Home?

An advertisement I heard today on the radio says that home is where our story begins. But what if I don’t have one? Where does my story begin?

I do not feel at home in this world. I agree with my grandmother’s sentiments about life on this mortal coil. According to my brother, she did not fight a terrible case of pneumonia and died because she felt the world was a bad place.

In the last few years I have returned to houses I lived in before.  Two of these visits caused me great angst. There was just too much pain associated with those places.

One was in the neighborhood where I grew up. I had made trips to this house before, but this time I passed the area by because a dark spirit came upon me.  I sensed the times where things in our family were not so great and a deep pall came over me.

Another journey I took last week was to the house where my own family and I lived over a decade ago. The surrounding hills and climate were just as appealing to me as ever. I really wanted to stay back then, but due to some reverses we had to leave. The years since have seen some very tough times.

Though I have a roof over my head in my current town, and have been there for almost two years now, it doesn’t feel like home. It’s just a place to hang out and sleep. This could be because I have not furnished it. I live in kind of a Spartan and minimalist fashion. But I think there is something more to my feeling of being adrift.

It has to do with what I construe as “home”. There are tons of songs about home which inform me of its nature. Bards have sung about home forever. Christian composer Chris Tomlin wrote lyrics which I think echo my grandmother’s idea:

This world is not what it was meant to be
All this pain, all this suffering
There’s a better place
Waiting for me
In Heaven

But I’m not in heaven. Like all of us I have to go on with life.  Is there some place called “home” on this planet? I think not.

One characteristic of home in this world is explained well by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, who popularized another song about it.

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave, wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

These lyrics tell me that in this life home is an unknown. This is because the future is also an unknown.

You never know where “home” will be. Many times I felt I would be in one place and I ended up in another. Some of these places I would have never dreamt of ever living.

Such uncertainty can cause fear, as Phillips notes:

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

As I have traveled down these unfriendly highways, I HAVE been filled with fear, which I know has come from evil, and trouble HAS dragged me down. In fact, there are times I feel like Humpty Dumpty. During those moments I believe no force on this planet can put me back together again.

Danny Gokey expresses how I feel at those times:

You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Gokey advises me that the only thing to do when I get to this place in life is to willfully get up off the floor of my current “home”, lock up and move on to the next location in my journey.

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Furthermore, he tells of moving toward a new start in our trek here on Earth.

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through

So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

These poets talk in vague terms of a Someone who is helping me along in my current walk here on Earth.  Who is the “me” who says to follow him or the person who will find me in Phillips lyrics? Love is a broad concept, not a person, so who is the one Gokey says will pull me through my troubles.

To me, the One helping me and loving me as I limp through this world is none other than God.

A well-known song from 55 years ago by Jim Reeves guides  me in deciphering why I feel restless and ill at ease in the present reality.

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

What gives me hope is meeting  my friend Jesus at the end of life and being comforted by Him face to face. Tomlin speaks of the encounter I can expect once I depart from here.

I’m goin’ home
Where the streets are golden
Every chain is broken
Oh I wanna go
Oh I wanna go
Home
Where every fear is gone
I’m in your open arms
Where I belong
Home

Lay down my burdens, I lay down my past
I run to Jesus, no turning back
Thank God Almighty, I’ll be free at last
In Heaven
In Heaven

Heaven is my real home. Thus, my story begins there once I reach it. My story is is intertwined with His Story.  All that is happening to me in this life is just a prequel.

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The antidote to society’s ills

Don Birnam has one constant in his life: his girlfriend Helen. In the end, her steadfastness saves Don from himself.

In the 1945 film “Lost Weekend”, Don (Ray Milland) goes on a several day bender. He’s fixated on alcohol. Like any addict, he seeks to deceive his brother, Helen (Jane Wyman) and others. But they know. Don has a reputation as a lush.

A writer, his alcoholism is rooted in his failure to publish. Not only is Don a loser as a writer, but he is also broke and living with his brother Wick.

Don’s drinking just compounds his inability to develop his longtime desire to write a novel. His spree from one Thursday all the way through to the following Tuesday reveals that his major focus has become getting another drink, not formulating prose.

On Friday of his ordeal, Don is criticized by his bartender Nat for how he treats Helen after he agrees to go out with a floozy at the pub.  In a flashback scene Don explains to Nat how he met his girlfriend. Their first encounter came about over a mixup over coats at a restaurant. Don ended up with Helen’s fancy wrap. Soon she discovers his problem with the bubbly, but sticks with him anyway.

Returning to the present day, by Tuesday even Helen is ready to dump him. She had spent Monday nursing him despite Don telling her to “go away”. She even spent the night on the couch in Wick’s apartment. But n the morning hesneaks off to a pawn shop to hock her precious coat, a symbol of their love.

Ostensibly,  Don is seeking money for booze, but Helen discovers that he actually has traded it in for a gun. She rushes back to his apartment because she realizes he intends to kill himself.

After wrestling with Don over the gun and losing, Helen tells him that he seems determined to kill himself so she won’t stop him. She only wants to know why he intends to commit suicide.

Their ensuing dialogue is a jewel in a film which won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The discussion shows the mindset of a person who has reached the end of their rope.

Don tells Helen that he is already dead. He “died over the weekend.” When she asks him the cause of death Don replies,”Oh, a lot of things. Of alcohol, of moral anemia, of fear, of shame, of DTs (my note: the confusion caused by withdrawal from alcohol).”

In characteristic fashion, Helen sticks with Don and counters his faulty arguments. She tells him he can stop drinking. When he says that only people with a purpose can do that, she reminds him that he has talent and ambition.

“That’s dead long ago,” he answers.

“It’s not. You still have it,” she says.

Helen seeks to give Don hope. She that he will get well when he tells her how he can’t sit at a typewriter and write because his brain lacks clarity and he’s scared. She also tells him he has experienced a miracle. During their talk Nat has shown up with Don’s typewriter, which got lost in the shuffle of the lost weekend.

“What will I write about,” Don asks.

“What you always wanted to write,” Helen replies. She points to the title page about a novel called “The Bottle”.

“What was that going to be,” she asks.

“About a messed up life,” Don says. “A man, a woman, and a bottle. Nightmares, horrors, humiliations, things I want to forget.”

Helen argues, “Put them on paper. Get rid of them that way. Tell it all, to whom it may concern. It concerns so many people, Don.”

The suicidal writer pushes a cigarette into a glass of whiskey and sits down to write, and tells Helen about the people to whom he will send the finished work. Don is on his way to healing, thanks to his girl.

We all need a Helen in our lives. Life is not possible without one.

We also need to be that kind of person as well.

In American culture we tend to not get involved when people struggle. This seemingly indifferent pose comes from our individualism. We don’t want to interfere and violate a person’s independence.

I do recall having a friend like Helen. I used to call him “The Hound of Heaven”, the title of a poem by Francis Thompson.

This writer portrays God as a  “hound”, chasing His “prey” over the course of years. The source of the author’s problems is His refusal to end the pursuit by submitting to God.

“Lo, All things fly thee for thou fliest Me,” Thompson writes.

As Nat restored Don’s lost typewriter, God is shown in this poem as the ONE who gives back to us what has been taken from us when we seek those things through Him.

We need caring friends combined with a loving God to meet us where we are and help us to recover from our losses

As Helen pursued the failed writer Don, Jesus kept after an even greater flop:  His disciple Peter, a fisherman who had denied His friend at His crucifixion.

Peter knew His weakness even before his colossal defeat.  Early in the ministry of Jesus, He performed a miracle by providing Peter and his colleagues a huge catch. “Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” said Peter after He witnessed Jesus’ intervention. Peter knew He couldn’t meet the expectations of such a Person and He didn’t.

However, after He rose from the dead Jesus prepared a meal of fish on the shore as Peter was out to sea on a boat. Knowing that the chef on the beach was Jesus, Peter jumped into the water and swam to Him.

It was during this event that Jesus restored Peter. Like Don and Helen, the two have a sterling dialogue in which the Lord exhorts his disciple to fish for men.

Peter went on to become the leader of the church (some think he was the first Pope) and the author of some of the New Testament. If it had not been for the persistence of His friend and His God, Peter may have had a fate similar to the one Don was headed for.

In “September 1, 1939” W.H. Auden writes of people in a dive bar:

“Lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night, who have never been happy or good.”

Stuart Briscoe writes of how the faces in this bar reflect their owners. They are full of worry. Briscoe notes that the biblical King David had such an expression until He went to God for forgiveness and relief from his shame. Expounding on David’s message in Psalm 34, Briscoe says:

The faces along the bar of life belong to people looking for solace in their pain, longing for friendship in their loneliness, hoping for joy in the midst of their disappointments. They need a smile, a touch, a message of encouragement. Who better to bring it than the man who can say with conviction, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”.

I continue to need such men in my life and hope I can be one to others. Perhaps people of this ilk can be an antidote to a society currently stained by the poison spread by a lack of love.

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Garbled messages

I was sitting in my local Starbucks this morning when a soft rock song with a gentle sound and a male singer with a haunting voice was played. It moved me and I wanted to identify the song so I could listen to it again, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t understand the lyrics. I thought I caught part of a sentence and “Googled” it, but never found what I was looking for. I finally gave up.

Shortly after that, an old age pensioner walked by. He was wearing a T-shirt which included a title or name on it, but the complete moniker was concealed by the jacket he was wearing. I was interested because the letters I DID see were identical to ones belonging to the name of a city where I used to live, a place located in Europe.

The old fellow’s jacket bore a lion insignia. This animal is the symbol of the country where this town is located. However, the term “Polizei” was emblazoned next to the lion and a quick Internet search told me that it is the German word for “police”. My city is in Finland. Even so, I was intrigued.

The man passed by me on his way out and as he did a woman walked in. I immediately caught the pleasant scent of her fragrance, but she moved so far away I couldn’t make her out. I was wondering if the attractiveness of the smell was representative of the person, but I couldn’t tell.

It occurred to me after these three consecutive frustrating incidents that a lot of communication gets easily distorted. In my case, the messages were garbled by obstructions in my line of sight and hearing.

I could have sought to overcome these obstacles. For example, I could have asked the senior citizen if he had lived in Finland or asked a barista if they knew the name of the song I had heard. Further, I might have moved closer to the lady with the sweet aroma, but of course that would have been creepy. (As it turned out, she DID walk in my direction and I found that her redolence was more distinctive than her appearance.) In other words, I could have sought to clarify my end of the communication.

I used to teach academic writing to engineers and one of my mantras was that it was not the responsibility of the receiver of their communications to have to interpret their them. I made it clear to these budding stars of technology that it was THEIR job to be clear.

Lack of clarity is what frustrates me when I listen to politicians in this day and age. For instance, I read the following on Yahoo this morning.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling on the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate all issues related to obstruction of justice in the events leading up to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This post just added to my earlier frustration I experienced from the incomprehensible communications by people at Starbucks. I knew that the folks at Starbucks did not intend to send me garbled messages. In fact, they were not even aware of their own communication or of me.

However, given the political environment we live in today and Madam Feinstein’s affiliation, I could only presume that she planned her use of the alarming phrase “obstruction of justice”. She was going after her political opponent, i.e., the current president of the United States.

This article prompted my response. I wrote the following in Yahoo’s reaction section of the post:

Exactly what “justice” does Feinstein say is being obstructed? Justice is defined as “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals.” (Merriam Webster for kids). What crime was committed? If she is referring to Trump seeking to influence Comey, how is that obstruction? POTUS is in charge of administration of justice and the FBI director is his subordinate in that task.

All the honorable senator’s statement did was raise a bunch of questions. It is her responsibility in my view to answer those questions for me in her public statement. However, I realize this is too much to ask from a politician. As a class, they are almost always purposely vague.

When it comes to my own issues, especially on subjects of importance to me, I can’t be like Senator Feinstein. I have to seek to define them as precisely as possible. I tried to do this as part of a writing exercise while I was the Starbucks.

Author Julia Cameron suggests that writers have a dialogue with their “Inner Writer”. She advises to write two letters; one is to be written from the “Inner Writer” to me and the other is by me to my “Inner Writer”. The task is to clarify my own fears and complaints regarding writing so that I can reassure myself that I have the “right to write” (the title of her book).

One of the problems my Inner Writer came up with is that I feel as if I have no message. My “self” replied:

“If you want my advice, get with God. Get your message from Him. Then write that message.”

In context, I realized as I did this exercise that I felt I am not allowed to be a writer. My response to Inner Writer was this:

You are not only allowed to be what God made you to be. You are encouraged to be what He made you to be.  In fact, it might be said that you are commanded to be what He made you to be. You are asking for a purpose from God. If writing is it, then be a writer. If not, then be whatever else He tells you to be.

One of the problems we have this side of heaven is that messages from God are garbled. The famous “love chapter” in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, likens our understanding of His communications in this life to a person looking in a flawed mirror.  As with my attempt to see the lady at Starbucks, my effort to perception of God is dimmed by our distance from each other.

However, I have had a taste of His presence and He indeed desires mine. My prayers are a sweet incense to Him. Thus, I have to keep trying to find a way through the muck to get to Him and hear what He has to say to me. Making sense of His messages to me are crucial.  He’s not a fellow customer at Starbucks. He’s the living God.

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Filed under Christianity, Communication, Donald Trump, language, politics, religion, Uncategorized, writing

It’s time to get angry about terrorism

Two days after another terrorist massacre in England. This time three men allegedly coordinated an attack which involved a van running over people and folks minding thier own business getting their throats slit. The world has gone crazy. Or is it only the Muslims who are maniacal? I don’t think so.

In  Los Angeles I have seen people from Muslim countries. They frequent the nearby grocery stores where I live in South Bay. They are friendly people with families trying to make their way in life like other Americans.

I know many Muslims from my years of teaching. In fact, I love a lot of them and count them to be my friends.

These nuts perpetrating the events in London, Paris, and San Bernardino do not represent the people I care about. They have warped minds and evil hearts and use religion as a cover to conduct their vile acts.

Seeking to ban Muslims from America is wrong. We have a long history of accepting people from all over. A drive down Olympic Blvd in West Los Angeles yesterday morning showed me how diverse this country is. I went from poor Latino neighborhoods to Koreatown to plush Beverly Hills. My course finished in tony Santa Monica.

The haves and the have nots. In the middle of this beach town at the end of Olympic Blvd, expensive restaurants and watering holes share streets with the homeless and a Goodwill Store.

Our problems are mainly economic, not religious. As long as anyone wants to come here to better themselves or are truly fleeing despotic governments, I am all in favor of immigration.

I remembered the victims of London yesterday in Santa Monica.  There are a couple British-themed pubs on Santa Monica Blvd and I hit one. I hoisted a Guinness in honor of the men who fought the terrorists with their pints. I know. It’s an Irish ale and the bartender was an American. But it didn’t matter.

I have been wondering how Europeans are supposed to defend themselves. Their elitist leaders, living in their protected bubbles, have taken their guns away. Ours here in America have been trying to do the same for years.

We fought the British for many reasons, including the right to carry guns. After it was all said and done, we beat them because we had access to weapons. It’s one reason the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution includes a clause that prevents our government from infringing on the right to bear arms. We Americans have felt we need them for our own security.

The government is always too little too late when it comes to just about anything, and this includes protecting its citizens from terrorists. How many of us have had an experience in which the police say that they can’t do anything about a threat until a crime is committed.

I am not suggesting that we citizens emulate the gunslingers  of old, men (and sometimes women) who are falsely portrayed by our entertainment industry. The reality is the Wild West wasn’t as violent as our flicks have made out. But many of the atrocities committed by kooks in recent years could have been squelched by one of their targets who just happened to be carrying a gun . Occasionally, someone with a weapon has indeed stopped the murder of innocents by plugging the demented murderer in their midst.

At the moment I am in a state of anger over terrorism. I missed the reactions of my fellow Americans on September 11 because I was living and working abroad. In fact, I haven’t watched too much about the defining terrorist even of our time until recently.

My rage was stoked yesterday as I watched a documentary about the Falling Man.  This photo was taken by Richard Drew on September 11 as a man fell or jumped from the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:41 am.

What a way to die. Many of the folks in the World Trade Center were faced with the choice of burning or suffocating to death or jumping out a window on one of the top floors of a 1500 feet. The Falling Man image and the news about the 200 or so “jumpers” has not been published much after September 11 because of the anger it evoked from the world.

I get it. It’s a horrifying picture. But some believe it in some ways honors the memory of the unknowns who had to make the terrible choice to escape the smoke or were blown out of the building. Even now, as I scan the Esquire piece on the documentary published in September of last year, I have tears coming to my eyes.

Even so, the banishing of the story from our public consciousness is indicative of something disturbing. We don’t want to confront the issues that caused such a gruesome sight. However, we should confront them and deal with them.

Yesterday I told a friend that the media should publish photos of the victims in London. They should show their slit throats. No, I am not a voyeur nor am I unfeeling. I just believe it is the only way we can shock our modern “civilization” into doing something about terrorism, and specifically, the terrorists themselves.

Our governments don’t seem to want to do anything. We shouldn’t expect them to after witnessing years and years of their inaction. There are no politicians out their willing to show enough courage to shift the sluggish machine of bureaucracy out of its doldrums.

Perhaps as individuals we fear our own deaths so much that we don’t want to be reminded that one day we will all meet our Maker.  Therefore, when another deranged person murders a vulnerable fellow human, all we can do is weep, light a candle and sing kumbayah. This ongoing ritual provides us with some sort of a  conscience cleansing and allows us to move on with our pathetic lives.

Or maybe my friend is right. He asked rhetorically yesterday “What can we do?”  Maybe like him we believe that we are powerless to effect change.

What we could do is to allow ourselves to get angry; I mean really furious. Enough to do something about the lack of protection we have against murderous thugs.

I think my rage is righteous. It’s why I am writing about it. If someone reads this, may I have influenced them to take action.

Maybe you could do something else with your own talents and gifts. Otherwise, the world will continue to be crazy.

 

 

 

 

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Culture shock at the 99 cent store

The local 99 Cent Only Store is quite an experience. It’s the only place I go shopping where I get a sense of panic as I mill around.

I don’t care for shopping in general, but I mostly tolerate it. But at the 99 Cent Only Store in my community, I seem to actually suffer psychological stress.

I believe I have pinpointed the cause of this angst. The place is literally a cross cultural meeting zone.

Having lived in a small city in the Midwest the last few years I am encountering some overall culture shock out on the West Coast anyway.  The 99 Cent Only Store is just part of my transition from traditional America to a place that seems to be a separate, multicultural nation. My anguish at this shop is just a symptom of the kind of response a cultural transition triggers,

Some of the my uneasiness isn’t due to differences in culture. It is provoked more by the  more universal experience of moving from a rural area to the big city. Unlike my fly-over country town, in this Pacific megalopolis there are crowded highways and crowded parking lots. Further, there are heavily populated shopping malls. Even the hiking trails are loaded with people.  Back home I am used to isolation and peace and quiet.

The 99 Cents Only Store is just a part of this local phenomenon of commotion. The shop has its own set of noise and clatter caused by its masses. Every aisle and checkout line is full.

As I do when I drive in traffic,I have to stay totally aware to avoid a collision as I cruise around this repository of cheap goods.

Going to buy the elements necessary to living at a 99 Cents Only Store in this locale is not only similar to driving the freeway, but also a bit like shopping abroad. In a recent trip there, I had a list of items and had trouble finding them. The Latino lady I asked for help didn’t understand my English. She didn’t seem to comprehend my question about the location of radishes and green onions. A fellow Anglo, probably a more experienced expat with perfect language skills told me where to look as she passed by and observed my struggles.

After I picked out my treasures, I maneuvered my shopping cart through the herd to the cashier line and waited as the people in front of me checked out. It was there that the event I have dreaded since I have been out West occurred. I had a wreck.

This accident was not my fault and it was only the equivalent of a parking lot fender bender, so it was really no big deal. It was only a nudge from behind.

Although the rear-ender was minor, I still felt as if my personal space had been violated. As a result I began to feel annoyed. Then I turned around and was totally disarmed.

Before me stood a short, wiry Asian fellow. “I need a walking license,” he said smiling. I laughed and replied, “So do I.”

Like an old friend, this man began to talk. He told me his name was Pham.

This senior citizen asked me, “How old do you think I am?” I looked him over and answered,“Oh, I would say early to mid 60s.”

My new Vietnamese pal answered with a look of glee and a sparkle in his eye. “I’m 80.”

I was astonished because he clearly had taken a drink from the Fountain of Youth. Pham was a good-looking guy, slim with an appealing face and a non-descript coloring to his hair.

“That’s incredible. You’re a handsome guy!”, I said. He kept smiling.

A senior Vietnamese lady came to his side and I asked Pham, “Do you know this lady?” He said, “That’s my boss.”

Pham’s wife said without missing a beat, “He’s 80.” I expressed my amazement to her as well.

Pham proceeded to tell me about his life. He told me proudly and with his continued smile that he had been a fighter pilot. “I flew 600 missions,” he said. That seemed like a lot to me. But Pham confirmed to me that he was telling the truth because he rattled off the designations of the planes he had flown. Having been around Navy pilots as a young man, I knew that HE knew what he was talking about.

I wondered how a Vietnamese guy could be a fighter pilot and wanted to ask him about it. Guesses flashed through my mind. I surmised that he had fought for the US in Vietnam or that he had immigrated and joined the service.

I wish I had had time to have a long talk with Pham about his four-score life. But the throngs kept pressing and we had to move through the checkout line.

I also found myself to be disoriented, one of the symptoms of culture shock. As a result, I stopped at an empty cashier station to make sure I had all my purchases and the things that I brought with me.

Sure enough, the cashier who had checked me out saw me and brought over the cell phone I had bought the day before. (I can tell you it was more than 99 cents.)  As I went through my backpack and purchases Pham and his wife passed behind me and exited the store.

I was sorry to see him go, for he was a gift from God. My positive meet up with this elderly Asian man has helped me to  move on from my cultural fatigue in the Pacific States. It also reminded me of why decided to work cross culturally years ago: I am intrigued and fascinated by the customs, language and people of other nations. I feel re-energized and feel the allure of international life once again.

My last visit to the 99 Cent Only Store was far more valuable than the inexpensive items sold there.

 

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Out and about with the down and out

Comedian Dennis Miller was recently asked by now-disgraced pundit Bill O’Reilly how things were going in his home city of Santa Barbara, California.

Miller said something to the effect,”I tell ya Billy. I only go out when I have to. I leave home, do my business and scamper back to the compound as quickly as possible.”

Hisstatement comes as a surprise considering that he lives in a resort city with a Mediterranean climate. The inference from Miller was that the world has just become too full of nutcakes  who make modern life just completely unpalatable, even in a place like Santa Barbara.

Yesterday, after I had spent some time in downtown Los Angeles and nearby Pasadena, my brother asked me how it went. My response was similar to Miller’s.  I mainly was trying to get a laugh out of my brother because in truth yesterday’s experience was different than the comedian’s, even though I did indeed meet up with what most people would say is a strange dude.

After dropping my brother off at work, I traveled to Pasadena and took the light rail to Union Station with a friend to view a Nordic exhibit featuring food and nature scenes from the region. We were both interested because we had once lived in Finland.

Before I had even looked at one image, a fellow was in my face. My normal response over the course of my life when accosted by strangers in public transportation centers has been to flee the scene as quickly as possible. But for some reason, this time I took a different approach. I carried on a conversation with Jorge.*

We talked and I think at first I didn’t understand that this middle-aged man might be mentally ill or perhaps homeless.  We quickly got into details of our personal lives and I found we had a lot in common.

However, at times my new friend seemed a bit unhinged, at least for my taste. Jorge hugged me twice, which made me a little uncomfortable because I am not a “hugger”, especially with men. Fiat times came close to breaking into tears when I shared something about myself that moved him.

In addition, he tended to drop f-bombs regularly, complained about security at the train station harassing him and made comments to passing females.

Although my pal claimed to have a job, a wife and a home and also said that he had just come from a doctor’s appointment, he seemed to linger at our venue. His backpack was parked over in a seat in the station lounge.

Further, Jorge’s demeanor wasn’t one you would expect from a person you had just met. He followed me around the exhibit and kept talking.

Unusually for me, I took it all in stride. In fact, although I don’t think I did anything untoward, I think he might have wearied of me. He said he had to go to the rest room and left, never to be seen again.

I jokingly told me friend that perhaps I had been more overbearing than Jorge was and he had had enough.

I believe my newly minted view toward talking at length to strangers, even those who seem down and out, has come from my own encounter with setbacks in life. I guess what they say is true, that life tends to keep you humble.

It’s not that I have totally objected to talking with unfamiliar people in public places before I met the train station man. In my travels in the US and abroad I have grown bolder.

Just this week I introduced myself to an old age pensioner in Starbucks. He was wearing a hat with the moniker “Sisu”emblazoned above the lid. The term is Finnish and is loosely translated “guts” (i.e., courage, determination and toughness).

Having lived in Finland and knowing that the language isn’t exactly common in Los Angeles, I was curious. I figured the man must be from there or at least had traveled to this out-of-the way place.

Turns out he was that Los Angeles rarity: a transplanted Finn. Heikki and I had a lengthy conversation about his homeland, California and our lives in general.

I was amazed when he explained that he was born in Rovaniemi, a city on the Arctic Circle pillaged by the Germans in World War II and had to flee to Sweden at the age of one. I have a relative from there who had the same experience.

It was interesting to learn of his travels in Europe after the war and his eventual location to California to become an engineer. He told me he worked for decades in the aeronautical industry and even for the C.I.A.

The reason I was willing to approach Heikki was that we were in a Starbucks frequented by paying customers. Unlike loiters in bus and train stations, I could expect that the inhabitants of the coffee shop were not threatening. (I hope Heikki had the same expectation. He could have had questions when I walked across the room to introduce myself. I don’t always look that approachable.)

I noticed that I was tempted to revert to my unwelcoming attitude toward the debilitated when my friend and I returned to Pasadena. On the train back I held a mildly negative view toward a peculiar fellow who felt free to impose himself on our conversation about the fascinating local natural phenomenon, the Jacaranda tree. But I didn’t hold my disdain for long. I was mostly amused.

I was less amused when a young man came by our table as we dined and asked for food. When another clearly homeless and aging man sat on the sidewalk and directed some unintelligible verbal ire toward us as we exited the restaurant, I also wasn’t pleased. But to be honest, I was more annoyed with the restaurant for allowing these men to harass its customers.

It’s not that I lack compassion. It’s just that I feel a bit put out because I don’t personally have the wherewithal to deal with all of society’s less fortunate.

I know there are government and private institutions out there that will help them.  They don’t need to be harassing the general public as they go about their business. I tend to get unhappy when  I face off with these folks because I feel they are choosing to take this approach to dealing with their lack instead of making use of the resources available to them.

Even so, I hope my attitude from yesterday’s meet and greet with Jorge at the train continues and grows. As a Christian, I walk around with the subliminal question “what would Jesus  do?” floating around in my brain when I face off with the distressed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the way I handled the situation with Jorge yesterday was more in line with how Jesus would have responded. In fact, while taking the time to talk with him, I was briefly able to share my faith and perhaps move Jorge toward faith.

In the  final analysis, the state of his eternal soul is more important than improving his physical and mental condition.

 

 

 

 

*(name changed to protect the innocent)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Christianity, Finland, Homeless, Jesus Christ, Media, redemption, religion, Uncategorized

Westerners don’t understand the danger they’re in

“We don’t revolt because we don’t understand.”

Phillip K. Howard wrote these words 20 years ago as he decried how overbearing regulations put forth by government have crushed American freedoms.

Howard didn’t believe that our leaders have ill intent in making all the rules that dictate everything we do today. In a view toward being fair to everyone, the author believes they just thought that laws should be as specific as possible, with a view toward being fair to everyone,

However, he says that our lawmakers’ efforts toward being precise have produced the opposite effect. In trying to cover every eventuality by making blanket rules for all, they have created huge costs and imbalances.

This is why I almost hate to read the news today.  Stories of injustice imposed on the majority of inhabitants of the western world by elite politicians in order to deal with a problem affecting a few are prevalent in the media.

One of the most recent examples of such inequities involves the rape of a 15-year old girl in an Austrian town. She was attacked by three male “refugees” from Third World countries, people who purportedly were in the little nation through the benevolence of the government.

If you follow the news, you know that European leaders are taking in people fleeing the war-torn hellholes these men came from. I don’t know the motives of the politicians, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they are just trying to alleviate the suffering of some of the folks who suffering from war in other places.

But in performing what seems to be a righteous act for the sake of some escapees from among the millions in these wretched countries, these office holders have put their own people at risk. Instead of owing up to this malfeasance, some of Europe’s public servants are trying to cover for the crimes of the migrants.

For instance, when a 10-year old boy was raped by one of these “refugees” in a swimming pool last summer, officials asked that Germans try to understand that the attacker comes from a different culture. One of the excuses offered and concurred with by leaders was the migrant’s statement that he had not had sex in four months and felt pressure.

As someone who has worked cross culturally for over a quarter of a century, I appreciate anyone who tries to put themselves in the shoes of another person who might have different customs than they do. But citing differences in cultural norms for pedophilia is of course ludicrous.

I do wonder though what makes these evil people think they can get away with their transgressions in Europe.  Somehow I think the power- that- be need to dig a little deeper for the cause of the motivations behind the assaults.

Could it be that “refugees” arriving from these strict Islamic countries feel free to rape and pillage after they spend a while observing European society?  After all, they watch television programs and view internet sites full of all kinds of immorality.

Perhaps the pols could learn something from television, too. I know I do.

I recently caught part of a M.A.S.H. episode in which Colonel Potter (played by Harry Morgan) becomes kind of a father figure to an injured soldier cared for by his doctors and nurses.

Private Danielson is getting harassed by a couple of men in his unit who are also in the M.A.S.H. ward. It seems he doesn’t believe in sex before marriage and has let the other guys know that he treats his girlfriend back home with respect. These men haze him with jokes and pranks, including tricking him into playing poker with a deck of cards with naked women on them.

Danielson tells them,”Why don’t you guys just leave me alone?”

One replies,”Danielson,  you don’t like women, you don’t like to drink, you got the old man looking out for you. You’re about the sorriest excuse for a man I ever saw.”

To defend himself, the private tells his abusers that he has been accepted into a unit responsible for the dangerous job of defusing bombs.  It’s a lie, but Danielson then seeks to cover it by asking Major Houlihan how he can get into the ordnance disposal unit.

Potter gets wind of his plan and argues with Danielson, who becomes angry. Potter ends the soldier’s ill advised course of action by keeping him in the hospital. In the end, he comes by to apologize to the Colonel.

Before Danielson leaves for his original unit, Potter tells him “Make sure you stick to those values.”

The Western world ought to take Potter’s advice. But first, its leaders and people should evaluate what those values are.

What is it exactly do European countries and their cultural descendants in the  United States and Canada stand for today anyway? Answering that question could go a long way in determining whether or not our leaders will handle our problems without violating common sense, or at least what used to count for sound judgment.

This morning as we drove down the freeway a  friend of mine and I were discussing the complete disconnect between people in the US these days. He hit on the cause of all this strife.

“People’s world views are so different, we will never have unity in this country,” he said.

I do believe what my pal was referring to was the idea that in America we are in a “culture war”.  The term was coined by University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter  a quarter of a century ago to define the conflict between conservative (traditional) and liberal (progressive) values in our country.

Pat Buchanan, who ran for president in 1992, made a major issue of this culture war, adding to its definition by calling it a battle of religions.

There has been no letup in this collision of beliefs . The battle has only increased as the country changes, a metamorphosis fueled by unbridled immigration from countries which heretofore have not had much representation in the States.

 

 

Until this clash of civilizations in the West has a clear winner, we will continue to see such outrages as are occurring in Europe now.  The only reason we have the disgusting events of late on our hands at all is that the majority of the citizens in western countries either haven’t understood what is happening to their nations, or don’t care to.

Until we begin to understand that we are in a war and care to do something about it, the outrages will go on.

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Filed under culture, politics, religion, Uncategorized, United States