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Is Suicide Ever Right?

17 Jun

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” The suicide recently, of a friend has spurred the revisiting of an older post. On the heels of California becoming the fifth state to legalize a “right to die” for patients, the events of this trying week beg the question: Is suicide ever the right thing to do?
Before I move into a bit of conversation, I would like us to make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, spouses, families, and friends. We must state our love in words and in actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point. The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddled with chemical imbalances, at times. We are frail and all of us one breath from the end of life here on earth. We also live in a world that would swallow us up, as a vortex vanquishes its volume. The pressures are great on us all.
For me, there is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted by internal and external forces to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose, and that is our fault as Americans. There is also no mistaking the fact that there are other factors that can cause people to “feel” hopeless, and convince themselves there is only one way to deal with this hopelessness. These feelings are real. These feelings are heightened beyond reality, sometimes. They are feelings, nonetheless. I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into depression and destructive thoughts.
With that last query in mind, I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause irrational thoughts and bizarre behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or PTSDs–and even child sexual abuse. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously by loved ones and friends. A person living with “harmed and fractured insides” sometimes believes that such harm is a norm and that what we would call “additional harm” may be viewed as that person’s “additional norm.” When this happens, something is wrong inside the person. Add to this some form of chemical or substance abuse, and the brain is all cross-circuited, and emotions are imbalanced. The brain both affects and is affected by biology and chemistry. Emotions and the brain are inseparable, especially so for girls and women.
As a Christian man, I can assure you that praying for people is the right thing to do. Miracles do occur. I have seen some. But God gives us common sense also, and sometimes prayer has to be coupled with professional assistance and treatment. Asking a person to simply pray their way out of depression, or for healing from a fractured youth is one thing. Walking through these issues has to be accomplished by the person first admitting there is a problem. This is where there is often a hang up.
As quickly as we go to the doctor for a physical disease, the same should be done for something problematic emotionally and mentally. However, getting the right help with the right worldview is critical. I am no physician, and certainly I am not a psychotherapist. But I am a man of common sense and signs of trouble are perceptible if we take the time to see them and act accordingly. They are easily missed, and even more easily dismissed–until it is too late. Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for additional conversational purposes.
First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such? Love to know your thoughts.
Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is certain death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide? Can it ever be heroic for a person to take his or her own life, albeit for a higher cause–even if it means pain in the present? I have heard people say, “They would be better off without me, in the long run.” Some people actually think they are choosing a higher path, in their own minds. That is the issue. They see this negative as a positive. In a disabled mental or emotional state, one’s mind can confuse purposeful actions.
Therefore, third, is it possible for a person to be in such a confused state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? The converse of this is whether suicide is a cheap and selfish way out of problems a person sees not end to, and it is ultimately purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic. I have always said, if those who kill themselves by their own choice, could float above the room in which their family and friends gather, and see the devastation and grief their actions leave behind in the people they claim to love, they might very well wish to un-choose their actions. Yes, this is only speculation. But, we struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction.
If we trace the family history, sometimes is seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. But this is not always the case for the first person in the family to carry out the act. But now there is a precedent and a bridge crossed for others to more easily justify the action for themselves. I have heard people say, “I have suicidal thoughts because my mom and grandfather committed suicide.”
Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on. I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might can fit as factors. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not. We must understand that death is not a part of life, like a nap from which we awaken later. Death is the cessation of physical life. Taking one’s life with the hope that there is an eternal life, lessens the value of this temple we are given–the very house of the Holy Spirit and new creations, at that! This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I have my beliefs and these are strong beliefs–but I simply do not know. This is where my faith comes in.
I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and the eternal state of created souls. Certainly we cannot practice anything we want at any time, and think our lives are in line with the Almighty. What is more, we cannot expect those in their right minds, who rake their lives, to be accountable. Inasmuch as a small child’s brain is not fully developed to be accountable for his or her actions, I also believe there are probably some adults whose brains, hearts, and minds are so injured that they are not accountable for their actions, either. My only dilemma is whether or not all suicides fit this accountability factor. Again, that’s up to the Almighty.
In summation, here are six questions to consider:
(1) How is killing another the same, or different from killing self? Is killing still killing?
(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?
(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot repent and ask for forgiveness, after the fact?
(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?
(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?
(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or does not keep one from heaven?
Thanks for reading and thanks, in advance, for your comments. Please keep them respectful.

Coming Out . . . The Genius of It All

2 Mar

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A few years back, our school newspaper published an article titled, “Sexuality loses meaning as it becomes career booster.” The title, in-and-of-itself, was an oxymoron. The very thing that enhances careers is indeed meaningful. In fact, the claim of “sexuality” at all has become and “enigmatic enhancement” of the first order. How’s THAT for an oxymoron?

But semantics aside, titles are meant to catch people’s attention. What is it about today’s culture, anyway? Everyone seems to be defining themselves by their sexuality. The stars in the media always have to come across as sexy. Clothes have to be sexy. Food has to be sexy. Then there are mouthwashes, toothpastes, cars, whatever! Sex sells, I guess. Being sexy-gay, and metro-sexual also sell in today’s culture. Even Facebook has caved to the pressures of sexual expression, called by progressives as “gender identity.”

In that issue of the school newspaper, comments by students were printed in response to others, who have chosen alternative lifestyles. Isn’t everyone’s lifestyle an alternative one? Titles really do not define us, and neither do nicknames. What they do, though, is capture attention. Consequently, if a person favors traditional marriage, he or she is labeled “anti-homosexual,” or a homophobe.” Attention pushes emotions and thus, fads are born. High school campuses are replete with fads. Sex is just one more fad. However, fads based on sexuality are just a bit different, in that people seem to think their sex and gender are who they are.

The Genius of It All

Here is an example. If I call myself a genius, a born genius, and I am someone who joins up with groups of geniuses—and even begin to wear the “attire of the genius” groups, use the language of geniuses, etc.–I am perceived by these actions as a genius. But am I truly a genius? Would a genius seek to be one so desperately that he must come out as one and join a group?

Taking things even farther, I could even have participated in a community parade of geniuses and protested people of ordinary intelligence, calling them all hater of geniuses, if they dared to speak of the ordinary in ways that validated their ordinary intelligence. All things considered, do any of these actions mean I am a genius? Participation in the actions that some equate with lifestyle does not necessarily equate to the conclusion that I am a genius. I could bear the title of GENIUS and not be one. What is more, I could claim to have been born a genius, only to arrive later in life at the realization that I am quite an “ordinary genius.” Talk about oxymorons?

We live in a heightened state of sexual identity today, media-driven to be sure! How else would high schoolers—or anyone for that matter—know their sexuality, absent the practice? In my opinion, the titles we ascribe to our identities are not the real points of identification. Just like one’s beliefs, names are just that—NAMES. It is the actual, continued practice that defines us, in my opinion. Attraction is not the main issue. In the same way no one can claim to be a potato because of one’s regular cravings, attractions–and even addiction–for french fries, no one can say they are heterosexual or homosexual merely by attraction, or sexual lust. I’ll return to this conclusion a bit later. One thing is certain: We are all born sexual.

In case no one has paid attention yet, allow me to open a door and reveal this truth. We, the human race, are sexual creatures. Did you hear me? WE ARE SEXUAL. Why should we have to go around labeling ourselves by culturally-spotlighted titles? Why should heterosexuals and homosexuals have to somehow be certain that their sexuality is front-and-center? Think about it. Why do we have “sexuality clubs” on school campus? The Gay and Straight Alliance (GSA) is a club titled after sexual orientation and practice? Is being “straight” a belief or a practice? Or is it a world-view? Or better yet is it an inalienable right to be homosexual, found somewhere in Jefferson’s Declaration, or Locke’s Natural Rights?

Considering Teenagers

How do teens ever know what they are, unless they practice something long enough to know? Are high schoolers even oriented yet? Their brains and bodies are changing daily. Do we expect that teens WILL inevitably experiment with sexuality to discover their orientation? I hope not. That is quite dangerous. So, what purpose does a “sexual-titled” club have? I’d love to hear of the celibate homosexual–talk about the ultimate in doublespeak!!!

Any Google search will produce the answers to the questions just raised. There are places all over the nation popping up that base their identity on sexuality—as far down as middle and elementary schools. However, instead of going Google, many young people are going “Gaga.” Here is one such recent example:

The Youth Empowerment Summit (YES)

YES took place at Everett Middle School, just one of dozens of locations in the past few years. YES remains a FREE conference, sponsored by GSA Network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, and straight ally youth dedicated to fostering safe schools and youth activism. The conference is open to all youth and allies, with a focus on middle school and high school. Adults and teachers are welcome. Under the guise of “bullying,” the homosexuality agenda has made its was into all the corners of our kids lives.

It is not a moot issue to ask why not have a BSC Club too (Bi-Sexual Curious club). What about a Transgender Club? Many GSAs include these other orientations and lifestyles as protectionary, for those choose to proclaim a different sexuality. If gays do not feel comfortable in places, based upon their sexuality, then bisexuals and transgenders will probably feel just as uncomfortable. Should all sexual expressions have their own club? I would like to know just what “alliance” is formed between students of different sexual expressions? What about the “teenagers with crushes on their teachers clubs”? I’ll stop there at the edge of absurdity.

Why can’t we just stick to clubs period, you know, those that enhance civic participation and not sexuality? Why does sexuality have to be the open door? I shudder to think that demonstrating sexual practice is somehow one’s civic duty. Does there have to be a heterosexual community service club and a homosexual service club? Could we ever envision a non-gender club? Hmmm. How about naming it the Interact Club, where everyone interacts? What about Rotary, or Lions Clubs?

What About the Celibates?

What I am pointing out in this article, and hopefully the reader is catching some of my sarcasm and facetious allusions, along the way, is that we are all sexual creatures– including celibates? Those folks are defined by their LACK of practice, or orientation. Are they born that way, or is it a choice? Do we have opportunities for them to be celibate, and are they offended by all of this intolerable sex-talk? Celibates are still male or female, therefore sexual. I would like to see the statistics on gay celibates–those who have never had sex before. I would enjoy a discussion to discover how celibates know they are gay. The norm never has to explain itself. It is pure silliness to think that just attraction and even physical lust makes one gay, yet these are the primary determinants of one’s “same-sex-ploration,” if you will, all pigeonholed by the phrase “born that way.”

We live in a society that is so afraid to discuss the gay-issue, for fear of being labeled a homophobe (fear of gays). Labels, Schmabels, Carling Black-Labels (Calm down; The latter is a beer). As a person, I dislike bashing of any kind. Bashing heterosexuals who speak out as activists against the gay-lifestyle, with labels of bigotry, is as bad as heterosexuals who bashing gays at every opportunity. I agree with my colleagues that bashing and sexual slurs have to stop. But, I will go one further. Defining oneself by their sexuality invites polarization, and that also has to stop, unless we are going to allow additional marginalization of Americans with whom they choose to love and with whom to have sex. I call that form of identification quite shallow. But we live in a culture of labels and shallowness, and it is as if people are so uncontrolled in their desires they cannot help themselves and have little choice in their actions. Additional labels are assigned when one finds heterosexuality, and comes out of the homosexual lifestyle. It seems that with sex, you can’t have it “both ways.”

Lost and Found?

Anyone who comes out of the closet to admit their sexuality is somehow viewed as a person who has found himself, or herself. When were they lost? Many gay-adults are people who had opposite-sex spouses and families, children, and were involved in mainstream American life and living. Suddenly some of these folks walk away from marriages, many of their responsibilities, and those they reared, in order to pursue themselves? That is quite the height of selfishness, if you ask me–another hallmark of the current culture.

Do I have to admit to being a heterosexual for the world to accept me? Am I intolerant if I have different set of beliefs about sexuality? Not at all in either case.

New Civil Rights?

I have heard it said that the gay rights issue of today is a new “race” issue, like unto what the blacks faced in earlier decades. I think that argument is a red herring. No one I know has chosen to leave the Asian, Black, or Caucasian races to join another. Slaves were property with no rights, no freedom of speech, etc. Gays have all of these constitutional rights and more, depending on the state–where the Constitution grants everyone the same basic rights. Your skin color and DNA are what they are. If just one person leaves homosexuality and lives a heterosexual life, then there goes the ALL GAYS ARE BORN THAT WAY.

If a person uses race as analogous to sexuality, in order to define or identify oneself, then a coming out of one race to realize he or she is not truly that race, would suffice. Many of us have heard about, or know gays and straights, that have chosen another lifestyle. Trust me on this. There is nothing Eminem, Madonna, or JT can do to be Timbaland, “no matta how day dress wiff dare cloves.” I know we are “One Nation,” but don’t ask the aforementioned to “Apologize” for their own identities. They did NOT choose them. I reiterate, if just one gay or straight has chosen the alternate lifestyle, then the “birth” argument needs to be reexamined. And believe me, it does need to be reexamined. There are many reasons for “being” homosexual, departing from the norm. Maybe I have it wrong. Maybe we are all born homosexual, and because of abuse, social conditioning, or gender identity maturity, we just come out as heterosexual–even though we say nothing about it. Are you shaking your head yet?

Today we have gay sports teams being sued by bisexual players for sexual discrimination. Homosexuals are demanding that marriage is a right, when it is clearly NOT a right. Government might grant a legal right, but it can never be “right.” Gays in Texas want to divorce there, even when they were not married in that state. They’ll try anything to get a state to recognize marriage. If states against gay-marriage grant divorces from OTHER states’ marriages, then they (1) would have to recognize the marriage for a divorce to be granted, and (2) “the full faith and credit clause” would be implied, opening the door to federal decisions to bring the “doctrine of incorporation” into the mix. Having said that, it is just a matter of time before homosexual marriage (notice, I did not say same-sex marriage) is brought to the Supreme Court. The trend is that soon, homosexual marriage will be a legally done deal, and incorporated into all 50 states. Then it will be like abortion–forever an issue that will raise anger and disgust for many.

Radicalism

We have proms being cancelled because lesbians and gay teenagers want to make it a point to being same-sex dates. Things are so out of control that there is little sense anymore. It’s all about the individual and not the common good. Soon there will be heterosexual proms, homosexual proms, bisexual proms, transgender proms, etc. There are already proms and graduation parties designated by race and ethnicity. I am starting to see some reasons why some Muslims of the radical sects want to destroy the western world. But they don’t have to do it. We are doing it to ourselves.

In closing, I reiterate, we are all born sexual, for that is what being male and female imply when you check the gender box. I know it is popular today for people to define gender and sex different ways. Expressing that reality with sexual practice, or not expressing that is mostly about one’s choice. Without the practice, who knows? We all have our feelings and passions. How does anyone really know what his preferences are, when they are based in experimentation? I would not trust a teenage mind to make a lifelong determination about sexuality.

Teenagers and Life-Altering Decisions

I would hate to define anybody by their feelings and passions—especially high-schoolers–whose brains and bodies are changing every day. Here’s the bottom line. Am I against gays, or somehow a homophobe? Nope. That would be silly. I can easily separate issues from people. What I am against is this notion that somehow we must accept that everyone’s individuality who is either born gay, straight, whatever–over and against the vast majority of others. I am against a group hijacking sexuality and calling those who speak out, all sorts of names. It is classical republicanism versus individual rights all over again. Common good for the majority, versus the individuality expression of one, or a group. This is a good struggle to have in a democracy, as long as the struggle is not enjoined by haters using media and politics to ruin dissenters.

Coming out of the closet is a choice. I repeat, coming out in a “choice.” So too, is coming out of, and entering a lifestyle. No one is so compelled and driven to practice a lifestyle, unless there are issues of abuse, self-control, or some other sociological or personal concerns, such as addictions. Does this mean that out of all homosexuals, NONE are born that way? Probably not. However, no one has discovered the “gay gene,” yet. But does that mean all are born as such? I would reject that notion, because humans are not so bound that they cannot un-choose, make new choices, or choose not to choose, at all.

Speaking of such concerns, I want to go on record and come out and state that I am a “caffeinexual.” I have been hiding this fact and been cavorting with tea drinkers. People think I actually am a “tea-drinker.” I feel highly empowered, after having written this piece. I also feel like a parade is “brewing.” Coffee drinkers unite! We are all born this way. I can now check the gender box as a caffeinexual. But I can both ways, honestly–and I have! Coffee or tea? I am attracted to both, depending on my moods and the days of the week. Come and join me in my classroom any morning in my new Coffee-Tea-Alliance, to celebrate my “phreshness,” as long as you have “grounds” to do so.

Is Suicide Unpardonable?

6 Apr

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” Of course, the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, age 27, has spurred this post. Is suicide ever justified?

I am saddened about the death of Matthew Warren, and I am dedicated to praying for the family. I hope you are also.

Furthermore, let us make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, and making certain to state our love in words and by actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point.

The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddle with chemical imbalances, at time. We also live in a world that clamors for our lives. There is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose.

I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into suicidal thoughts. I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause destructive thoughts and irrational behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or clinical depression. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously. There is the reality that the brain is affected by biology and chemistry, and emotions and the brain are connected.

When these connections line up and negative emotions emerge from angry moods and language of destruction, we all must listen. However, what happens when we are all blindsided by irrational acts?

Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for conversational purposes.

First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such?

Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is sure death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide?

Third, is it possible for a person to be in such a state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? Alternatively, is suicide a cheap way out of problems, purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic?
We struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction. Yet, if we trace the family history, it seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on.

I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might fit as reasons. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not.

This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and eternality.

Additional issues for concern:

(1) How is killing others the same, or different from killing self?

(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?

(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot ask for forgiveness after the fact?

(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?

(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?

(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or allows one into heaven?

I do not pretend to know everything, and I am neither a medical doctor nor a psychiatrist. Nevertheless, I have opinions. I shared some of mine. Now, I would like to know yours!

Interesting Times: 2013

17 Feb

These are interesting times.  Two-thousand-thirteen has been quite eventful, thus far.  Somewhere between the words “interesting” and “eventful” lies the reality that affects us all:  Nothing in this world stays the same.

Friends retire from their lifelong vocations and press into their permanent vacations.  Others have medical issues arise and leave work, and full-time ministry.  Personal and moral issues drive a certain number into involuntary retirement way too soon.  Still others switch jobs and look for additional excitement.  Whether work or ministry, such revelations seem the pointers that guide each sunrise during the early days of this current year.

The possibility exists that many of the changes I write about are age-related, and that this is the season for change for those in question.  However, most are changing by choice, and doing so for a variety of reasons.  For example, I have lost colleagues and co-workers, pastors and friends, and sports buddies to change.  Some of these changes are conscious and weighed, others compelled by circumstances.  Even sickness and death have reared their ugly heads in 2013.  In fact, far too many of my family and friends are now ill and battling with one dreadful thing, or another.

In the midst of all of this change, so many wonderful opportunities have emerged for so many–even for many of those I reference above.  We could easily find ourselves mired in the negative aspects of life’s shortcomings.  That would be understandable.  However, in so doing, we would miss the blessings of each moment we are granted.  I use the word “granted,” for none of us are guaranteed any breaths or heartbeats.

Focusing on despair means sometimes missing out on the joys emerging, from within whatever struggles we face.  We will have them, and most of us will endure.  Those of us who are older are realizing the blessings of new family members, grandchildren, job-changes, ministry opportunities, writing ventures, and the  joy of realizing we have affected many lives for good, along the way.  I thank God for the people in my life.  Specifically, for example, I am grateful for people who decide to overlook what I do, in favor of whom I am.  Aligning these two, indeed, takes more than a life time, and is accomplished best by the Almighty.  This year the losses might be great, but we are all dispensable in this world.

I was reflecting on this very truth this past week.  My wife and I arrive at work very early each morning.  One day this week I commented, “imagine putting a sign up on your classroom door that read, ‘Mrs. Z’s classes will not meet this week.  See you next week.'”  She smiled and then laughed.  We both understand that laugh.  I then said, “You know, within 24 hours of your last day on this job, the system will continue like you never existed.  Things will change and the new students and teachers will have no idea of your life’s work.”  In her wisdom, my wife replied, “I know.  But hopefully what I do will live on in the lives  I affected.”  She is absolutely correct!

I share this brief conversation to say that we are products of the many people who left us long ago.  We are also living proof of those who left us recently, as well as emerging souls by the efforts of our contemporaries, including family and friends.  In change, and in God, there are always remnants–seeds planted–that germinate and flower through the efforts of others, later in life.  We owe much to those who gave their lives–only to be left along the trail of dusty memories.  Soon we will all be in that class, as we are mere passengers on this planet, transients, and this is not our home.  

At the sunset of one phase of our lives, where will we stand?  In the words of John the Baptist, when asked about his followers, directed all of his affection toward the Lord:  “He must increase, I must decrease.”  Therein lies the beauty of a life-in-focus, and priorities-in-line.  Life is not about my presence.  Life is about His presence in me.

The tabulation of the bottom-line for 2013 has begun.  No one knows what lies out there for any one of us.  However, I can assure you that making choices to thwart the status quo, and comfort, is what drives my passion for life.  Care to join me in the possibilities?

Open the door, God, if only for a moment . . . Walking by faith and not by sight, should get easier with age and diminished eye sight.  [smile]

Weird Parking Lot Experiences

7 Jul

Just yesterday afternoon, I was out and about after work.  I had just parked my
car in a shopping center parking lot when a man walked up to me and asked me
what my doctoral degree was in and where it was from.  My car license plate is
personalized, and I guess the man was quite curious about my pretense.

This was not the first time I was asked about my license plate, or about
my name.  One other time I was asked the genealogy of my family and the
etymology of my last name–all while pumping gas.  The man said that his wife,
who was sitting in their car, was curious.  I am sure we all have our parking
lot stories.

I have to laugh about the gas station confrontations I have had in my
life here in California.  About 5 years ago, I was pumping gas (Yes, the state
trusts us to pump our own)–and I was staring off into the distance and letting
my mind wander.  Suddenly, I heard this voice off to the right of my
daydreaming.  This mid-20s young man challenged me, “What are you looking at,
punk?”

I removed my sunglasses and said, “Excuse me?  Are you talking to me?
If you are, thanks for the compliment.”

He realized I was much older than he thought, and his bravado fell way
short.  Looking back now, it sort of reminded me about “Men Without Chests”
(C.S. Lewis).  I will save this analogy for another time.  But I went home and
told my wife I was a “punk.”  She replied, “You just found that out after all
these years?”  Wiseacre . . .

So back to my original story.  The man who questioned my degree gave me
a certain degree of his own–a bit of scrutiny.  He made a couple of loaded
statements of accusation that ended with question marks.  You know the kind.
Here is what he said:  “You are not one of those liberal, closed-minded
public-school teachers who indoctrinates our kids are you?”  Notice the
accusation with a question-mark?  I replied, “That’s an awfully closed-minded
thing to say.”  He was quiet, but he followed me into the same store.  Ironic,
yes. But that’s OK.  I don’t mind intellectual confrontations.

After a couple of minutes in the store, I ran into a friend and we began
to talk.  I don’t think I can go anywhere in this town without being known by
someone, or knowing someone.  While I was talking with my friend, the man
blurted out, “So, what do you think is the best thing to invest in, today, since
you teach economics and government.  Is it gold, silver, or some other precious
metal?”  My friend looked at me and smiled.  The other shoppers standing in our
vicinity were just looking.  I mean, the man’s decibel level just about made the
arugula and eggplant jump out of my cart.

My reply to the man’s question went something like this:  “I think the
most important thing to invest in is human lives.  These are the most valuable
resources in this world and in the next world, as well.”  He replied, “Can’t
argue with that answer.”

My friend winked at me.  One other woman adjacent to us spoke out the
words, “You got that right.”

So off I went.  But I did forget the fresh basil.  Dang!

Moral of the story?  Sometimes California fruits are misplaced and found
in the vegetable section–which happens to be one aisle over from the nuts.

Help! I Smell Like An Old Person

26 May

HELP!  I SMELL LIKE AN OLD PERSON!

© 2009, Ernie Zarra

My sisters and I refer to the smell as “old person’s smell.”  The odor in the house of my slender, gray-haired 75-year-old grandmother never seems to disappear.  With the windows open, or with them closed, the smell is always there.  Some days the smell is so strong that I am able to taste it.

The “old person’s smell” in Grandma Maggie’s house is actually a combination of several strong scents–at least I think so.  It is so strong that my friends always make fun of me after I return home from visiting.  As a 12-year-old, I hate that.  But my friends and I all share the same problem:  our grandparents houses smell like old people.

           Grandma Maggie has the most wonderful crushed-velour sofa.  Every time I visit, I pounce on the left side with my bottom, and slid into a well-worn corner.  This is grandma’s favorite corner of the sofa.  I stand up in the center of the sofa, when grandma is not watching, and jump up and down, as if on a trampoline.  The springs are so lively that I hear their baritone “boi-yoing” sound, at times, when I jump really high. 

           The gross part of the sofa is that with each plop onto the sofa, my nose catches a scent that is forever part of the pillows.  Grandma’s pillows smell like an old person.   So, when my face touches any of them, I wrinkle my nose and try not to breathe too deeply.  The pillows smell like a combination of moth balls, lilac toilet water, chicken soup, and hand cold cream from the super market.  Old people have funny smells.

           Like her house, my Irish grandmother seems to have a scent that hovers over her all day long.  It is like an invisible cloud of scents.  Every time she walks by, or every time she grabs me for a kiss on the cheek, there is that smell—the old person’s smell!  Now, the smell is nothing terrible, and she is my grandmother.  But sometimes, I am afraid to let her kiss me.  Even her breath has a funny smell.

           Grandma Maggie washes clothes by hand in the large, black, stone wash-basin in her downstairs utility room.  In order to fill the basin, she must turn on the valves for the hot and cold water.  The water from her Artesian well always rumbles and screeches through the shaky, old metal old pipes as it fills the water heater.  The water heater makes popping and snapping sounds inside, as the water begins to heat.

After a few minutes, grandma squeaks and tweaks another valve, and then turns the old galvanized metallic faucet knobs to just where she wants them.  The hot and cold water faucets begin exhaling air.  The water begins to come out, mixed with air, first with a sputter.  Then, it is followed by a loud spurt or air and a forceful flow follows.  Eventually there is a steady stream. 

Sometimes the water looks brown and rusty, so grandma has to let the water run and run to become clear.  Rusty water tastes like metal and has a dirty smell all its own.  Ewww, more old people stuff.

           One late October weekend, while the fall leaves are quickly dropping from their trees, my parents drop me off for a weekend visit with Grandma Maggie.  She lives in the country, where the temperature is always cooler, and the air always fresher. 

Grandma is in the bathroom fixing her hair when I arrive, so I head to the sofa to make my presence known.  I have a routine to follow, you know!  So, I enjoy a few private minutes of sofa jumping.  While jumping, I can actually feel the gusty drafts coming from the window that is directly behind the sofa.

           Before Grandma comes out of the bathroom, I get bored and run outside to enjoy the wind and to play “catch the leaves.”  It’s fun to catch falling leaves and crinkle them into small pieces, by rubbing them between the palms of my hands.  As the wind gusts, leaves fall quickly to the ground, in large numbers. 

I enjoy standing under the large, twisted branches of a 30-foot tall oak tree, which is 50 yards from grandma’s house.  This tree is my favorite tree to climb in and pretend I am a bat, by hanging upside down by my legs.

           The branches of the oak tree are so long that they shade the ground for over 30 feet.  But its branches are also very creepy.  They are shaped like the arms of monsters, with long, gangly, claw-like features. 

           This oak tree is the kind of tree where the roots are like octopus tentacles, reaching out of the ground, searching for whom to latch onto.  At night I am afraid to go near this tree.  But during the day the tree is fun. 

While standing on several of its bulging roots, I try wrapping my arms around the tree trunk, but my arms are far too short.  My arms are always too short.  Old people don’t have this problem.

           The wind is now blowing strongly enough to shake the large branches.  Even three bushy-tailed, gray squirrels are bobbing their furry heads as they cling to the dark-brown, bark-covered branches with their tiny claws.  One gust of wind blows a smaller squirrel right off its branch and it falls several feet onto the ground.   Off it scampers, unhurt. 

           After playing with the falling oak leaves for a several minutes I am bored again.  So, off I run toward grandma’s house.  I decide to enter through the utility room screen door.  I grab the handle and quickly fling open the door.  I step into the soap-smell-filled utility room and immediately the wind slams the door closed, behind me.  I am afraid of that screen door.  I jump forward.  That door always seems to scare me. 

Grandma is leaning over the wash basin in the utility room when I enter.  Her feet are firmly planted on the freshly painted “battleship gray” color floor.  She shrieks and squeezes a bar of soap extra tightly in her hands.  The screen door always seems to scare Grandma Maggie too!

As she squeezes, the bar instantly fires across the room like a rocket, hits the nearest wall, and drops to the floor with a soapy thud.  But that does not matter. 

Grandma picks up the soap and giggles with a high-pitch sound, which almost sounds like her old tea kettle spout as it begins to release steam through its nozzle.  She just shakes her head.  I am watching as Grandma scrapes her dirt-covered overalls across the ribs of her well-worn washboard.  Brown lye soap is being brushed into the stains with a boars’-hair bristle brush.  The clothes are sloshing around in the basin, as grandma dips them in and out of the water. 

Grandma is forcefully rubbing each piece of clothing across the ribbing of the washboard.  I watch her arms move back-and-forth quickly.  Then my eyes open wide.  Grandma’s upper arms have lots of loose skin, and the skin flaps side-to-side, in unison with the back-and-forth strokes of the bristle brush.  Grandma switches hands and her arms really get a workout.  Grandma Maggie sure has old person’s arms and her hands smell like soap—brown, lye soap.

Wanting to get a closer look, I jump up onto a three-step stool and politely ask grandma if I could help her.  She smiles and nods her head.  When she nods, the wrinkles of her neck have a way of bunching up right under her chin.  When she smiles, the wrinkles seem to stretch and disappear.  Grandma Maggie has old person’s wrinkly neck.

           As I stand on the three-step stool, I lean over into the wash-basin to begin my work.  Grandma hands me the bar of slippery, smelly brown soap.  Then she hands me the washboard and her bristle brush.  I rub some soap into the firm bristles of the brush, dip the brush in the basin water and begin to brush away a stain on one of grandma’s kitchen towels. 

           I am so confident that I could easily handle this chore that I rise up onto my toes, grab the washboard with my left hand, and slap the towel onto the ribs with my right hand.

           I begin a rhythmic-like stroke, up-and-down, dragging the brush bristles over the washboard ribs, with only a towel separating the two.  I bear down and, as I do, slip my tongue out of my mouth, to wet my upper lip.  With one strong down-stroke of my right hand, my body weight shifts and I slide off the stool and land head-first into the half-filled wash basin.  I thought I was going to drown.  I was gurgling soapy water and it tasted awful.  I even hit my head on the bottom of the stone basin.  I am afraid of that stool.

           Grandma Maggie lifts me up by my shirt collar.  I am dripping wet and coughing very loudly.  I look over at grandma and she is laughing and smiling, which means the wrinkles on her neck are gone.

           Besides being wet, I quickly realize that I now smell like an old person.  I smell like Grandma Maggie’s house and hands more than ever.  I smell like her!  I am afraid at what my friends going to say about this?  Oh well!  I accomplish one thing by falling into the basin.  I won’t need for a bath at the end of the day. 

Grandma Maggie hugged me later that evening and said I smelled really good.  I asked myself, how can an “old person smell” be good?  Then it hit me.  I was busy wasting far too much time on what I did not want to smell like that I missed something very important.  If being old, and smelling like an old person, was good enough for “my” grandmother, then it was good enough for me.

I am trying to remember to ask Grandma Maggie one question before bedtime.  “What is Fels Naptha, anyway?

California is in Trouble

17 May

My home state has caused its own trouble economically.

We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Democrats have ruled this state for decades and now they’ve created the
largest mess in the nation.

Illegals have so drained precious resources in education, medicine, law
enforcement, and monies for incarceration.  What illegals bring to the state, in
terms of revenues, is overshadowed by the annual allocations provided to
them.

I am not against people.  I am certainly not against people wanting to
be in the United States.  But we have to get these folks who are here illegally
either into the system, or out of our nation.  They cannot be protected as some
“legal class,” or granted minority status.  They are illegal.  If nothing else,
I implore my democrat-friends to consider the numbers.

California is on verge of going bankrupt with a $26.3 billion deficit.  We
are considering saving hundreds of millions of dollars annually by cutting
monthly welfare payments to illegal immigrants.  This equates to $640 million a
year.  But we’ll see if the democrat-ruled state ever votes to allow that.

California has an estimated 2.7 million illegal aliens (7% of the
state’s population).

Here is an example of entitlements given a family of illegal immigrants.  My
state gives a 43-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico $650 a month for each of
her four children and about $500 in federal food stamps and other vouchers.
That is $2600 plus $500 for food.  That’s $3100 a month for the family of
illegals.  This is $37,200 per year.  This does not include education
expenditures and medical expenditures, which are at no real cost to illegals, in
terms of the taxes they pay and the benefits they receive.

Let’s play the numbers game and lump everything together.  Assume that
the 2.7 million illegals in California were broken into family units of four.
There would be 675,000 illegal families in California.  Take the $37,200 per
year, per family, and multiply it by 675,000 families, and the annual
expenditure equates to over $25 billion.  We cannot assume that all illegals are
taking funds, as such.  But we can assume all illegals find their ways into
California public schools and hospitals, and some find their ways into
inarceration.

California spends between $4 billion and $6 billion annually on schools,
jails and hospitals for illegal immigrants. That doesn’t even include other
local government costs such as police and fire, road maintenance and other
public services.

~$2.3 billion anually, the largest amount 300,000 illegal immigrant
children at public schools throughout the state.  Each of them comes with a
price tage of $9,015 per student, annually.  Again, do the math.  300,000
illegals being educated in California public schools puts the tab at 2.7 million
dollars a year.  In one decade alone, $27 million has been spent on illegals
just to attend public schools.

Having compassion is one thing, but we have created a monster–one so
large that our illegal population surpasses the populations of more than a few
states’ population, overall.

Here are some other numbers:

~California spent around $834 million to incarcerate nearly 20,000
illegal aliens in fiscal year 2009-2010.

~My state spends $700 million annually for medical treatment on an
estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants.

More than half the healthcare money will go to emergency services but a
substantial portion will pay for non-emergency health services such as
abortions, prenatal and postpartum care and even nursing homes.

California is in serious trouble.  The democrats control every political
majority in the senate and assembly.  They occupy the governor’s and lieutenant
governor’s offices.  The attorney general of the state is a democrat.  Judges
are appointed by democrats.  Major cities are “blue.”  Taxes are high, and
Governor Brown is threatening to cut to the bone, causing massive layoffs for
citizens–yes citizens.  Yet, he and the Democrats will do little-to-nothing to
send illegals packing.

In plain English, we are a mess.

http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2011/calfacts/calfacts_010511.aspx#zzee_link_29_1294170707

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