness of the Christian faith to the world--a brawl at the birthplace of the Prince of Peace by those who claim to be followers of his.

The Church of the Nativity is the oldest church in the Holy Land still in use, commemorating the birthplace of Jesus Christ.  It is the holy turf of three Christian denominations who each have a part of the church that they claim as their own.  The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolic churches each have a claim to the church and the church is under all of their care.  Each year, after the Roman Catholics have their Christmas observation, the two orthodox branches have a cleaning of the church before the start of their observance of Christmas.  They have been doing this for many years.  The issue, it seems, is that one group stepped over the line into the other group's turf.  The result?  An all out brawl.  A regular turf war straight out of the classic West Side Story with the Jets and Sharks going at it.

The only difference, maybe, was that this was some sort of "holy" battle being waged.  To me it was too much like a bunch of little boys getting into a fight over one crossing the line drawn in the sand.  It was like a bunch of silly, immature kids fighting over something that didn't amount to a hill of beans.  Can you hear the monks and priests explaining the brawl to their superiors?  "Well, they kept stepping over the line and so we hit them!"  But a brawl is a brawl and the brooms and mops were swinging--of course it was done out of Christian love for one another. 

It began simply enough--two groups of monks and priests from rival gangs gathered for the annual cleaning of the church.  In the beginning everything went as planned with both sides taking care of their own turf . . . but boys will be boys.  Soon the taunting began, "I dare you to cross that line?"  To which the quick reply was a defiant, "Yeah, and if I do what are you going to do about it?"  "I'm going to hit you with my broom or mop--how do you like those cookies?"  "You wouldn't!"  "Try me!"  Then WHACK!  The brawl was on the Orthos versus the Apos-- a regular Jets versus Sharks ordeal.

Of course the Church of the Nativity sits in a pretty volatile location in the Holy Land and such outbreaks of infantile brawling is not tolerated by the local law enforcement.  It was not long before the local Palestinian police came and broke up the fight. There were no major injuries.  There were no arrests.  "No one was arrested," stated police officer Khaled al-Tamini, "because all those involved were men of God."  Apparently the police are used to this as it seems to almost be an annual occurrence just like the Christmas cleaning.  "It was a trivial problem that ... occurs every year," said  al-Tamimi.  Makes one wonder whether or not the police keep December 28th circled on their Day Planners and plan accordingly.

As I read the little article I couldn't help but to imagine this whole brawl between the two groups of "holy men" being played out as a skit on Monty Python or Saturday Night Live.  You got to admit that it has potential . . . but, at the same time, is this the sort of witness the followers of the Prince of Peace want to portray to the rest of the world?  Makes one wince.  I imagine that Jesus would not be too pleased---he would probably wince too.

It is good to know that after more than than two thousand years we Christians of differing varieties have quit fighting over the "big" stuff to focus on the more important stuff . . . stuff like, touching one another or stepping over an imaginary line!  Seems a little childish doesn't it?  Like two little kids fighting over one touching the other.  Jesus doesn't just wince, he weeps. It is so pathetic we, the faithful, have to laugh . . . then we can cry.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Door Bell!

This is Dora . . . she is the family's Dachshund.  Actually she is the wife's Dachshund.  We adopted Dora into the family several years ago when a friend's niece was given an ultimatum that the dog had to go or her live-in boyfriend was leaving.  She decided that Dora needed a new home.  I think we got the better end of the stick on this one as the boyfriend ending up leaving anyways.  The wife wanted a dog since I had our Boxer, Maddie and Dora was in the right place at the right time.  Though the wife thinks that Dora is her dog , , , and the rest of the family thinks she is the family's dog, the truth is Dora belongs to no one.  Dora is her own dog.  I think it is that German blood line coming through that makes her so independent.

The above picture is how we see Dora, but I think that Dora sees herself quite differently.  I think Dora sees herself as pretty cool.  The picture below is how I think Dora sees herself.

Trust me . . . Dora has a very high opinion of herself.

Dora is a different breed than our Boxer, Maddie--duh!  Maddie is laid back and obedient.  Dora is a bundle of energy (when she wants something--especially food) and does what she wants to do when she wants to do it.  She has a tendency to view herself as the "alpha" dog despite the fact that Maddie is probably ten times her size and forty pounds heavier.  Dora likes to be the top dog.  We think that she has "little dog" syndrome, but who can blame her as almost every other dog in the world is bigger than she is.  It has to be hard living in the land of the giants.

Because of this she over-compensates--primarily by barking.  She barks a lot.  Barks at every little noise there is--every car that drives by--every person that walks by--everything that startles her--whenever someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell--she barks . . . and barks . . . and barks.  It is enough to drive a person crazy, but we were told that this is a trait of the Dachshund (not to mention one of the traits of "little dog" syndrome).  This is how she got her nickname, Door Bell.  We find it appropriate.

Not only can Dora be a noisy dog, she is also an opportunist--especially when it comes to food.  I do not believe that Dora has ever missed a meal in her life.  It might be why she is a little rolly-polly--kind of like a Tootsie Roll.  Dora loves food and will eat anything given the opportunity.  I think it all tastes the same as she has never slowed down long enough to taste any of the food she eats.  Where Maddie the Boxer can be finicky at times, Dora snarfs it all down in record time.  We have to watch her once she finishes her food so that she doesn't eat Maddie's.  But, Maddie is not a stupid dog--Maddie relishes eating slow and making Dora wait to lick the bowl.  Payback is heck!  The bottom line is Dora is an opportunist who will go to great lengths to get food.

Not only is Dora an opportunist she is one that easily gets offended if she does not get what she wants.  That does not deter her from trying harder, it only makes her more insistent--more of the big brown puppy eyes, the slow whine, and then barking.  She's cute, but compliments are not what she is after!

Once she gets what she wants she has no shame.  Trust me . . . we have tried with the best of them.  This dog has no shame when it comes to food--she will endure anything and do anything!

 One of her more enduring qualities is that she enjoys playing--as long as everyone plays by her rules.  She gets all the toys.  She gets to determine what game is going to be played.  And, she gets to determine that she is the winner.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts to these rules--they are Dora's rules and if you want to play you might as well get used to them.  One of her favorite games is to rip the squeaker out of the toys.  Maddie treats her toys with tender loving care, Dora rips into them as on a mission to destroy anything that squeaks.  It is like she goes to some deep dark doggie place . . .

Speaking of walks, Dora enjoys going on walks . . . but she has to lead.  We go where Dora wants to go--she leads we follow.  Heaven help us if we try to ever change that . . .

She likes to lay n things--especially people and anything that is straight out of the drier . . .

Dora the Door Bell is quite a hand full, but we love her none the less.  She has entertained us through the years.  She has kept us on our toes.  We know who the boss is in this family and it is not me--it is Dora!  She humors us when we think that we are in control or she becomes insulted.  There is nothing worse than a Dachshund who has been insulted--they can give the cold shoulder with the best of them.

It's not Dora's fault.  This is the way that God created her--for better or worse.  Thus it is what we have to live with as we invited her into the family.  Little did we know then that she would become the center of the family, but hind sight is 20/20.  But we endure because we know she has plenty of problems of her own . . .

Also, we know what goes on inside of her little brain . . . even when she sleeps . . . visions of grandeur, domination, lots of food, and being the leader of the pack.  Remember, she is the boss!

Despite her "little dog" syndrome, her super-sized ego, her barking, her hogging the covers in bed, her wattle, her deafness when called, and her easily bruised psyche . . . we still love her. And, she loves us . . . as long as we remember who is the boss . . .

. . . she is.  Dora, the Door Bell, is the boss.  Let us not forget it!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Handy Man--NOT!

The males species of Keeners are not mechanics, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, bricklayers, or anything that resembles a handyman--never have been, never will be.  I know that this is true for me. This is a shame because in the past few months we have experienced a myriad of issues with the house that have needed a competent handyman.  Being of the male species the first instinct is to fix it myself--that's what men do, they fix things.  It is a genetic code wired in men to try and fix things whether they have the skills or not--our maleness hinges on this.  Which is a shame because I have a tendency to escalate the problems more than fix them, but I do get my money's worth when I finally break down and call the professionals.

The first issue to arise was the stove in the kitchen--the oven element fried itself and stopped working. Actually, that is not quite true--it burned out like a sparkler as it started on one side of the element and chased itself around to the other side.  Being the resourceful guy that I was I wanted to stop it from doing this in order to remove it for replacement.  Even when turned off it kept sparking and moving itself around the element, so I decided that the best thing to do was to douse it with water.  Yeah, I know . . . electric fire is not meant to be put out with water.  Oh well . . . luckily it stopped on its own.  The stove did not burn down.  The house did not burn down.  Only my pride went up in flames.  The fix was eventually completed as we went into the big city to get a new element that should have just plugged in and worked . . . except for two little wires that were in the wall of the stove that connected to the element.  Needless to say neither one was easy to connect.  Thankfully our neighbor--the professional carpenter was home and was able to fix what I had started.  What had taken me several hours to mess up, he fixed in thirty minutes.  The cost was fifty bucks for the new element and a nice bottle of wine.  My masculinity took a major hit in what should have been a simple job.

Next to go was the gas clothes drier--it quit tumbling and wasn't drying any clothes.  Of course before admitting that I knew nothing about gas clothes driers I did what any respectable male would do--I went down to the basement, yanked as much of it apart as I could, and stood there cussing at it.  It didn't fix anything, but sure made me feel better.  It was a means of saving some of my masculinity before admitting defeat and calling in a professional.  Now, calling a professional handyman to fix anything where we live is an adventure in futility.  We live in the "no service" area of Montana--just a little too far from the big city that makes most handymen not willing to come without charging the big bucks.  We were told it would take at least a week before a handyman could come and fix it--then the service wrote down the wrong date.  Instead of scheduling us for a week from when we called, we were scheduled for five weeks later.  This did not make the wife happy and the handy man ended up coming on a Saturday--without the necessary parts to fix it.  So we ended up waiting another week and even that was not assured--it all depended on whether or not the parts would arrive on the day the handyman was scheduled.  Thankfully for everyone involved they arrived, the handyman was able to make the repair, and we now have a functional clothes drier.  The cost?  Two hundred bucks for the service call, several dollars spent at the local laundry mat, and having my masculinity chopped down a few more notches.

At about the same time that the gas clothes drier went out the hot water heater decided to join the party.  This is the second time since we moved in that the hot water heater went out.  Cold showers are nasty, luckily the day it went out I was the first one in the shower and actually got a hot shower.  It pays to be the first one up!  But everyone else in the house was quite upset.  The guy who came to fix the drier said it was the copper coil in the element that needed to be replace.  Our other neighbor--the retired handyman--said it was the copper coil in the element that needed to be replaced.  They all said it was a piece of cake to replace as they smiled at me.  The challenge was made and the adventure began.  The last time I worked on the water heater I did everything just as the instructions said, but it still wouldn't work.  A handyman from the gas company came in, reversed the two wires I had hooked up backwards, and everything was fine.  This time the screws wouldn't go in.  What should have taken about an hour ended up spanning several hours of the evening.  Needless to say, when I finally got the screw to screw down it worked!  The cost?  Several embarrassing trips to the neighbor for instructions and support, much higher blood pressure, and a blue streak that came close to revoking my ordination.  It was a major hit to my masculinity--my manhood was fading fast.

The most recent was the kitchen sink's faucet.  For some reason the faucet decided to shoot the water out the base instead of through the spout.  My reaction at 9:00PM was not pleasant and was quite profane.  I had a funeral the next day, plumbers are few and far between in the "no service" land where we live, and I was in no mood for minor floods in the kitchen.  Needless to say phone calls to four different plumbers went unanswered as our sink was waterless.  So being the fine male species I am, I ripped the faucet apart.  Man, I did not realize that there were so many parts to a faucet!  A quick trip across the street to the retired handyman I quickly learned that it was probably the O-rings and, if not, it would be a complete replacement of the faucet.  A trip to the big city for new O-rings, several feeble attempts at replacing the O-rings, and putting it all back together resulted in water spewing out the sides of the faucet.  Thankfully, despite my male pride taking a major hit, the retired neighbor handyman agreed to come over and see what I did wrong.  Despite suppressing his laughter the whole time he accomplished in thirty minutes what I had been attempting to do for several hours.  The cost? A semi-expensive meal at the local eatery to keep the wife happy while the sink was unusable, a couple of bucks for new O-rings, whatever was left of my masculine pride, and pretty much my ordination.

I am not a handyman despite the encouragement of my wife and neighbor to give things a try.  I am worse than Tim the Tool Man from the popular television show Home Improvement.  I am a disaster waiting to happen when it comes to home repairs.  This only means that I often get my money's worth when a real handyman arrives--for that I cannot complain.  I am learning that real men are not afraid to admit that they are not everything and anything--especially when it comes to being handy around the house.  I figure in about another ten years or so I will be able to swallow my male pride and admit it.  In the meantime I am learning that the "Handyman's Creed" is my creed whenever anyone in the house asks me to fix something.

I can swear with the best of them!  It's just the way we Keener men are wired!

Monday, January 9, 2012

An Epiphany of Tebow(ing)

You can't doubt the man's enthusiasm.  Tim Tebow is an enthusiastic individual and is not afraid to show that enthusiasm wherever he is at--he's on his knee faster than anyone I know.   "Tebowing" is "to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different."  I think the guy has probably worn out several pairs of knee pads this football season!  But he is not the first athlete to give God thanks for success on the field of competition--that has been going on ever since they've been playing sports.  It is just that the guy is so ENTHUSIASTIC about it. 

Now I want to state that I have never been a Tim Tebow fan--not when he played at Florida and not at Denver.  He has always rubbed me the wrong way--his Christianity is not the same Christianity I live, but it is a legitimate form of Christian faith.  So is mine.  One is not better than the other, they are just different.  And, one of those differences seems to be in the way that it is expressed--his has a lot of enthusiasm, mine is lacking in enthusiasm.  I think I need to get a little "tebowing" in my journey of faith--I need a little more enthusiasm.  Especially in church.  A little "tebowing" might liven things up--not only in my church but a lot of churches. 

After nailing the call to worship--tebow!  The choir shares an exceptional special--tebow!  Hit the sermon out of the sanctuary--tebow!  Big collection--tebow!  Wow the children with a powerful story of faith--tebow!  Those are things to get enthusiastic about--those are things to give God thanks for! 

That is faith that sells--faith that gets the people up out of the pews and on their knees!  That is what we need in the church today--a little enthusiasm.

Theologically I do not think that Tim Tebow and I are that close.  We both probably agree on the foundational pieces of faith, but from there we differ.  We could debate that all night long and still be no closer together than we were when we started.  It doesn't make either one of us right or wrong--it just means we disagree.  But the guy definitely has enthusiasm and is not afraid to show it.  I need a little of that enthusiasm--all of us in the mainline churches do.  Imagine what we could do if we had half of that enthusiasm . . . is that the kingdom I see up ahead?

We mainliners need a little enthusiasm--a little excitement to go along with our faith.  We need to quit avoiding the joy of our faith and start living it.  For too long we have held ourselves in check and avoided anything that displayed enthusiasm--we didn't want to appear ridiculous in front of others.  No Pentecost behavior for us--no barking, speaking in foreign languages, dancing around!  Nope, those are best left behind closed doors . . .

. . . but a little enthusiasm sure goes a long way in stirring up some excitement.  We need to celebrate our touchdowns within the church.  We need to spike that spiritual football and get down on our knees!  Our God is a good God--a loving God--a God of grace--who strengthen us, encourages us, and wants the best for us.  If that isn't something to get a little enthusiastic about, then I don't know what is.

People of faith have been doing it forever--we just didn't know that it was called "tebowing".  I think there was a reference to it in the story about the Magi, something about them falling on their knees and giving thanks to God.

Yep, I don't doubt Tim Tebow's enthusiasm.  Epiphany is a revelation of the Spirit and Presence of God . . . sometimes it is not revealed in the scriptures, but on the playing field.  May we discover that presence of God in journey through this season of Epiphany!