What divides us

There is a church down the street from my house that uses a sanctuary that once housed a neighborhood Southern Baptist Church. The church that occupies this building today has a catchy, hip name but when you read their “beliefs” they are still basically a Southern Baptist Church in a different candy wrapper. My community is dotted with these kind of old traditional structures that have been filled with pastors who don’t wear robes or ties and congregations attending services in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. It is a casual brand of fire and brimstone with guitars replacing organs and big screens replacing hymnals.

I am not criticizing this new brand of worship. Both my kids, who grew-up in a very traditional Presbyterian Church, attend these kind of churches. Thankfully just ones a little less conservative than the one near my house.

This church sits on a prime piece of real estate and given that the crowds look a little sparse to me every Sunday I decided to check-out their website to see if I could learn anything about how they were doing. What struck me immediately was how they described their beliefs. The Bible is the “written Word of God”. It is the “essential and infallible record of God’s self-disclosure to mankind”. The Bible is “fully and verbally inspired by God” and therefore “free of error”. And here is the fun one for me, the Bible is “totally sufficient and must not be added to, superseded or changed by later tradition, extra-biblical revelation or worldly wisdom”.

I really struggle with groups who proclaim to take a literal interruption of the Bible. The fallacy in this approach is it is a biased, human interruption of stories written 2,000 years ago. For me, the idea of fitting the Bible into our modern context or adding “worldly wisdom” means having a living and growing base to work from. We should appreciate and understand the time, place, and background of the scriptures, and recognize that, like our faith, the scriptures should grow with us, not against us. Rob Bell, author and founder of the Mars Hill Bible Church summed it up best for me, “To take statements made in a letter from one person living in a real place at a moment in history writing to another person living in a real place out of their context and apply them to today without first understanding their original context sucks the life out of them.”

If you have spent anytime reading my blog you know that I am not a fan of Franklin Graham. Mr. Graham, at least for me, epitomizes the type of biased, human interruption of scripture that continues to divide this country. I consider his remarks, and views as self-serving and hateful rather than inclusive and compassionate.

Recently Mr. Graham asserted that it was his belief that Donald Trump would remain in power until God’s purposes had been accomplished and completed in the United States. What exactly that purpose is I am not sure and Mr. Graham didn’t or hasn’t offered any hints. He truly believes that Trump’s election was divine intervention. He stated in an interview about Trump, “He did everything wrong, offended almost every group of people, but I believe he won because of God.”

The list of things dividing this country is enormous and sadly growing everyday. In Washington it is a battle between Republicans, and Democrats, Conservatives, and Liberals and those battles have spilled into the homes of every American. Religion shouldn’t be a divide, faith in whatever you believe shouldn’t be a line in the sand with us and them on either side. But it is, made so by extremist such as ISIS and the Franklin Graham’s of the world and yes, there are parallels. Words and actions matter and can be just as harmful and deadly as bombs, just as deadly as bombs Mr. Graham.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” –  Luke 6:35    

 

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Leadership

In 2008 an unknown wide receivers staff coach named Dabo Swinney became the interim head football coach, mid-season, of the Clemson Tigers college football team. He was 39 years old. At the end of the season and after beating Clemson’s instate rival, the University of South Carolina, he was named Clemson’s 27th head coach and proceeded to lose to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.

Among die-hard Clemson fans Dabo was not a popular hire. He wasn’t old enough, smart enough, or mean enough. He may have been a great a recruiter but his ah shucks, rah-rah cheerleading style rubbed hard-core Tiger fans who worshiped the tobacco chewing, mean as a rattle snake former head coaching icons of Danny Ford and Frank Howard the wrong way.

But in just eight short years Dabo did the unthinkable, he won a national championship, something Clemson last did under Ford in 1981. As you can well imagine everyone, except South Carolina fans, now love Dabo. Crusty old Clemson fans melt in the palm of his hands. Anything he wants, anything he needs to keep Clemson football at the top of polls he gets.

How did he do it? How did Clemson go from the middle of the pack to the top in eight short years? Dabo will tell you the formula is real simple, he assembled a great team of people, helped them establish their goals and let them do their job under his watchful eye. Dabo understands his role as the head cheerleader, supporting and encouraging the smart people he has hired and stepping in, when he needs too, to make the hard decisions necessary to advance and succeed. As Lee Iacocca once stated “I hire people brighter than me and I get out of their way.” That is how a leader leads, not by bragging or boasting about being the smartest and not by blaming others for your puck-ups either.

There are 558 key positions requiring Senate confirmation in Donald Trump’s administration. As of today, 411 of those positions have no nominee, 11 are awaiting nomination, 94 have been formally nominated and 42 have been confirmed by the, do I need to remind you, Republican majority Senate.

Keep in mind the 558 are key executive branch positions which include Cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions. The 558 are just a portion of the roughly 1,200 total positions that require Senate confirmation.

The Senate can only act on nominations that have been formally submitted by the Trump administration. “Awaiting nomination” means the person has been announced but not yet submitted. Those classified as “formally nominated” are awaiting action by the Senate.

Unlike Dabo Swinney, “our” President hasn’t or can’t assemble a great team and at this point I believe the “hasn’t” and the “can’t” are interrelated. Remember, per our President he is ……like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.” Certainly I feel better knowing that we have “like, a smart person” running the country but you know what would make me feel even better, 558 more smart people running the country instead of just the handful that we currently have.

Trump has blamed the obstructionist Democrats in tweets for his inability to fill key executive branch positions. Obviously sane, rational citizens know that is a wheelbarrow full of bullshit given he is working with a rubber stamp approval with a majority Republican Senate. The bottom line, he can’t find people. He can’t find people willing to accept the risk of working with an administration that fly’s by the seat of its pants. An administrations whose head coach could, would and can undermine all of your work and efforts with his thumbs in one 140 character tweet.

This country is running on autopilot and like any business or household that is not a sustainable future nor direction. The old adage of “I don’t know where I am going but I am making great time” applies here. We don’t know where we are going, honestly if the truth be told, we don’t really know who is driving the ship at this point. I have written from the very beginning Trump had one plan in place and one plan only, get elected President and in 150 days on the job that is really the only thing he has accomplished.   

“I’m the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.” –  Donald Trump

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Characters we meet along the way

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When my girls were young and not so health conscious, which means they still enjoyed hot dogs, french fries and drank milk shakes, we ate lunch at a local fast food restaurant almost every Saturday.

In my community most, if not all, of theses local restaurants are owned by Greeks and have some variation of Pete’s or Fine Foods in their name. I don’t know why this is the case or how it came to be but it has been like this since the 1950’s. Most of these restaurants are now being run by the second and third generations of these families. Some of the families are related, some are not, but the restaurants are all pretty much the same.

The menus are very simple. I order a Jumbo cheeseburger plate with half and half and a sweet tea, translated, a cheeseburger, a cup of slaw and a half order of fries and half order of onion rings. Given my age, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol I don’t order this as often as I once did but every Saturday, for many years, this was my standard lunch fare.

Our go to restaurant is down the street from our house and is owned by a father and his son. The father, Bill, came to the United States from Greece in 1956 as a 16-year-old and opened his own restaurant three years later after working in other Greek immigrants (probably family members) restaurants. Bill died yesterday at the age of 77 from cancer and with his death I lost another character that I loved and part of my kids childhood has passed away as well.

Lunch on Saturdays at Fine Foods was a big deal to my girls. They would get a hot dog or a grilled cheese sandwich and Mr. Bill would make them a peanut-butter and chocolate milk shake, a real shake with ice-cream and globs of peanut butter so thick a straw was useless. He would always give them the metal cup he mixed the shake in which they fought over every Saturday. I had to remember who got to “lick the cup” the last time which I didn’t always recall correctly. Bill knew he was stirring up a hornets every time he brought the mixing cup to the table, and he would just grin at me at the chaos he was creating.

When we ordered at the counter he would peer down at my girls and ask them which one of them was paying today. The answer was always the same from my girls “I don’t have any money” and Bill would said “Then Dad is washing dishes” both would grin at me and say “Bye Dad” and head to “our” table.

I can’t even begin to estimate how many onion rings or cheeseburgers I have eaten there on Saturday’s. But then we stopped. The kids got busy. Eating “junk” wasn’t good or fun anymore. The youngest stuck it out with me for a year or two but then I lost her too and without the kids there was no way Mom was going to eat there with me. It was the beginning of the end for dear old Dad, they would rather hangout with their friends than eat a hot dog and be seen with me.

Bill died Sunday but our memories didn’t. He gave a young family a fun place to build memories of milk shakes, hot dogs and laughs. A place they could take their friends and feel like a big shot because the owner knew their name. A place where an old man dotted on them making them his special milk shake and teasing them a little to boot.

I texted both of them this morning and told them Mr. Bill had died and got back what only millennium kids could offer a sad face emoji. Sad face emoji indeed.

When Bill’s son told me a couple of months ago that his Dad had only a few months to live I sent him a long note thanking him for being such an important part of our family. His son told me how much the note meant to his Dad. I am glad I took the time to write it. I am glad I took the time to share my memories with him, memories that he helped create.

We all have characters in our lives. People who fill the cracks and crevices of the space we call living but it is up to each of us to recognize their contribution to our busy lives. Rest in peace Bill and thank you for the memories.

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Fat, drunk and stupid……

“Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” – Bluto, Animal House

Animal House was released in 1978 when I was 17 years old. I would venture to guess I have watched this “classic” well over a 100 times. I know every scene, every character, and every line uttered in this movie. 39 years later I still laugh, and sadly, still watch it much to the dismiss of anyone in the den with me.

Stephen Furst, the actor who played Flounder in Animal House died last week at the age of 63. He joins John Belushi (Bluto) and Douglas Kenney (Stork) as the other members of the Delta Tau Chi Fraternity that have departed this earth. Flounder was the recipient of Dean Wormer’s advice that “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” A classic line I have used, and probably received on more than one occasion.

When I was in college Animal House was the standard which all “fun” Fraternities tried to emulate, mine included. Toga parties were a quarterly occurrence as were road trips. I met the future Mrs. Ends and Beginnings on a road trip having “borrowed” my little brothers car after promising him that I wouldn’t leave town. When I showed up at a bar 150 miles away and saw him standing there after promising NOT not to drive his car very far I told him the same thing Otter told Flounder “you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You F’ed up… you trusted us!”

I had a couple of good Animal House years in college but with each passing semester I would lose Fraternity brothers who were immersed in the Animal House culture. By my junior year there were only three of us out of a pledge class of fourteen still enrolled in college. They were trying to live the life of “Fat, drunk and stupid” and professors and the parents supporting these ambitious goals (mine included) just didn’t see the value or a future in these dreams.

Heading into my junior year, and with the encouragement of the future Mrs. Ends and Beginnings and my Dad telling me that the money was getting ready to run out I buckled down, opened a book and put the toga away. The Animal House lifestyle is a young mans game. It is not conducive to surviving, or passing an 8 am class let alone trying to have a meaningful relationship with someone you might spend the next 32 years and counting with. But it was fun while it lasted and there are days that I look back now and wonder how I lived to tell about it. I still don’t know how I survived my two years of living the Animal House life, certainly I have brain cells that would tell you differently.

“Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the f’ing Peace Corps.” – Bluto, Animal House

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Why are we here?

I read the obituaries everyday, something that I have done for the last 30 years. But a couple of years ago the way I read the obituaries changed. Rather then looking for names I know or recognize now I look at the age (men only) of those that have passed and compare it to my age. For instance, Bud age 85 – 29 years older than me, Fred age 76 – 20 years older than me, David age 54 – 2 years younger than me. Yea I know, this is weird. My kids would categorize it as morbid but it all boils down to my fascination with living and why we are here.

If you ask a Christian “Why are we here?” you will get some long drawn out explanation about a relation with God, Yada Yada which I interpret as we are simply entertainment for the Big Guy upstairs. Part of me understands this. We are an entertaining lot. Have you seen our President? But for those of us that have our God uncertainties the question remains, “Why are we here?”.

As I look back over my 56 years of living and categorize what I have accomplished two things stand out at this point. One, I have been married to the same women for 32 years (God bless her) and two, we have created, together, two very smart, very worldly, very successful, independent women. Sure, I have had some business success, and civic success. I have a nice house, a few friends, a wonderful extended family, some fun stuff I own but other than my wife and kids is there really anything of lasting value to justify “Why I am here?”

Why do you think we are here? Why do some get to spend 100 years here and others 25 or less? Is it just a shell game? The luck of the draw? Are we really expected to make some contribution or is it okay, as Thoreau noted to “lead lives of quiet desperation.”  

It’s Friday, think about your answer if you need too. Have a beer, a glass of Merlot, smoke a joint and get back to me. I really want to know your thoughts. “Why are you here?”, “Why am I  here?”, “Why are we here?”  

“What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Philosophers have pondered that question for centuries. I’m afraid the answer is disappointingly simple: Mating. That’s it.” – Oliver Markus

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Will Amazon take over the world?

HighTech

Today, I am a low tech redneck. I still write checks, lick a stamp and mail my bills. I ask the companies that I work with to give me a check rather direct deposit. I still have a landline phone in my house. I have only had a “smart phone”, an oxymoron, for a couple of years because the flip-phones I was using are no longer well made. I just got a Facebook account, set on private so you can’t friend me, because cycling and hiking groups that I am involved with no longer send emails out, just Facebook post. I have a Snapchat account because I have kids with a Snapchat account. I still contend it is the dumbest app in the world.

I am not a curmudgeon, I have always embraced useful technology. I bought a personal computer very early in the game, well before Bill Gates created Windows. I had a car phone, remember those? Which morphed into a bag phone, which morphed to a cell phone the size and weight of a brick, to a flip-phone with an antenna, a Blackberry to the i-Phone I carry today. I have had Hotmail, Juno, AOL, and Yahoo email accounts before anyone had ever heard of Gmail. For some reason I could keep pace with technology when I was 30, even 40 but when I hit 45 or 50 shit started moving quicker than I could keep up with.

I pay an arm and a leg for cable and my wife and I probably only watch 5% of the channels we get. None of my kids have cable. They have services that I have never heard of and certainly don’t understand. Every month when I get my cable bill it pisses me off but I am terrified to do anything about it. I don’t want to miss an episode of The Deadliest Catch, The Big Bang Theory or Madam Secretary.

It appears to me that Amazon, like Apple and Google, are trying to take over the world. I shop on Amazon, I bought a t-shirt from them the other day. I buy a lot of books on Amazon, heck I bought every Christmas gift I gave last year on Amazon. When I use Amazon though I need to be looking for a very specific item otherwise I am overwhelmed by all of the choices. But it seems to me what Wal-Mart started 30 years ago, Amazon is finishing, the destruction and the demise of the Mom & Pop retail stores plus many of the store brands I grew-up with.

We have what I describe as a unique and quirky gift store on our Main Street. They have been around for 20 plus years, but they are closing in a couple of months. The ladies that run it aren’t bitter about it but they place the blame on Amazon. The items that they sale are different, stuff you wouldn’t find anywhere else in our city but in order to shop there you have to find a parking spot and walk to their store. Now you can find the same stuff they sell plus more on Amazon and shop in your underwear on the sofa.

Amazon announced today that they are buying Whole Foods. I don’t shop at Whole Foods or Whole Paycheck as it is otherwise known but I wonder what is next on Amazon’s list of acquisitions. Circuit City has gone away, K-Mart is going away, and Sears seems to be next. I like going to the store. I like looking at, holding and thinking about what I am going to buy but I am the same guy that still goes to the bank and fills out a deposit slip. My kids take a picture of their checks they are depositing and send them out into cyber space. That freaks me out.

With each passing day I become more of a knuckle dragging lower tech redneck. I just can’t keep up. I suspect ten years from now the most high-tech thing I will be able to accomplish is clipping my toe nails and picking my nose unless of course there is an app for that.

 

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The Folly of history, heritage and culture

Folly Beach Boat

Folly Beach is a town located on a sliver of sand known as Folly Island in Charleston County, South Carolina. As you cross the bridge to the island, over Folly Creek, there is an old boat on the side of the road that washed ashore in 1989 during Hurricane Hugo. Since that time people have painted messages on the boat such as Happy sweet 16, Welcome home from Iraq and Come listen to my band playing at Snapper Jack’s tonight.

But recently the South Carolina Secessionist Party felt the need to remind us that they are still fighting a battle long since decided, the Civil War. Now what groups like this will tell you is that they don’t want start a new Civil War, never mind their name, the South Carolina Secessionist Party. What they are “fighting” is the removal of a symbol that they hold sacred, the Confederate battle flag.

This was their statement on Facebook; “Every year on the anniversary of the removal of the Battle Flag of our ancestors, we will gather at the South Carolina State House, hoist the flag back in its rightful place, and thumb our nose to those who would erase our history, heritage and culture.”

I have written about this issue before; A white southern male-my story and Hate not heritage: The Confederate Battle Flag and I know a little about the Civil War. As it just so happens I took one of those silly online quizzes about the Civil War this morning just for shits and giggles. 50 questions, I got three wrong. My ancestors fought and died in the Civil War and as best as I can tell none of them were salve owners. They didn’t have that kind of money. So what were they fighting for? In my mind they fought and died because they didn’t have the $300 to buy their way out of it. In my opinion, the Civil War was a battle on behalf of the haves fought by the have-nots. My ancestors, poor dirt farmers, shed their blood for the rich plantation owners and politicians. I find very little honor in that.

I am not sure groups like the South Carolina Secessionist Party have given much thought to what their history, heritage and culture might mean to other people, say the African-American community. I share the same history, heritage and culture as they do I just no longer honor it by waving a symbol that some people view as an emblem of hate, oppression and suppression.

Chrys Blackstone saw a photo of the boat on social media and drove to see it expecting to find that it had already been painted over. It hadn’t. So he bought a gallon of white paint and a brush and got to work. Blackstone’s reason for covering up the handy work of South Carolina Secessionist Party; “It’s fine that people want to hold on to an ideal, but it’s the wrong ideal. But what a wonderful place we have where somebody can come and put this up, and somebody can come right behind them and take it down.”

I wish groups like the South Carolina Secessionist Party would use the time they spent painting the Folly Beach boat or waving the Confederate flag on long poles in parking garages and highway overpasses on something more productive, something more inclusive. The Civil War ended 152 years and the side waving the Confederate flag lost. It is time to let it go South Carolina Secessionist Party, let it go.

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