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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fly the Friendly Skies

I cringe at what the future brings . . . in a few days we have our return flight back to Montana after visiting the daughter and son-in-law in Alabama.  If it is anything like the experiience we had on the way down . . . well, I cringe.  They tell folks to "fly the friendly skies", but I wonder . . . 

After this recent trip I really wonder what the airlines mean when they say "fly the friendly skies".  To say the least it was an interesting adventure.  Here are a few of my thoughts about "flying the friendly skies".

The standard procedure at most airports is that folks need to arrive at least two hours prior to their flight.  The purpose of this is to check-in, check baggage, and get through the security system.  Our recent flight was to leave at 6:00AM, which means that we needed to be at the airport by 4:00AM.  Being a good person I had the wife and I at the airport by 3:45AM.  By 3:55AM we had checked in, checked our baggage, and waltzed through security.  Guess what time the flight crew showed up for the 6:00AM flight--5:55AM!  Guess who over slept? It sure wasn't the people waiting for their flight!  

Now I understand that these are "professionals" who are highly trained, but to oversleep!  Makes one a little leery about the flight ahead. . . but the gate attendant reassured us that they would rush onto the plane and get us to Minneapolis on time . . . probably hungover and blurry eyed.  But they were right!  In fact, there must have been one heck of a tailwind as we ended up arriving twenty minutes ahead of schedule.  No one in Minneapolis were ready for us . . . no gate . . . no friendly greeting . . . not even a moose!

My idea was to sleep on the flight to Minneapolis .  . . which makes sense since I was up at 2:00AM. Take advantage of the time in the plane and sleep.  It was a great plan except for the fact that I was  in the aisle seat.  I think that most planes were designed twenty to thirty years ago when people used to be slimmer than they are now.  Living in the age of fast food I have discovered that folks are a whole lot wider than they used to be.  I have even noticed it in churches.  The church I serve used to seat about two hunderd people, but today it seats about a hunded and fifty.  The church hasn't shrunk but the people have gotten bigger . . . the same applies to airplanes.  With this new size I was bumped every time someone walked up and down the aisle.  It is hard to sleep when your on a plane full of tiny bladders.

Outside of the delay of deplaning later than we arrived in Minneapolis, we still had about two hours to kill in the "land of a thousand lakes".  Two hours!  Plenty of time for the wife to do a little shopping.  Now I must admit that if I had to get stuck shopping in an airport, Minneapolis is the one to do that.  Thankfully we got out of there without having to spend a whole bunch of money!

Boarding the flight for Atlanta from Minneapolis was an adventure.  I figured that it would be a full flight as Atlanta is a major airport from which people link up with other flights.  because of that I also figured that boarding might take awhile.  I was thankful that we had already printed our tickets before hand and were assured of a seat . . . we load the plane when they called our seating zone--Zine 3.  Being good, upstanding people from Montana the wife and I patiently waited for the gate attendant to call our seating zone--Zone 3.  We sat as we watched what seemed to be thousands of people boarding the plane . . . and we waited  . . and we waited.  Turns out there was not a seating Zone 3!  The gate attendant got a big laugh at that one as we were practically the last ones on the plane.

It took nearly thirty minutes to board the flight to Atlanta.  It was not so much the number of people, but the luggage that people were smuggling on the plane to avoid the $25.00 baggage fee.  I am amazed at what people attempt to board the plane with . . . even more amazed at what they get away with.  I saw just about everything shoved into the overhead bins--even the kitchen sink.  It amazes me how people can shove a trunk into a bin made for a bread box.  

On the flight to Atlanta I noticed a new phenomena . . . the bleach blonde flight attendants.  The wife did too.  Now I have no problem with bleach blonde individuals--male or female, but I do have a problem when those bleach blonde attendants are at least ten years older than I am!  The flight attendants and their hair did not go with one another.  And, each time they went up and down the aisle they bumped me with their walkers!  

Another of the joys of flying is catching the connecting flights.  Due to the bin frenzy of stuffing over-sized luggage into bins we started our flight from Minneapolis nearly fifteen minutes late.  We only had fifty minutes to catch our flight from Atlanta to Dothan, Alabama once we got to Atlanta. Though I am not a math major, I noticed that we only had about thirty minutes to catch our flight once we got to Atlanta.  In typical  connecting flights our last plane was located clean on the other side of urban Atlanta!    A rush through the airport, a quick tram ride to Timbucktoo, and we made it to our gate with about ten minutes to spare . . . at least we thought we did.  We ended up waiting another twenty minutes before the plane was ready to board--yep, they were running late too.  But, hey, that was okay as the ticket said the flight took off at 3:57PM and that we would arrive in Dothan at 4:00PM.  The miracles of time zone changes!

What was billed as an hour-long flight was actually thirty minutes--not even enough time for the flight attendant to walk up and down the aisle to bump me.  Not even enough time for all those tiny bladdered people to use the air outhouse.  Nope, the flight attendant told all the men to "tie it in a know" and all the women to "cross their legs and pray a lot".  

The flight to Dothan was pretty uneventful thanks to a no nonsense flight attendant and lots of cold air.  Thirty minutes after we took off the wife and I were deplaning to be in the arms of our loved ones--our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter.  After nearly fifteen hours of adventure in the "friendly skies" and over 2,000 miles, we were at our destination.  It was joy to embrace the children and to lay our eyes on our granddaughter.  The adventure was behind us . . . at least I thought it was . . . then I got an email from the airline company with a survey asking how our flight was.  This blog was was my response . . . hopefully they don't oversleep while reading it.  After all, we still have the flight hhome.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Story Catcher

One of my favorite stories by Mari Sandoz is The Story Catcher.  The story is about a young man of the Sioux who gains great honors for his daringness in battle, but his gift—or medicine-- is simpler and more powerful.  His is medicine is in seeing.  As he grows older he watches the warring between tribes, the buffalo hunting, the daily routine—and shows it all in pictures drawn.  As time goes on the village eventually sees the young man’s gift and he receives a new name: Story Catcher, recorder of the history of his people.  This was Sandoz’s last novel—it won the Levi Strauss Golden Saddleman Award and the Western writers of American Spur Award . . . plus it is a darn good story.

When I graduated from college I struggled with what I was going to do for a livelihood.  I knew that I was never going to use my degree in Speech Pathology, so being a speech therapist wasn’t going to happen.  Besides, how does a person who struggles and mumbles through life expect to help others speak?  I thought about a career in the Air Force, took the Officer Candidate School test, and ended up being the first alternate.  Being first alternate to get into the Air Force is a lot like having every number of the winning lottery ticket but one!  It wasn’t going to happen.  I had been accepted into seminary, but to be honest, coming out of college I sure was not seminary material.  I know, some people still wonder about that one.  Everything that I had on the horizon as possible careers was flaming out . . . life looked bleak . . . and the only think I really, REALLY wanted to be was a writer.

Wanting to be a writer I went and talked to my favorite college English professor.  This guy listened to my story, smiled, and told me to pack my bags and get my butt in seminary.  He explained that in seminary I would become a writer . . . and, he was right.  Since going to seminary I have written a lot.  As a minister I average approximately 60 sermons a year, and in nearly 30 years in the ministry I have written at least 1,800 sermons.  Through in there five to 10 funerals and weddings each year . . . that is another 300 writings.  Throw in a weekly column for the church newsletter, approximately 1,500 of those.   The guy was right . . . I would write and write a lot.  But I never felt as if I was a writer and a writer is what I wanted to be.

Someone once said that everybody has at least one good book in them.  Well, I am still looking for mine.  I am pretty sure that I have not become the great writer I wanted to be.  I am a far cry from those great writers—and even a lot of those really crummy ones that I aspired to be like.  I have yet to write the great American novel.  Probably never will.  It seems that I am still chasing that dream.  But that is okay . . .

. . . that is okay because I recently stumbled upon what I have become . . . I am a “story catcher”.  I think all clergy are.  Everyone has a story to tell.  Stories are how we introduce ourselves, discover commonalities and differences, build community, learn from each other, and begin to make sense of the world around us and the lives we live.  One individual explained it like this:

Story is a map.
The map that gets one person through gets the next person through.
We depend on story to learn from each other,
to inspire values-based action,
to imagine the new ways forward.

What I have learned—after many, many years—is that I am a story catcher.  I share the stories that others share.  I share the stories so that people won’t forget . . . so that history is passed on . . . and, so that no one ever feels alone.  We learn best from stories.  Everyone seems to love a good story.

Now, please note, I did not say that I was a “storyteller”.  A storyteller is different than a story catcher—though a person could be both.  I am not a great storyteller—or as they say in the ministry, I am not a great preacher.  I am adequate and have been lucky in that most of the stories I share can carry themselves without a great delivery.  I don’t want anyone mistaking me for some great preacher because I am not . . . I am adequate.

The truth of the matter is that I may never become that great writer that I imagined and dreamed myself to be long ago in college.  Nope, no great American novel here.  What I am though is a person with a great ear who is not afraid to listen to the stories that others share.  I have been privileged with hearing hundreds, thousands of stories over the years.  Some have brought laughter, others tears, but all have made me step back and contemplate life.  The stories have been too good not to share . . . and that is what I do.  I write the stories that others share.

I am a “story catcher”.  All clergy have the potential to be story catchers.  We are losing our storytellers in our day and age, but we cannot afford to lose the story catchers.  In the story catchers we discover ourselves in the words of other.  It is a powerful moment of connection that has the potential to change the world.  Maybe someday I will put all the stories together in a book and become that writer I dream of becoming.  In the meantime, I will continue to listen . . . there are lots of great stories out there.  In stories we have the potential to touch the holy . . .

Friday, August 24, 2012

Asleep With the Light On

Darkness . . .

As children it is in the darkness that the monsters in the closet and under the bed come out to play.  As a child each and every noise, every creak, and every shadow spells danger and heightens the fear.  Shadows—ghostly shadows—dance along the wall and across the ceiling.  It is in the darkness that the minds of children begin to play tricks.  The darkness is scary and everyone knows that only bad things happen in the darkness—ask any child and he or she will tell you.  It is because of this that children learn to sleep with the light on.

With the light on there are no shadows dancing around the room.  There are no monsters hiding in the closet or under the bed.  Noises can easily be identified.  The light exposes and pushes out all the scariness of the darkness and replaces it with the familiar and loved.  With the light, darkness has no power . . . no gripe . . . and all is well in the world.  There is peace.  With peace comes sleep.

As a child sleeping with the light on worked.  It worked because, as I wrote earlier, the light exposed and pushed the darkness out of the room.  With the darkness gone the child could see everything for what it was . . . there was nothing to fear.  There was nothing to fear because everything was familiar.  With the familiar there comes a sense of contentment and peace in knowing that everything is where it is supposed to be.

As adults the darkness in life does not always come with the night, but the night can amplify the darkness that does fall upon life.  As adults we learn that darkness does not need the night to infiltrate our lives.  In the religion and spirituality darkness often symbolizes those difficult times in life when people struggle . . . when crisis occurs . . . when bad things seem to happen.  As adults we learn quickly that the darkness does not need the night to make us fearful, lonely, and scared. 

Darkness comes in all shapes and sizes in life.  It comes with failing health and growing old.  It comes with broken relationships and broken hearts.  It comes with betrayal  and cruelty.  Darkness seeps in when accidents happen, jobs are lost, and people let us down.  In death, the darkness comes.  The darkness creeps in, slowly as it spreads into the corners of our souls and heart . . . and it immobilizes us in fear.  When there is fear of the darkness it is hard to sleep as children; as adults it is hard to live and function.

The mystics of all faiths talk about the “dark night of the soul”.  It is in the dark night of the soul that life and faith are worked out.  In the Old Testament Jacob wrestled the stranger—God-- in the darkness of the night.  In the New Testament Jesus struggled in the darkness of the garden.  In the darkness the struggle takes place . . . it cannot be avoided.  It cannot be avoid if the darkness is to lose its power and be exposed to the light.  The old gospel hymn tells us that “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”

Even though I am not the only person in life to encounter the darkness of life, there seems to have been quite a bit of it hanging around this summer.  There is the darkness of the struggle with the oldest son and the fate of our granddaughter.  There is the darkness that accompanies accusations and hurtful words for another son.  There is the move of the youngest son to another state.  There have been deaths of people close to me.  People have moved on.  Despite all of the sun this summer in Montana, at times it seems as the darkness blotted all of life out.  And, I know that I am not the only one.  I have heard the stories of others . . . how the darkness froze their lives . . .

What we could all use is a night light so that we could sleep with the light on . . . but, as adults we are too mature for such things as a smiley-face night light.  So, we toss and turn, moan and groan, and try to sleep . . . try to function . . . try to live our lives . . . and, it is hard.  It is hard because it seems as if the darkness will never leave our lives.  It is hard because we feel as if we can never overcome this blanket of fear that has seized our hearts and souls.  It is like it will never end . . .

At least that is what I feel from time to time; then I remember, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”  Jacob struggled with God and so have I in the darkness.  Jesus struggled in the darkness to honor God’s will for his life . . . haven’t we all?  The struggle in the darkness must take place . . . the battle against the monsters and shadows must be waged.  It cannot be avoid if we want to pass through the darkness into the light.  And so, we seek light so that we can sleep.

In the caring embrace of another . . . we find light.  Through the gentle listening by another as we share our darkness . . . we find light.  In the familiar hymn, the breaking of the bread, and the lifting of the cup . . . we find the light.  In the beauty of a sunset or sunrise, the gracefulness of fawn in the grass, and the singing of the birds . . . we find the light.  In the sharing of tears with a fellow sojourner . . . we find the light.  In the quiet assurance of the spoken and unspoken prayer . . . we find the light.  In the light we can sleep.

The darkness will not prevail . . . we all just have to work our way through it.  Together, we can do it.  We can be the light for one another in our times of darkness.  As we all wander through the darkness of our lives, remember, someone will always leave the light on for us.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Seeing Red . . .

Seeing Red . . . 

. . . as in BIG RED.  Taking advantage of having some comp time at the university I took last Friday off.  Unbeknownst to me, while I a day off, my co-workers did a little redecorating of my office.  My co-workers proceeded to turn my office into a shrine to all things related to the University of Nebraska Husker football team . . . and a few things Nebraskan.  I must admit that they did a great job as they decorated my office with pictures, red tissue paper, and jokes taped all over the place.  Nothing was left untouched.  It was quite a sight!

To say the least I must admit that I admire their creativity and fortitude in achieving the task of creating all things “Husker”.  Though it took a little time to re-arrange my office back to its original configuration, I had to laugh.  I had to laugh because they found some pretty darn good jokes—some of which I had never heard.  It is hard to be mad at people who respect you enough to trash your office with your favorite team and make you laugh.  I imagine it took them quite some time.

It is only ten days before the Huskers start their season against Southern Mississippi . . . a real powerhouse of the type that Big Red usually has difficulty.  Big Red Nation has been counting down the days until that kickoff since they checked in the last piece of equipment after the bowl season in January.  This is a big deal . . . nothing happens on the days that Big Red Nation gathers for the “big game” (they are all big games in Nebraska).  Ask the wife . . . she could tell you some stories.

This year my kickoff tribute to all things Big Red is not going to be the poetic hyperbole of the past . . . nope, I’m taking the humorous route this year.  I am going to share some of the new jokes I learned from having my office trashed.  I hope that you enjoy them . . .
A man fell in love with the girl of his dreams.  They were perfect for each other, except for one minor flaw: She was a Hawkeye and he was a Cyclone.  He decided to make the ultimate sacrifice and become a Hawkeye fan.  He went to the doctor and asked if there were an easy way to do this.  The doctor replied, “Yes, it’s a very simple procedure.  What we do is go in and remove half your brain.  When you wake up, you will be a Hawkeye fan.”

The man agrees, and the next week goes into surgery.  After he wakes up the doctor comes up to him concerned.  “Sir, I apologize, but there was a mix-up with the scalpel, instead of removing half of your brain we removed ¾ of it.  How do you feel?”

The man sat up, looked around, and said, “GO HUSKERS!”

A female ISU graduate is on an airplane.  A male passenger sits next to her, and immediately begins to shamelessly hit on her.  This goes on for half the flight.  Finally, during a lull in the conversation, the girl says, “So, you graduated from Nebraska, huh/”

The man replies in a surprised voice, “Yes, yes I did!  How did you know?  Was it my wit?  My sophistication? My savior faire?”

“Nope,” the girl says, “I saw your class ring while you were picking your nose.”

A Texas fan, a Nebraska fan, and an Iowa State fan were out riding horses one day.  At one point, the Texas fan pulled out a bottle of expensive bourbon, took a long swig, threw the bottle to the ground, pulled out a pistol and shot it.

“What are you doing?” asked the Nebraska fan.  “That was perfectly good whiskey.”

“In Texas, we have more whiskey than we need,” said the Longhorn fan, “And bottles are cheap.”

They rode along for a while, and the Nebraska fan was thinking.  Then he pulled out a bottle of champagne, opened it, took a swig, threw down the bottle, pulled out his pistol and shot the bottle.  “What are you doing?” asked the Cyclone fan.  “That was perfectly good champagne.”

“In Nebraska,” said the Husker fan, “We have more champagne than we need, and the bottles are cheap.”

They rode along for a while, and then the Cyclone fan pulled out a bottle of beer, drank the whole thing, put the bottle back in his saddlebag, pulled out his pistol and shot the Nebraska fan.  “What are you doing?” asked the Texas fan.

“In Iowa,” replied the Cyclone fan, “We have more Husker fans than we need, but bottles are worth a nickel a piece.”

Breaking News!!!
Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini will only dress ten players for the ISU/NU game.  The rest can actually dress themselves!

During the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer asked his Indian scout for an assessment.

Scout: Well, General, I’ve got good news and bad news.

Custer: Give me the bad news first.

Scout: There are thousands of Indians here who are well armed.  We are virtually surrounded and almost out of ammo.  It looks very, very bleak.

Custer: Oh, that does sound bad, but what is the good news?

Scout: Well, it looks like we won’t have to go back across Nebraska . . .

And, finally, a blow against Colorado: Colorado and Nebraska have decided to merge into one state.  Nebraskans gain the mountains, and Colorado gets a football team.

In ten days the season kicks off . . . For the next couple of months I will be dressed in red on Saturdays . . . living and dying as the Huskers play.  The noise you hear from the house will be either the joy of victory or the lament of defeat.  But, no matter what, no matter how you cut me, I will be bleeding red . . . just like a true Husker fan.  I can laugh now, the season is still only ten days away . . . but after September first . . . well, I don’t laugh as easily at Husker jokes.  GO BIG RED!!

Oh yeah, before I go, my favorite University of Montana Grizzlies joke:

Two big University of Montana Grizzly football players come hooting and hollering as they enter a local drinking establishment.  They yell out to the bartender, “Drinks for everyone . . . we’re celebrating!”  Then they continue to hoot and holler with all the patrons in the bar.  This goes on for about thirty minutes with the two players buying everyone drinks.

“So, what’s the big deal?  You guys win a big game?” asks the bartender.

“Nope,” they reply.

“Well, then, what is the big deal?”

“We are celebrating putting together a jigsaw puzzle . . . and it only took us six months to complete the thing!”

“What’s the big deal about that . . . that is nothing special . . . six months . . . anyone can do it!”

“No way,” says one of the players, “the box said two to four years and we did it in six months!”

Remember . . . it is better to laugh now than later . . . the season hasn’t started!