A Generative Old Dog Learning New Tricks

I volunteered this morning for the Kenosha Chess Association’s National Chess Day Event.  I started by helping set up boards.


Then I spent most of my time  (nearly an hour and a half) giving a one-on-one beginners lesson to a very elderly gentleman.  Just from I learned and observed about him during our time across the board from each other I came to admire him and consider him a good role model as we continue to age.

  1. First of all, I learned that he volunteers as a tutor for a fifth grader. I admire him for being generative in his old age. (Generative has been defined as the ability to care for another person rather than just yourself.)  Some spend their retirement years lazily or selfishly; that is, doing almost nothing or doing whatever they do solely to please themselves.  This man is giving time and energy for someone else, in this case a previously unknown fifth grader.
  2. Secondly, there was his motive for attending this event.  His assigned fifth grader has been badgering him to play chess but he says he knows nothing about the game.  He saw in the paper that a beginners lesson could be had at the library today.   I admire him for caring enough to go above and beyond the call of duty by  trying to learn chess so he can accommodate his assigned youngster.
  3. Thirdly, I admire him for not believing the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  A lot of people would have sinmply said, “Sorry, kid, I’m too old to take up chess now.”  He was willing to tackle something new; something that can be intimidating.
  4. Fourthly, I admire how seriously he took his task of learning.  He took notes, showed concentration, asked questions, etc.  I’ve had people in the past ask me to teach them something only to have them give up as soon as they realized that it wasn’t gong to take more than just a casual effort.

I hope that when I find myself living out my latter years that I’m the kind of guy that will give of myself, care enough to go above and beyond the call of duty, try new things, and be willing to put in a strong effort.  How about you?

“Land of the Free” – Let’s Keep it that Way

O. say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Thus ends our national anthem. It has been long standing tradition in our country to include the singing of our national anthem before athletic events. Included in that tradition is the habit of the competitors, and the fans, to stand during its performance as a gesture of honor and respect to our nation.

Of late, there has been a growing trend for some to abstain from that particular show of respect. Rather, as a form of protest they remain seated or they “take a knee.” They choose to protest in this way because they believe the freedom the song celebrates, falls short in reality. They perceive themselves to be discriminated against. They question why they should stand in honor of freedom while they themselves feel shackled by discrimination, racism, and prejudice. They believe we can and should do better than we are currently doing.

I do not wish to enter the debate about whether or not they are right or whether or not their chosen form of protest is appropriate. Rather, I wish to address the response to their protest. I expect and understand people being in disagreement. I get it that people are upset about this. However, it goes further than that. I have read the suggestion that those who protest in this manner should be expelled from the country. I’ve read the suggestion that those who protest in this manner should be punished. There was even a new story of a pee wee football team (11 year-olds) choosing to “take a knee” rather than stand, and then receiving death threats for doing so. Even without the death threats, this is going too far.

Do we really want to find ourselves in a situation where we love freedom so much that we want to dictate a person’s posture when we sing about freedom? If we expel, or punish, or in any other way prohibit forms of protest that we don’t agree with, then we will find ourselves in a nation where the Star-Spangled Banner still waves, but it won’t be the land of the free, o’er which it waves.

That’s something to cerebrate.

On Learning a New Trick

What is it we humans have against change?

Within the genre of fast food sandwich shops, I like Cousin’s Subs. There used to be one just about a mile north of my house. Not anymore. Instead it is now an independent sandwich shop called, Varsitea Flats. Same local owners. Same employees, as near as I could tell. The owners had simply decided to let go of their Cousin’s Subs franchise and go independent.

During my second visit post-Cousin’s, while waiting for my Italian Bomber, a lady came in not paying very close attention. As she got ready to order she looked at the menu board and apparently looked a little confused because the cashier broke the silence with, “This isn’t Cousin’s anymore.”

What is it we humans have against change?

The lady looked dismayed. The cashier asked, “Well what were you going to order?” “A club,” she answered. The cashier offered, “I can make you one of those using our bomber buns.” But the thrown-for a-loop customer politely declined, then turned and walked out the door.

Mentally, I was shaking my head thinking, “I can’t believe she is that set in her ways and that opposed to change.” But I had to admit to myself: It had only been a few days earlier that I had walked in and unexpectedly discovered the sudden changeover, myself. I had stood there and mentally debated walking out without ordering. It was only after a good deal of inner coaxing that I made myself stay and try something new. I had examined the menu and found a sandwich that approximated the Italian Cheesesteak I usually ordered from Cousin’s: The Italian Bomber.

What is it we humans have against change?

I’m one of those guys that loves Gary Larson’s, The Far Side, cartoons. The setting of one of my favorites is inside a circus tent. There’s a dog juggling while riding a unicycle on a high wire. The caption reads, “High above the hushed crowd, Rex tried to remain focused. Still he couldn’t shake one nagging thought: He was an old dog and this was a new trick.”

I’m patting myself on the back for being like Rex. Even though it’s a new trick, I’m trying it. I can adapt. I will go back to Varsitea Flats. From their expanded menu featuring a wide variety of new paninis and flatbread sandwiches, I’ll probably order an Italian Bomber. Again. I could try a different sandwich but I don’t want to get carried away with this change stuff. After all, I am an old dog…



Keeping Christ in Christmas

“Let’s Keep Christ in Christmas”

That has become a very popular slogan. We hear it and see it everywhere. I’m writing this pre-Thanksgiving Day, yet I’ve already seen the slogan on Facebook today more than once. I expect to see it and hear it a lot more over the next few weeks. When most people proclaim it, they are fighting a battle on two particular fronts:

  1. They want to make sure people say, “Merry Christmas,” rather than, “Happy Holidays.
  2. They want to make sure people spell out, “C h r i s t m a s,” rather than abbreviate with, “X m a s.”

While I really like the idea of keeping Christ in Christmas, I’m afraid that even if we win on those two particular fronts, that won’t mean we’ve accomplished our objective. If we really want to keep Christ in Christmas the place to start is in our hearts, not in our oral greetings or on our cards and signs. Therefore, I suggest that we turn our attention to two different areas if we really want to keep Christ in Christmas.

  1. To keep Christ in Christmas, let’s make Christmas Christ-centered.
  2. To keep Christ in Christmas, let’s strive to be Christlike throughout the season.

I fear we are victims of a subtle evolution. Over a long period of time we have developed many customs and traditions for the express purpose of helping us celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. We have time off from work, we visit family and friends, we have celebratory parties and dinners, we enhance our surroundings with festive decorations and lights, we exchange gifts, and we even schedule special events and programs at church. The problem is, that we’ve let Christmas become ABOUT those things rather than using those things to help us celebrate what Christmas is really about.

On top of that, it is both ironic and sad that all those traditions and means of celebrating often create so much stress and pressure that the very act of participating in them can make it difficult to be like Christ! We often end up like little time bombs just waiting to explode. Then there’s the whole gift aspect; I’m afraid that for many, the gift tradition has shifted to being about getting instead of giving. Think about it: When was the last time you heard someone ask, “What did you give this year?”)

It would be nice if I could list seven simple steps to make Christmas Christ-centered and for helping you to be Christlike. As it happens, I don’t believe there is a universal list. What I need to do isn’t necessarily the same thing you need to do. What you need to do isn’t the same thing your neighbor needs to do. What your neighbor needs to do… You get the idea.

However, I do believe I can suggest a universal starting point. It’s simple: Pray and ask God to show you what you need to do to help keep Christ in Christmas and to remain Christlike.

I’d be surprised if he were to tell you to just make sure you say, “Christmas,” instead of, “holiday,” and to spell it out instead of abbreviating it. Keeping Christ in Christmas; it’s certainly something to cerebrate.

Why I Want a Christian President

I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state.  That is, I believe the government should neither promote nor prohibit any particular religion or religious practice.  But I still want a Christian president.  So much so, that to the extent that I have the choice, it will impact my vote.  I want to briefly share some of my reasons…

Here in the United States we enjoy the privilege of choosing our president via free elections.  We have, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated, a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”  Unlike some other forms of government, this means that we are not simply “ruled” by the President. Rather we are in a partnership with the President.   He leads, we follow; this arrangement is our collective choice.  Back in the nineties, the Republican Party talked about a, “Contract with America.”  The language of, “contract,” is another expression of what I’m talking about.  In essence, when we elect our President every four years, we are entering a contract or partnership–which brings me to the Bible.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14, it says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers…”    We most often hear this principle taught in the context of marriage.  However, I believe the principle applies in the context of our “government by the people, for the people.”  It is no stretch of the meaning to suggest that voluntarily electing a person to be our president for the next four years is “yoking” us to that person.  As a Christian, I cannot fathom voluntarily yoking myself in that manner to an unbeliever.  I believe doing so would be to ignore an important Biblical principle.

Perhaps you picked up from the previous paragraph that I don’t see the Bible the way I see any other book.  I believe that as a Christian, I ought to follow its teachings.  Its principles should shape my values, priorities, attitudes, and actions.  I believe that living according to Biblical principles is the best and right way to live.  It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why I would want a President who also believes this!  I want a Christian president because I want a president whose values, priorities, attitudes and actions are shaped by the same Biblical principles that shape mine.

I want to return again to some words of Abraham Lincoln.  During the trying days of his presidency he once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”  That is more than just a sweet sentimentality.  The guidance and strength that God gives through the Holy Spirit to his followers in response to prayer cannot be underestimated.  As a Christian, I want a President that can and does rely on God for guidance and strength.

Now I have Christian friends who don’t see this the way I do.  They don’t think a person’s faith is relevant to their choice for a President.  Perhaps you are one of them.  Perhaps you won’t find the reasons I’ve shared to be persuasive.  I hope you at least find them to be something to cerebrate.


Concerning Walden

In 1845 Henry David Thoreau moved into a small cabin he had built in the woods at Walden Pond.   In his own, now-famous, words, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.  And see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”   He also wrote that part of his motivation was to discover if such a simple, natural life might not be sublime, and “if it were sublime, to know it by experience…”

In 2012, I made my own pilgrimage to Walden Pond.  I had it in my mind that by walking where Thoreau walked, by standing where he stood, by seeing what he saw, by being meditative and contemplative about his experience, I might siphon off some of his experience for myself.

Shortly after arriving at what is now, Walden Pond State Reservation, I stood in the replica of his tiny cabin.   It was simply furnished:  a bed, a desk, a stove, and three chairs.  That was about it; primitive, even by 1845 standards.   I then walked the trail through the woods to the site where his original cabin had stood.   I stood there forcibly relating to Thoreau.  I surveyed what would have been his view from his front door.  I imagined living a simple, primitive, natural life; a life without all of the “stuff.”

My experience confirmed what I had suspected:  Henry David Thoreau lived on Walden Pond for two years because it is impossible, in just two hours, to discover that which he sought to discover.   Sometimes, there are no shortcuts.   To frame the lesson in terms of my particular situation:  One cannot truly experience the simple life when one knows one must soon return to the car and follow GPS directions to the airport to catch a plane to Chicago.

Blog? Me? Just who do I think I am?

Blogging.  While it isn’t literally true that everyone is doing it, there is a growing number of those who are.

I think there are two schools of thought on this.  Some believe that no one should blog unless there is a good reason to do so.  These are the people who ask themselves, “Why should I blog?”  Others believe that everyone should blog unless there’s a good reason not to. These are the people who ask themselves, “Why shouldn’t I blog?”

It might be a stretch, but I think which school one belongs to is at least linked to how one values people. Those in the former group seem to focus on a person’s extrinsic value.  They believe one’s right to be heard is directly tied to the quality of one’s contribution.  In short, one must have earned the right to blog by being especially insightful, profound, entertaining, admired, etc.  Blogging is for the gifted few.

Meanwhile, those in the latter group seem to focus on a person’s intrinsic value.  They believe one’s right to be heard derives directly from simply being a person! As a PERSON, one has the right to be heard even if one is not especially insightful, profound, entertaining, or admired.

When it comes to blogging, I have in the past fallen in with those in the former school. (I consider that to be a confession.)  Now, having pondered the issue, I am with those in the latter school.  I think the focus on a person’s intrinsic value is both Biblical (as a Christian, very important to me), and Constitutional (as an American, also important to me).  Biblically, it’s related to being created by God, in the image of God.  Constitutionally (technically, Declaration of Independence), it’s related to the principle that all men are created equal…

While I’d like to think that I am especially insightful, profound, entertaining, and admired, I know better.  I offer this blog, not because I have earned the right, or due to the anticipated high quality of my contribution, but because I’m created in the image of God and created equal with all others.  As such, my thoughts and opinions have value.

You may not agree, but the issue of whether or not just anyone should blog is something to cerebrate…