I WAS JUST THINKING...
By Greg Roberts
By way of introduction….
Greg Roberts is a student of life, a seeker of truth, and a believer in God’s love for humanity. A college dropout, his only degree was conferred by the School of Hard Knocks. He finds humor is the best way to deal with frustration and writing is the medium that gives him a voice in the ongoing conversation of what it means to be fully human. Having taken the scenic route through life (he has been everything from a used car salesman to a Local Pastor in the United Methodist Church), his experiences provide a fertile soil for his array of topics. Greg welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
NOTE: A collection of archived writings from Greg can be found at the following link:
JUST THINKING ARCHIVES
By Greg Roberts
By way of introduction….
Greg Roberts is a student of life, a seeker of truth, and a believer in God’s love for humanity. A college dropout, his only degree was conferred by the School of Hard Knocks. He finds humor is the best way to deal with frustration and writing is the medium that gives him a voice in the ongoing conversation of what it means to be fully human. Having taken the scenic route through life (he has been everything from a used car salesman to a Local Pastor in the United Methodist Church), his experiences provide a fertile soil for his array of topics. Greg welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: A collection of archived writings from Greg can be found at the following link:
JUST THINKING ARCHIVES
JUST THINKING ABOUT TELEVISION
I was just thinking....
In her first national best-seller entitled “The Grass Is Greener Over the Septic Tank”, Erma Bombeck said that the first plague to hit the suburbs was in 1946. It was television. From where I stand, that seems nothing short of prophetic.
Go into a restaurant, a doctor's office, any kind of public place and what do you find? You find televisions mounted on the wall, blaring away their banality and drugging people with their eighth-grade level entertainment and endless appeals to consumerism. Look around. People sit there spellbound, staring blankly at the talking heads who are shaping what they think are their own opinions. Erma was right. It's a plague and there is no cure.
I'm no prophet but when I was seventeen, I wrote an essay for my senior English class in which a man walked down a winter street, watching the blue lights emanating from countless windows. Then he walked across the surface of a frozen pond and noticed how everything beneath was distorted by the thick ice. If we think television is reality, we are mistaken. Reality shows are a farce; nobody acts as they normally would when they know there's a camera running.
What was originally conceived as a source of entertainment and a public service (that was in the late '40's and early '50's) has morphed into one gigantic tool for selling products and services. That's a stretch, I know. How does one call the lawyer sharks looking for some poor sucker to sue a service industry? And if you want to know where the money is in this country, just keep track of the commercials. Television advertising isn't cheap. So who is buying the most air time? Pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and media brokers like cable companies and phone networks are by far the most common ads you'll see in a day's time. Don't believe it? Next time you sit down in front of the television, take a pad and pen with you and categorize the commercials
Sadly, the American public has a voracious appetite for violence and gore. The most popular programs are those where blood flows freely and where human beings are murdered in the most creative ways. I'm not making that up; check the ratings. Little Johnny and Susie sit there with their parents watching The Walking Dead and we wonder why their minds are warped.
The concept of television as public service was originally to be served by the news media. Early television saw the potential for news programs to create an informed, thinking public. What the original folks never saw was that major media corporations would become so prejudiced that they went from reporting the news to making the news. Then came the video camera and everybody who used to sit behind the desk reading a teleprompter longed to become a movie star! Night after night, we see a reporter standing in front of some building reporting what happened earlier in the day. Does their presence on the air in front of a building enhance the value or relevance of the story they're reporting?. Okay, if they're standing beside a wrecked car with a telephone pole down in the background, that may help the viewers, but standing in front of the courthouse, at night, talking about what went on hours ago? Is that helpful?
When video cameras were new, a reporter went down to the Ohio River to create a story about unsafe mercury levels in fish. He approached an old Black man, sitting on a stool with a cane pole. The reporter asked, “Sir, have you caught any fish today?” The old man got up laboriously, walked to the water's edge and pulled up a stringer of catfish. He smiled and said, “Well, I ain't done too bad.” The reporter asked, “Sir, are you planning to eat those fish?” The fisherman looked at the reporter as though he had just dropped in from Mars and asked, “Do the preacher read the Bible?” That was one time when the video camera was a real asset to the story.
And someone please explain to me what social media has to do with reporting the news? We hear talking heads invite people to “let us know what you think” by using Facebook, Twitter,and a host of other venues. But how does my opinion (or yours) qualify as news? The people at the station pick and choose from the responses they get to further an agenda.
I wonder how many hours the so-called average American spends watching the television each day. Not just the four screens at home, but the ones in the doctor's office, the sports bar, that bank of televisions in the box store, the portable hand-held devices, and all the other electronic wizardry that everybody simply must have to survive in today's world. Please don't get me wrong. It's wonderful that you can get the answer to any question you can think up simply by pressing a few keys. It's no wonder that encyclopedias went the way of the dinosaur. Everything you could possibly want to know is right there, at your fingertips. Why memorize anything anymore? Why waste that valuable gray matter storage space with facts and figures that you can call up instantaneously? Instead, we fill our memory banks with episodes of our favorite programs.
I wonder how people would react if suddenly, there was no television. What if we had to go back to reading books for as many hours as we spend in front of a television? Last year there was a question circulating that asked, “If you were provided with food and firewood, would you spend a whole month in a log cabin with no electricity and no running water for fifty-thousand dollars?” That means no cell phone, no computer, no television, no telemarketers, no political ads---when I was asked, I said I'd gladly PAY the fifty thousand for such an opportunity.
Walden Pond is still out there, if anybody wants to walk away from their television sets long enough to experience it. Somehow, I don't think you'll encounter any crowds there.
By Greg Roberts (published 9/8/16)
JUST THINKING ABOUT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I was just thinking about sending a letter to the editor. It might read something like this:
As the national elections draw nearer more and more people seem to be wringing their hands (and hearts?) in anguish. How many times have you heard someone say, “I don't really care for either of them” or words to that effect, some harsher than others? The dominant theory is that we have to vote for either the Republican or Democratic candidate. Do we? Some years back we had a candidate for the office of sheriff here in Highland County who was my personal choice for the job. But in order to vote for him, I had to change my political allegiance in the primary election. When I got to the Board of Elections I was handed a sheet of paper and told to read and sign it. The paper said that in switching my allegiance, I subscribed to the principles of the party to which I was changing. I took it back to the poll worker and said, “I wasn't aware that either party still had principles.” When you look at the presidential candidates of the two major parties, what principles do they represent?
Some say that if you vote for someone other than the Democratic or Republican candidate you are wasting your vote. Just because you don't vote for the eventual 'winner' doesn't mean you wasted your vote, not in my mind. I still think personal integrity is important, for candidates and voters. There are a number of alternative parties to vote for in the presidential election. Why not do the research and vote for someone you can honestly respect, even if they don't have the proverbial snowball's chance? At least you'll be able to say, “I didn't vote for either the Republican or Democratic candidate.”
Maybe, just maybe, there are enough independent voters who are fed-up with politics-as-usual to make a difference. When party allegiance and political survival are more important to the candidates than serving the people what options do we have but to turn our backs and vote our consciences?
I encourage every registered voter to go to the polls this November. Please don't stay home because you can't endorse either major party's candidate. A vote for a third-party candidate will send a strong message that says, “You can't count on us anymore. We are neither as blind nor stupid as you seem to think we are.”
The candidate you vote for may not win the election but you can sleep well knowing you voted your conscience and that in so doing you turned your back on the corruption and greed that have dominated this country's political parties far too long. Go vote!
By Greg Roberts (published 8/25/16)
JUST THINKING ABOUT INHERITANCE
I was just thinking about my inheritance. Please don't misconstrue my reporting of the facts as an indication of greed or a lack of feeling. I may well be the sole survivor of my mother's children. My older sister Carolyn died last March after a long battle with cancer. And yes, I miss her. My younger brother, Ted, has not been the same since he came home from Vietnam. We have not heard from him in years. He moves around the country, living in a van and drawing SSI. Naturally, the government will not tell us if those checks are still being cashed. We have no way of knowing if he is alive or not.
Mom has a manufactured home in Florida. It's not new but it's paid for. She has told me that when she dies, husband Harry gets to live out his days there, assuming she dies first. At some point, she says, I will inherit a home, a 1998 Lincoln and a golf cart. Sounds good, doesn't it? But not so fast...
My generation, the Baby Boomers, will leave an unprecedented amount of wealth. They have been the beneficiaries of many years of profitable labor, stock market gains, and of course, whatever wealth they inherit from the Greatest Generation...my mother's generation. I suspect that more than one of my peers is rubbing his (or her) hands in gleeful anticipation of the financial windfall just around the corner from the funeral home. Better wipe that grin off your face and consider some sobering facts.
Let's go back to my mother. Right now she plays golf twice a week, and pretty good golf for someone who just turned eighty-nine. But we all know that good health doesn't last forever. She had the foresight to take out long-term nursing home insurance. She has always been a realist and doesn't want to be a burden on anybody. (Thanks, Mom!) However, the amount the insurance company will pay is based on nursing home rates when she took the insurance out, and that was many years ago. Now, in 2016, monthly costs (for a semiprivate room in a nursing home) of $3,000 or more are routine. Let's assume a scenario. Let's assume that her heart begins to give her trouble and she needs open-heart surgery. Oh sure, Medicare will pay part of that cost. But an extended illness can lead to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. Add to that the fact that we Americans are living longer than ever before and the drain on a person's financial resources can be alarming. Ask anyone who's been there. So the truth is, that while her generation scrimped, saved, did without, and tried to create an estate to leave for their offspring to bicker over, there just might not be that much. But it won't be because they didn't try.
Back to the Boomers. We have accumulated tremendous wealth. But will our children inherit that wealth? The average lifespan for a white male in America is currently seventy-seven. White females can expect to live longer. Actuarial tables put their current lifespan at eighty-one. Those numbers are increasing all the time. If you retire at sixty-five and live another twelve or sixteen years, will you deplete your life's savings? We surely aren't naive enough to think that Social Security is going to take care of us!
Here's what I believe: the tremendous wealth of the Boomer generation will end up mostly in the hands of health insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, doctors, and nursing homes. When it comes time to read the will, there may not be very much left to distribute. (But please, by all means, create a will! Don't let the probate court grab a share and delay the distribution of whatever is left.) Our children and grandchildren may have to get their money the old fashioned way; they just might have to earn it.
-By Greg Roberts (published 5/22/16)
JUST THINKING ABOUT TOUGH GUYS -- ARE YOU ONE?
Tough guys. You know who they are. The Rock, Arnold, Seagal, Bruce --- you know them, don't you? If they had been in western movies they would all have been wearing white hats. They're always on the side of justice. They're always pitted against bad guys, guys who want to destroy our country, our women, and our way of life. Thank God for the tough guys. They get cut with commando knives, they get shot, tortured, kicked, beaten within an inch of their lives and they somehow rise above the pain to come back and win the fight. Tough guys.
You ever met any tough guys like that? I haven't. I know a lot more guys who faint at the sight of blood in the delivery room. But really, who has the opportunity to prove how tough they are? Back in 1965, two guys squared off in the aisle between the back two seats of the school bus. I don't know what precipitated it but Judd Thompson and Jim Wightman grabbed each other by the front of the shirt and began to trade punches as the bus pulled out of the Miami Trace High School parking lot. They kept on trading punches all the way to Bloomingburg, although the bus driver, Mr. Stillings, kept looking in that big rear view mirror and shouting, “You guys knock it off. Sit down back there.” But they wouldn't. By the time the bus stopped in Bloomingburg they were both streaming blood -- and both still clinging to the other and still trading punches. I made a mental note that day not to mess with either one of them. Tough guys.
His name escapes me now, but we were in freshman gym class, wrestling when a guy came trotting over to the coach and nonchalantly said, “Coach, I think I broke my arm.” One look was all it took to know that while he wasn't a doctor, he had correctly diagnosed the damage. From about the middle of his forearm, it took a decided ninety-degree turn downward with his hand hanging there limply. He wasn't crying, didn't even seem too concerned. Tough guy. It was the coach who went white as a sheet and then hurried the young man out of the gym.
We love tough guys, don't we? Come on, admit it; you loved John Belushi smashing beer cans against his forehead in Animal House. You know you did. You loved DeNiro in Taxi Driver and all the other guys who elevated our sperm counts by their mindless macho feats.
Come to think of it, we do know some tough guys and they aren't all actors. You know who the tough guy is? It's the guy who gets more than a month's shaves out of a replaceable razor. Morning after morning he braces himself again for that painful ritual, determined to get one more shave out of that blade. He spreads the shaving cream, grits his teeth, and wades in just like he did yesterday and just like he will tomorrow because those damn blades cost a lot of money.
The tough guy is the one who falls out of bed and gets ready for another day on the job even when he has the flu, or a backache or a wisdom tooth that's sending signals to his brain like electrical charges. He's the guy you can count on to be there when weaker men have called in sick and gone back to bed. When he gets to work he doesn't go around whining, trying to elicit sympathy. He came to do a job and he does it without letting you know he's hurting.
There are other tough guys. They're the guys who get dumped by their girlfriends, cheated on by their wives (sometimes with their best friend), falsely accused of wrongdoing, let go when the company is downsizing, scorned by their oh-so-cool kids, and yet they don't complain or fall apart. Their toughness isn't physical; it's mental. Yeah, it's spiritual too.
I'm just wondering. Are you a tough guy? I hope so. We sure need more of them. Life is tough. Life is unfair. Life is unpredictable. Today the future may look bright. But tomorrow? Well, you know how it is. Circumstances can change in the wink of an eye and the bright tomorrow you once looked forward to can disappear -- just like that. Somebody once said, “It doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down. What matters is how many times you get up.” That's takes toughness. Everyone can't be that tough. Some will decide, “The hell with it” and cash in their chips. I understand that. I'm not putting those folks down. I just want to take this opportunity to show my admiration for the ones who keep plugging along without complaining when others would have given up or bored everyone around them with their whining and complaining.
Did you ever wonder where tough guys get their strength and determination? Some learn it at home where they have male role models, such as fathers or brothers that set the bar high. Regardless of who it is they've come to admire, there was (or is) somebody who has made a deep and lasting impression on tough guys. Whoever and wherever they are, God bless 'em!
- By Greg Roberts (published 4/6/16)
JUST THINKING ABOUT HEROIN...AGAIN
I was just thinking about something I'd rather NOT think about. If you visit Ron's website and read this column on a regular basis you probably recall that I wrote about this subject late last year. So why, you may ask, am I coming back to it when there are so many more topics to engage our minds? After all, my opinions are just that—opinions. I have no scientific knowledge to share, few survey results, and probably nothing new to state. What I do have is a fear that this epidemic is going to affect someone in your family if it hasn't already. I'm talking about the epidemic of heroin.
It's ironic isn't it? In the English language the same word that sounds like a female (heroine) who saves the day describes a drug that ruins lives and destroys families. Same sounding words, different meanings. (We're reminded of the film The Green Mile where the huge, slow-witted John Coffey says his name is “like the coffee only spelled different”. Michael Clark Duncan should probably have won that academy award for best actor in 1999...but then, he was black, wasn't he? Sadly, he died in 2012.)
The word 'epidemic' is not an exaggeration. If the same number of people who died of heroin overdoses in the past three years had died of the plague, there is no doubt that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta would have issued a nationwide warning. That organization does collect statistics. In 2010 the number of people (reported) who died of heroin overdoses was about 2,200 persons. In 2014, a short four years later, the number had jumped to well over 10,000. Statistics for 2015 are still being compiled, but we know that the trend continues in an upward spiral.
Besides the untimely deaths, besides the health care costs, there are disastrous results of addiction. A huge percentage of crime is drug-related. Most of the people incarcerated in America today are there for either trafficking, or engaging in some criminal activity to support a habit. Judge Kevin Greer recently told me that in the past four years he has had to place over 1,400 children in foster care because their parents were involved in some kind of drug activity. What does that make the kids; collateral damage? No foster home will ever take the place of a loving mom and dad. But how loving can a parent be who succumbs to the lure of illegal drugs? The last time I wrote on this subject I had good news to share. That has since been reversed and three of my grandchildren are once again in foster care. Can you honestly convince yourself that you love your kids when you're spending your money on heroin and then shooting up and leaving them to their own devices? At the risk of sounding too 'preachy', the essence of love is sacrifice. You can tell just how much I love someone by how much I'm willing to sacrifice for their well-being or happiness.
Part of the problem is doctors who allow their patients to remain on prescription pain killers for extended periods of time and then shut them off are contributing to the rise in heroin addiction. If your doctor won't yield to your demands for more pain pills, and you're addicted to them, you'll hunt up one of those so-called “pain doctors” who will write prescriptions for anybody---for a small price---or turn to street drugs to get the relief you've become dependent upon.
ain, whether physical or mental, is real. If you've ever had kidney stones you know something about physical pain. (Been there, done that, three times.) If you've dealt with back problems for years, you know about pain. (Been there too.) Whether chronic or acute, pain demands relief. Sometimes a couple of Aleve tablets are enough to get you through a rough patch. Sometimes muscle relaxants will do the job. Other times, when the pain is severe or chronic, nothing short of an opiate derivative will bring the needed relief. The problem with the opiate family (codeine, morphine, oxycodone and the synthetic substitutes such as fentanyl and methadone) is that they're all highly addictive. Let's face it; some people have a higher pain tolerance than others. People who don't deal well with pain are more likely to become chronic users. Now if you're one of those who can continue to play your sport with a broken bone, you probably won't feel much sympathy for the person who cries when they get a splinter in their finger. My step father, Dick Cocklin, used to say, “Some people run to the doctor every time they get a fart cross ways.” He wasn't very sympathetic of those with low pain tolerance. Who can tell about the severity of another person's pain?
Mental pain (anguish) is every bit as real as the pain we feel from a physical injury. Life can be very hard and very unforgiving. You lose your job, a relationship fails or you feel trapped in one that has ceased to be fulfilling, a loved one dies—or maybe several loved ones die in a very short period, and the potential list of tragedies goes on. Maybe you turn to a socially acceptable escape from the pain of reality; alcohol. Or maybe you turn to heroin. Personally, I'm yet to be convinced that alcohol is a gateway drug to something harder. But who, in light of what we currently know, would turn to heroin to avoid reality? I don't have a degree, I don't have authoritative credentials, but my advice to anyone battling depression, sorrow, or some other form of mental pain is to find a counselor before you turn to drugs. Admit that you need help. Find someone who can help you understand and cope with your own demons. Don't try to do it yourself.
We, as a nation, have thrown billions of dollars into drug education, into eradicating drugs, into the criminal justice system, and here's what we have to show for it: a rising addiction rate, a rising death toll, families torn apart, and more of its citizens incarcerated than any other country in the world. It would be impossible to put a dollar amount on the cost to the economy. You've heard all kinds of solutions. The extremes run from advocating free drugs and clean needles, to applying the death penalty for anyone caught selling any kind of drug. Nothing would make me prouder than to conclude this with a sure-fire solution to the heroin epidemic. I wish I had one. I wish somebody had one. Meanwhile, in the time it took me to write this, somebody else has decided to give heroin a try. May God have mercy on them.
By Greg Roberts (published 1/25/16)
JUST THINKING ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING
I was just thinking about global warming. Depending upon who you listen to, we either are in imminent danger of destroying the planet or there's absolutely nothing to worry about.
Let's consider the past. Here in Ohio we have flatland all the way from Lake Erie down to Highland County because glaciers leveled off the terrain millions of years ago. (Sorry, you Bible fundamentalists; I don't mean to challenge your cherished belief that the earth is only six thousand years old.) So the question is this -- what happened to the glaciers? Obviously there was a warm-up, a global warm-up that forced them to retreat. If that's the case, then global warming is nothing new. It's just a part of an ongoing cycle that takes place every so many years. How many years? Who can say with any certainty? Not me. But why get excited? Chances are, you and I will have turned back to dust before the glaciers reach their minimum size. Then another cold era will begin and they'll reclaim all that territory that they lost. This earth is cyclical. Its seasons are cyclical and so is its climate.
The doomsayers retort that while there is no denying the coming and going of glaciers many years ago, the current rate of melt forebodes a catastrophe of biblical proportions. If the current rate of melting is maintained, New York and Los Angeles could be under water soon. (Hmmm, is that such a bad idea? Maybe we could create new cities on higher ground to take their places and actually plan every aspect of their existence. Better yet, instead of sprawling mega-cities, we could create smaller, more manageable cities spread out in places that would minimize environmental impacts. I digress.) If the current rate of melting isn't slowed down, not only will we lose the glacial ice caps, the polar bears and the penguins, but the oceans will rise dramatically. Yes, it's happened before but not when such huge percentages of the human population lived so close to the shores.
Those world leaders currently discussing the issue of global warming won't get close to reaching any agreement on what needs to be done. The under-developed countries that depend heavily on fossil fuels often lack the capital to invest in cleaner, renewable energy sources. They contend that the 'big boys' are trying to hold them back from reaching their potential. They're quick to point out that when the so-called super powers were becoming industrial giants, fossil fuels were their primary sources of energy too and they didn't give a tinker's damn about pollution. Did they care about global warming when they were grasping and clawing their way to economic superiority? No, they did not. But now they want to stifle the growth of the countries that are trying to feed, clothe, and employ their people.
The 'big boys', like the United States, have now become responsible global citizens who insist that the goal of stopping, or at least curbing global warming is purely environmental, with no hidden political agenda. The third world countries aren't buying. As they see it, it's like calling a halt to the ball game when it starts raining because your team is ahead. By the way, I've been down that path.
Once upon a time many years ago I foolishly agreed to be a little league baseball superintendent. My job was to see that the concession stand was open so we could make money, and call the game if the weather got bad enough. I recall the night there were tornado watches all around us and it began to rain lightly. The mothers of the team who was ahead began to shout, “Call it off. If my kid gets a cold I'm sending you the bill.” Meanwhile, the mothers of the team that was behind were threatening bodily harm if I dared to call the game off before their darlings had a chance to come back and win. Thankfully, a sheriff's deputy pulled into the parking lot, got out and announced that there had been a tornado spotted a few miles away, and HE called the game off. When asked to be the superintendent the next year, I politely declined...for health reasons.
Just how much the carbon footprint of the human species is affecting the global warming is a source of heated debate. Who can say with any certainty just what percentage of the warming is directly related to human activity, whether we're talking about coal-burning factories or deforestation? While I wouldn't care to offer a percentage guess, I am very willing to point out, as I have for forty years, that the primary reason for most of the world's problems, including global warming, can be traced back to one simple disease: overpopulation. Maybe you can remember ZPG-the quest for Zero Population Growth. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and here's mine: bringing more children into this world other than the two who replace their parents is just irresponsible. I actually cringe when I see television shows like “Seventeen and Counting” where huge families are held up as some kind of desirable model. I cringe when I see unwed mothers with five, six or seven children. Who is going to support those kids who didn't ask to be born? Answer: me...and you. Irresponsible reproduction is going to be the demise of the species...and maybe the planet as well. Studies with pigeons, normally docile creatures, have shown that when they are overcrowded in cages they become violent and aggressive. Now, look at our cities and tell me if you see any correlation.
In the Book of Genesis, we find God instructing Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply. That would make sense if they were the only two people on earth, wouldn't it? But at what point do we employ common sense and say, “Enough”? In agrarian societies, especially primitive ones, farm work is distributed among the children. More children means less work per person and a successful farming operation. Where mortality rates are high, more children are needed just to maintain the status quo. But most societies on earth today are well beyond that agrarian model. An Amish grandfather, lying on his deathbed, asked how many children and grandchildren he had. He was told, “Seventeen children, two hundred fourteen grandchildren, and eighty-six great grandchildren.” He looked thunderstruck and then asked, “Where will they all find farms?” Answer: they won't. It is an unsustainable lifestyle, and a dangerous one for the rest of the world.
Like I said, I don't claim to have the answer to global warming, if indeed, one is even possible. But think about this basic fact: the more people there are on the face of the earth, the more resources are consumed to sustain their lives and the more pollution is created in the process. Doesn't Zero Population Growth make sense? It does to me. But then, I try to be a responsible person. Are you?
By Greg Roberts (published 12/6/15)
LETTER TO A TERRORIST
Dear Mr. Terrorist,
Please forgive the blanket label. I don’t know your name, and even if I did there’s a pretty good chance I would butcher either the spelling or pronunciation. But I want you to know that this is meant for you, personally, and not to be read as a “To whom it may concern” letter.
I don’t understand you. I’m not sure of your personal goals, or the goals of the religion to claim to represent. On the personal level, if what I see in the news is correct, you are determined to cause as much pain and suffering in this life as you possibly can. Your whole existence seems to be geared toward destruction. People like myself wonder what happened to you? Was your childhood miserable? Were you abused? If so, I’m sorry. But there are lots of people in many cultures who have miserable childhoods. There are countless children abused, yes, even in America. Rarely do these folks respond by hardening their hearts and hating everything and everyone. They get over it and find something productive to do with their lives.
Maybe I’ve read you wrong. Maybe you had a wonderful childhood but always felt there was something missing in your life. Lots of people feel like that. Some turn to substance abuse or become addicted to self-destructive behaviors. It’s interesting, isn’t it? When these seekers discover the love of Jesus they find a fulfillment they say they never felt before. What did you find when you ‘discovered’ Allah? Hatred? Envy? It surely appears that you didn’t discover anything that changed you to become a better person.
What exactly is the goal of the religion you profess to represent with your terrorist acts? Is your desire to see a world of only one religion, the Muslim one? To that end, are you ready and willing to kill everybody who wishes to worship and serve another God? Will you not be satisfied until the whole world thinks and worships as you do? If that is the case, you will never achieve your goal. God (or Allah, if you prefer) gave human beings the gift of free choice. The first record of that is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. You have that story in your holy book too, don’t you? I wonder if you’ve ever thought about it. Freedom is such a precious gift.
The American holiday, Thanksgiving, is fast approaching. While Americans (or at least some of them) ponder the many ways God has blessed them, you hide in the dark of your poison mind and ponder how many innocent lives you might end and how much suffering you might cause if you can successfully pull off yet another dastardly act of violence against innocent people who never did a thing to you. As I said, I don’t understand you. Do you understand yourself?
If you decide to blow yourself up rather than be caught and tried for your crimes, I want to thank you. We don’t want to see your face on the evening news and we surely don’t want to spend huge sums of money on lawyers who will defend your right to live when you extended no such right to your victims. Thank you for saving us a lot of trouble.
I’d like you to know that after you’re gone to wherever it is that God decides is right for people like yourself, we will not persecute your family, should you leave one behind. No, we’ll extend them the love of Jesus….and forgiveness. Why should they suffer for the cowardly act you stoop to? You see, the Christian bible says that God is love. Can you say that about your Allah? We’ll find it difficult, but we’ll swallow our desire for revenge and do our best to live up to the high standard our God calls us to.
In closing, I want you to know that no matter how many atrocious attacks you pull off, no matter how many innocent people you kill and maim all over the world, you will only succeed in unifying freedom-loving people and increasing their resolve to stamp you and your kind out so that the rest of the world might live in peace.
Thank you for taking time to read this. You can go back to your plotting, or bomb making or whatever it is you do with your time. Me? I’m going to prayer. I pray that God will thwart your efforts….and somehow, change your heart.
Sincerely, Greg Roberts
By Greg Roberts (published 11/18/15)
JUST THINKING ABOUT ‘THE REAL WORLD’
The acclaimed speaker looks out over the sea of black caps that crown expectant faces and smiles inwardly, remembering the time when she sat on those folding chairs awaiting the proof of all her hard work and perseverance. With a final glance at the manuscript on the lectern, she begins, “Class of 2015, we have come to this moment you have all eagerly anticipated, the moment when you get your due reward for years of study, study that has prepared you for the real world beyond academia.”
Ah yes, the real world. No more late night cram sessions. No more early morning classes. No more papers to write. From now on life will be focused on gratification. We'll get a good job with a nice paycheck and reasonable hours. We'll trade in the old phone and the old car for the latest models. No more sharing living quarters with roommates who range from slobs to neat freaks. We'll breathe deep the air of independent living and the good life of the college graduate.
There is a television commercial currently airing in which the esteemed speaker tells the smiling graduates that most of them will not find those desirable jobs. Many of them will be under-employed in jobs where the hours are long and the compensation insulting. As the speaker goes on, the smiles evaporate. That college degree that was supposed to throw open wide the doors of opportunity may even prove to be a hindrance. Some companies don't want to waste time training folks who probably won't stay put long enough for the company to recoup the cost of training. They would rather employ folks who will be satisfied with jobs rather than careers. The career employers are looking for people with college degrees coupled with work experience in the chosen field. But that's a rare combination, and the odds are that there will be at least one, and possibly many, unrelated work experiences before the graduate elbows his or her way into their chosen field. Welcome to the real world.
Hopefully, your hard-earned degree is in field where occupational opportunities, while not abundant, actually do exist. No doubt you've heard the old joke: What did the art history major ask the engineering major? “You want fries with that?” How many burgers does one have to flip to pay back those student loans? How many career opportunities are there for the person with the art history degree?
Lest we become discouraged, let us count our blessings. Assuming that you, the reader, are an American, you have many advantages working in your favor. Despite some civil disturbances, your life is rarely in danger daily. Your primary language coincides with the culture's. Hopefully, your college experience has given you the ability to write an intelligent sentence. Writing is important, even if you do it with a keyboard instead of a pen. Kids in grade school today aren't learning cursive; they'll be taught to text and you can forget about intelligent sentences. Hopefully, you have above average communication skills. If you are physically healthy, that's a real plus. Chances are you've been vaccinated against most diseases. Hopefully, you're smart enough to refuse addicting drugs. You have youth on your side, unless you're one of those admirable people who went back to finish their degrees after they raised their families. If you have a strong work ethic you are already head and shoulders above many of your peers.
If we think of 'the real world' as life in America, we are ignoring the larger reality. While so-called 'Western values' are permeating places like China and South Korea, there are still many places in this world where day-to-day subsistence is challenging. Civil wars have disrupted whole countries and life is precarious for many millions of people who would love to have your shot at the American Dream.
You want to talk about the real world? Let's forget about jobs and careers for a moment. Let's get down to basics. Yesterday, the cat came home with a baby rabbit, still alive, in its mouth. It was too young to live away from its mother. That's the real world. Most of the time humans are at the top of the food chain, unless you consider bacteria. James Patterson's book has been turned a move entitled “Zoo”. From the previews, it appears that in the movie we are no longer at the top of the food chain. The latest Jurassic movie will remind us that as a species, we are just another source of protein for creatures stronger than ourselves. The real world of nature is harsh and uncaring. In Carl Sandburg's seven-volume biography of Lincoln, he makes the observation that “nature is careless” by birthing far more lives than those needed to perpetuate the species. Most will never reach maturity. That's the real world….and quite honestly, when we look it square in the face, most of us don't like it. We buy our meat at Kroger and don't want to be reminded where it comes from or the process that brought it to the meat case.
The real world is hard. The real world is cold and uncaring. The greatest challenge we, as individuals, face is not survival. Our greatest challenge is to to resist becoming hard, and cold, and uncaring. That, by the way, is the often ignored and misunderstood, but undeniable foundation of the Christian faith. In a world where self-gratification is second only to survival, the call to care for others more than we care for ourselves stands out like a flower growing from a crack in the concrete. The real world of nature has not changed since this earth was created. The real world of human experience in life offers many choices. In the words of the old master (TV series Kung Fu), “Choose wisely Grasshopper.”
By Greg Roberts (published 6/4/15)
JUST THINKING ABOUT HEROIN ADDICTS
I was just thinking about the heroin epidemic. From what I hear and read this epidemic knows no social boundaries, no ethnic divisions, and no limits to how far it will reach. WKRC television in Cincinnati has run a series of stories about heroin addiction, as has the Cincinnati Enquirer. The statistics are alarming and the personal stories heartbreaking. The prognosis for a heroin user is bleak. One author went so far as to say that heroin addiction is a death sentence.
Before I write another word, I need to tell you that it has invaded my own family. So please don’t think that my thoughts are those of a person so detached from the problem that he is incapable of sympathizing. You don’t need a name, but the person in my family who was using heroin is one of the few who actually escaped the addiction—with help from professionals, the court system, and family support. The judge made the statement, “You are one in a thousand.” And for this person’s transformation and new life, I am truly grateful.
When a heroin user overdoses and somebody calls 911, the most common treatment is an injection of Narcan, which can bring the victim back from the brink of death in a matter of minutes. Great! I hope you learned your lesson. But no, the same person overdoses again and again. Each time it happens. Somebody calls 911 and the EMT’s come to the rescue with another dose of Narcan. Here’s my question. Why should you and I pay to bring these addicts back from the brink of death again and again? If they don’t care about their lives, why should we, the taxpayers? Narcan is an expensive drug and EMT’s don’t work for free. Why not tell the user after their first close brush with death, “Next time you’re on your own.” I know to some people that must sound harsh, but ask yourself if we are helping these people.
I suppose a heroin addict might say, “I never intended to get hooked.” My response to that is a Cherokee Indian legend. It goes like this:
Often times, when young boys reached a certain age, they were sent from the village in search of a vision. This was the case of one particular young native boy.
He started to go up to the top of a mountain in search of his vision. And as he climbed up the mountain, the air got cooler and cooler. And he came upon a rattlesnake laying in the path. The snake was shivering, and said to the boy. “Please help me. I can’t move, I am so cold that I can no longer make it any further down the mountain.”
The boy said to the rattlesnake “No way! You’re a rattlesnake, if I pick you up, you’ll bite me!” The snake replied. “No, no I won’t, I promise I won’t bite you if you’ll only pick me up and help get me down the mountain.”
So the young boy picked up the snake, put him in his shirt, and continued climbing to the top of the mountain in search of his vision. When he got back down to the bottom of the mountain, he reached in, took out the snake, and the snake bit the young boy.
The boy replied to the snake “Hey! You bit me, you said that if I’d help you out, that you wouldn’t bite me! Now I’m going to die!”
The rattlesnake replied “But you knew what I was when you picked me up!”
In this age of information, there is no room for the excuse, “I didn’t know.” No, you knew, but you thought you were somehow immune: “It won’t happen to me.”
There are many folks who aren’t really in chronic pain; they just want to get high. They’ll smoke pot, snort coke, sniff glue, huff gasoline, or do whatever it takes to escape reality for awhile. These are the folks I really have trouble understanding. Recently our police chief come to church and showed us slides of crystal meth users. It was shocking to see how their health declined in a matter of months. It is his contention that marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin. I’m certainly not qualified to speak to that. But my gut asks, “Why would you take a chance?” I have a friend who comes from a family riddled by alcoholism. Because of that fact, he has never once tasted an alcoholic beverage. He says, “What if one drink led me to being an alcoholic? Would it be worth it just to see what beer or wine tastes like?” I admire his will power and cannot fault his logic.
If the appeal of using a street drug, whether it's pot, coke, heroin or Molly, is just to ‘feel better’ or ‘get mellow’ I have to ask, “Is it worth the risk?" Maybe the better question is this: why is your life so bad that you want to escape? You know what might be a better idea? How about spending a year in some third world country where hunger is your everyday companion and physical violence a very real possibility? How about joining the Peace Corps or some other benevolent program? Maybe a year in such a place would open our eyes to the reality that we are blessed beyond most people on this earth to live in this country at this time. Maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t be nearly so tempted to toy with something as dangerous and life-destroying as street drugs.
That’s what I think. What do you think? Email me. I’d love to hear from you.
By Greg Roberts (published 3/13/15)
JUST THINKING ABOUT COLLOQUIALISMS
I was just thinking about some of the colloquialisms we frequently use and wondering two things. First, where did they come from and secondly, will they be around much longer. If you can help with some of these, please respond with an email.
“Strike while the iron is hot.” Did this originate in a blacksmith’s shop? Surely it has nothing to do with those old clothing irons that you put on the wood stove and waited for them to heat up. The only two blacksmith shops I’ve ever been in were at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus and Greenfield Village in Michigan. With the increase in the Amish population, there must surely be at least one in Highland County.
“Prime the pump.” We have an old-time pitcher pump lying off to the side of the driveway. That’s as far as I got it when Diane said she’d like to have one mounted in the front yard with a water trough in front. It’s on my honey-do list. But would a teenager have any clue as to what these words meant? Politicians know. The new meaning has to do with lobbyists paying off congressmen or women. You prime the pump with a bribe (but we don’t call it a bribe) to get things going your way. That reminds me; did you know that there are now five levels of government? There’s the original three consisting of the executive, the judicial and the legislative branches. The new ones are the lobbyists and the media, both of which have tremendously more power than the old ones
“The apple of my eye.” Okay, it comes from the Bible. It means you hold someone in high esteem. But literally speaking, what the heck can it mean?
“We’re burning daylight.” This one is surely on the way out because it’s an obvious admonition to stop wasting time. Old-timers worked from sunup to sundown and there was no time for goofing off (burning daylight). But the government has fixed that for us. They’ve given us Daylight Savings Time. And, as my brother Andy has pointed out, only the government could think you can cut a foot off one end of the blanket, sew it on the other end, and have a longer blanket.
“Bring home the bacon” and “save your bacon” are equally obscure to me. Any help?
“Flash in the pan.” I thought this was about panning for gold and maybe seeing a flash of yellow amongst the silt and pebbles but no, it’s about flintlock muskets. A small pan of black powder is set of by the flintlock, thus creating a flash that ignites the main charge. I’m pretty sure most teenagers will still be using this one twenty years from now. (NOT!)
“Hogwash.” Do people really wash hogs, except at the county fair? Is this a reference to Miss Piggy’s bathwater?
Are there any “eager beavers” among us? That would be the person who is always ready to go “full steam ahead”, which is, by the way, another saying surely on the way out. During the American Civil War, the Confederates mined the harbor at Mobile Bay. Admiral Farragut was advised of this but ordered his ships to ignore the mines with this famous quote, “Damn the torpedoes; full steam ahead!”
Have you ever been “asleep at the switch”? What used to be done manually, throwing switches to on the railroad tracks to divert cars, is now done (like just about everything else) by computers. I think this one is a goner too, how about you?
“Lead pipe cinch.” We had horses for a number of years so I know what a cinch is. I also know what happens when you don’t get it tight enough. Experience is still the best teacher but the tuition is high! So, what is a lead pipe cinch? Help!
“Elbow grease.” Akin to “‘put some muscle into it”. My dear departed friend, Ted Winters, used to say that in his younger days they didn’t have all this new-fangled equipment to make their jobs easier. (He was talking about such things as backhoes and earthmovers.) He said (and this is a direct quote), “All we had was our asses and our elbows!” Duly noted, Ted, and how I miss you and our evening coffee on the front porch swing.
“Over a barrel” is hardly used anymore. Originally, it came into play as a means used when attempting to resuscitate a drowned person. The barrel was turned on its side and the victim was placed perpendicularly over the barrel, which was then rolled gently back and forth in an attempt to purge the seawater from the victim’s lungs and stomach. The person “over the barrel” was literally at the mercy of the one in control. Perhaps the more commonly used phrase is, “It’s your night in the barrel.” You figure that one out yourself.
There are a couple of phrases that chicken growers might still use in the future but you seldom hear nowadays. “Mad as a wet hen” is one and the other is “scarce as hen’s teeth.” It’s a safe bet that the chicken tooth fairy isn’t too busy.
“Cash on the barrelhead.” Now that’s a good one! It originates from the American frontier where business transactions were always cash, and the barrelhead served as a makeshift counter. Who pays cash these days? You can bet this one is going the way of the dinosaur.
Somebody get out your favorite cleaning agent (there are more on the market every year) and tell me what it means to be “as clean as a whistle”.
I hope this isn’t politically incorrect, but do you know what it means to “suck hind teat?” A farmer knows that in livestock the hind teat is normally the least productive, hence the littermate shoved to that source of nourishment will probably be the weakest. For those of the human species, since there is no hind teat, it generally means “getting the short end of the stick”.
Okay, back to my original pondering. How many of these could a typical teenager define and how many will still be found in common usage twenty years from now? Since I don’t expect to be here myself, I’ll leave it to somebody younger to carry the torch.
By Greg Roberts (published 12/15/14)
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING ALONE AND BEING LONELY
There’s a difference, isn’t there, between being alone and being lonely. You can be lonely in the midst of a crowd, even a crowd of friends or family. You can be alone and not feel lonely. Doesn’t everybody feel lonely at some time?
When our last parent dies, a sense of loneliness may envelop us. For many folks, parents represent security, safety, a place of belonging. At the very least, our parents represent our roots. If your parents still lived in the same house where you grew up, that house may now seem very empty indeed. You walk through the rooms and the memories are as thick as the dust but the silence can be deafening. The creaking of the rocker, the clatter of plates being dealt on the dining room table, the sounds of laughter, the hissing of something spilled on the stove---wonderful sounds, but gone, leaving only emptiness. Your footsteps echo in the emptiness of that childhood home.
Even if the childhood home was sold in favor of a warmer climate, parents can still represent security. You call them to ask advice, something you never would have done as a teenager. You call them to see how they’re doing. Just the sound of their voice is reassuring, even if you do get an organ recital. “Well, the doctor says my heart is fine but my kidneys aren’t working right and my lungs…..” and on and on it may go. But they’re still alive and in that reality you may well find a sense of security.
For many folks, siblings become more treasured as the years pass, especially when the parents have both gone on to their eternal reward. The sister who was a royal pain in the ass as a teenager just may become your best friend in later years. The little brother who was always being spoiled by Mom and Dad may not cause such resentment among his older siblings as he did when he was young. One by one, we say goodbye to them. If you are an only child, you probably can’t relate to this scenario, but you still know the pain of losing people you love.
Good friends are truly hard to lose. Many folks look at their graduation classes from high school and mourn the fact that their classmates are fewer and fewer at each reunion. Even if they weren’t close friends in school, the fact that they’re dying off saddens us and reminds us of our own impending mortality. One of the worst moments in life for many of us is when we get a phone call telling us that the guy or gal we loved so dearly in school or even later in life died suddenly. It’s like a punch in the solar plexus. Even if we haven’t seen them for years, it comes as a very personal blow.
Fortunate indeed is the person who lives alone and doesn’t feel lonely. The surviving spouse of a fifty-year marriage is challenged to adapt to a new normal, a living-alone normal. They may have to develop new skills…in the kitchen or in the garage for day-to-day needs. For some, who have relied on their spouse with a clear division of labor, this new reality is overwhelming. “What temperature do you use to fry an egg?” “How do you prime the lawn mower to start it?” We may not hear their cries but they are very real. “Where are you? I need you! Why did you leave me?”
Which is sadder, the one left alone by the death of a spouse or the one lonely in the marriage? For many folks, the term ‘happily married’ is a cruel joke. Some endure domestic violence. Some put up with addictions and destructive behaviors. Some tolerate selfishness. Think about Waylon Jennings’ song, “She’s a Good-Hearted Woman In Love with a Good-Timing Man.” How many folks do you know who can say, “I’m happily married”? The vow taken at the altar includes the words, “Till death do us part” or something very close to that. A friend of mine recently quipped, “I didn’t realize at the time that I was getting a life sentence!” Maybe joking is the only socially acceptable way to complain that you feel trapped---and lonely.
If you’re one of the fortunate people who have the gift of meeting new people and making friends easily, there is a measure of comfort in social interaction, be it at the golf course, the bar, or the dance. Does an active social life help to combat loneliness? For all outward appearances, it seems to help. What happens when, at the end of the evening, you go home and close the door behind you?
Loneliness is the symptom of isolation, real or imagined. We can be isolated by our behavior if it isn’t socially acceptable. We can be isolated by our physical deterioration. We can be isolated by any number of factors, even the way we think, and loneliness can result. Fortunate indeed are those who find a place where they belong, such as a welcoming church family where sincere caring is more than something hoped-for. Fortunate indeed is the person who feels a connection to Divinity, in whatever form or by whatever name they may use. Fortunate indeed is the one overcomes loneliness, the most common ailment in western society today.
By Greg Roberts (published 11/16/2014)
ON OLDER FOLKS COPING WITH LIFE
I was just thinking about older folks and the things they do to cope with life.
Martha (not her real name) had an annual ‘allowance’ from the trust fund set up by her father. She and her husband got along well enough. Both in their seventies, they lived in a little farmhouse. Some would say they should have stayed there. But then this house they both adored came up for public auction. There was a clause in her trust that said if she was homeless, for any reason, she could access the funds necessary to purchase a house. The only way they could purchase it was for them to divorce. So they quietly divorced, or so they thought, and continued to live together. But as soon as the court news hit the local newspapers, people in their community began to wag fingers and tongues. They were very open about their judgments. “Why, those old people are living in sin!” The self-appointed judges assumed (and we all know how to dissect that word, don’t we?) that though in their seventies Martha and her husband were still engaging in…dare I say it?…sex! Outside of marriage! Horrors! She and her husband became outcasts, shunned by the good Christian people of their Church. They bought the house for a fair price at auction, but paid a hefty price in the court of public opinion.
Every week we hold funerals for older folks. Many times they leave behind a spouse the same age or older than themselves. Some of them will cope well enough on their own. Others will be absolutely lost without their soul mates. Do you know how few men can cook? Do you know how many widows can’t do the simple tasks like check the oil in their car or mow their lawn? Remember what God is reputed to have said just before creating woman? “It is not good for man to be alone.” Neither is it good for a woman to be alone. Numerous people have told me how lonely it is to live alone and how unrewarding it is to cook for one person, let alone eat alone. Must it be this way when you lose your spouse?
There are numerous ways to avoid the loneliness of finding yourself single in your older years. Some folks move in with one of their children. Sometimes that works well, but not often. People trying to raise their own children while meeting the needs of aging parents under the same roof often complain of being overwhelmed by too many responsibilities. Three generations under one roof was the norm in Jesus’ day. That’s why he explained Heaven to his disciples this way: “In my father’s house are many rooms.” (Sorry folks, but the King James Version word ‘mansions” is a gross misinterpretation of the original Greek which none of Jesus’ hearers would have understood.) But ‘rooms’ they would have understood perfectly. When a son got married, the normal next step was for the family to add rooms to the existing house. Hey, it worked for the Waltons too…but not so well today. Two generations under one roof seems to be plenty.
Okay, so now what? Live alone in your own space and be totally self-dependent. That’s an option, but it leads to isolation and loneliness, especially if you don’t drive or don’t have much desire to go out much. We do have some assisted living facilities but they’re expensive and many folks don’t need assistance; they just need other people, people much like themselves. Eventually they may need assistance or even the nursing home, but not when they have all their faculties and reasonably good health.
You know what I’d like to see? I’d like to see some of the big old houses turned into group homes for two or more people. For that matter, the old Webster school is up for auction. Can’t you envision that being turned into communal senior apartments? I envision a scenario where the rents would be modest and the bills shared equally. Maybe the residents would take turns cooking or maybe they’d hire a cook. Maybe they’d do their own laundry and change their own bedding or maybe they’d hire it done. It would be entirely up to them. But to sit down at the dining room table whenever you like, and enjoy conversation with your meal….that would be a wonderful thing. As long as they were considerate of one another, keeping their television sets turned down, flushing the toilets, rinsing the tub when finished bathing, taking turns emptying the trash and getting it out to the curb, maybe even mowing the lawn, I could care less how many of them were male or female. I have no right to make judgments based on speculation. (Neither did Martha’s church ‘family’ either, but they certainly did.) Quite honestly, I am of the opinion that whatever two consenting adults do behind closed doors is nobody’s business but their own.
I try to envision my own future, should I outlive Diane. I don’t think I could maintain this house by myself, let alone the five acres. I wouldn’t think of trying to live with one of my grandkids. The prospect of a group home occupied by older folks (like me) sounds interesting. If the rents were low you wouldn’t be nearly so worried about outliving your savings. Heck, you might even have enough money to take some of those senior bus trips. But when the trip was over, it would be nice to come back to a house where people like yourself were there to welcome you…wouldn’t it?
- By Greg Roberts (published 10/28/2014)
OWNING LATENT RACISM…
I was just thinking…about my latent racism. There, I’ve said it. I own it, albeit with some sorrow.
I’ve written in this column before that I grew up in a racist home. In the sixties, when images and reports of black marches aired on television, my step-father would rant about those people having nothing better to do than protest that they weren’t getting their fair share of the American Dream. I guess it’s best if I don’t use the so-called “N” word since I’m not black. Only blacks can use the “N” word. Somehow, the logic escapes me but the rule is blacks can call each other anything they want but white folks had best not use derogatory terms lest they be charged with a hate crime. Okay, that’s today. But back in the sixties it was different. My father used the “N” word frequently and vehemently. It’s what I grew up with and not just at home. I am, after all, American born and raised.
Four years in the Navy gave me numerous opportunities to work alongside folks of different race, ethnicity, and religious preference. Those were good years, years that expanded my outlook and taught me tolerance. For a time I was the only ‘white boy’ on second shift in our New York City communications center. I had some trepidation about how that would work out when I saw the watch list posted but I need not have been concerned. We (a black officer, a black Wave, and five black civilian G.S. workers, got along wonderfully. We even learned to joke with one another about race, this at a time when race riots were raging in New York and other cities. Any one of those people could be my next-door neighbor today and I’d be thrilled. They were hard working, fun-loving, dependable folks who showed up on time and did their jobs with efficiency and dedication. When our shift was over, they would take their token white out for a nightcap to places he would never have dared to venture on his own. We did get some looks….but I kept my mouth shut and didn’t do anything stupid. After a momentary silence, people went about their business as if there was nothing strange about a honkey in their midst.
These days, my only interaction with people of color occurs when I go to United Methodist activities. Let’s correct that. Other than the fact that my wife and I are raising two bi-racial grandchildren, my only exposure to folks of color is through the church. Maybe I need to be back in the city. Or not. Just about every night when Diane and I watch the evening news out of Cincinnati, there are stories of random murders. Pleas for folks to come forward with information to help catch the perpetrators go unheeded. And more often than not, the victim and the perpetrator are both black. Not always, mind you, but most times that’s the case.
Recently a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. You know that. No doubt you’ve seen the film footage of the riots, the looting, and the shooting. I find myself getting angry with those folks who think that an unjustified shooting (something as yet to be determined) gives them permission to act lawlessly. How does what happened give anybody the justification to break a store window and loot the premises? If that white officer isn’t found guilty of some heinous crime, you can bet there will be hell to pay in Ferguson. Is he guilty? A court will decide that; not the court of public opinion either. We are supposed to be a nation of laws.
Now, couple my frustration with those incidents with film footage revealing the current ‘game’ called Knockout. That’s where somebody comes up behind or alongside an unsuspecting victim and attempts to knock him or her out with a single punch. It’s not for revenge. It’s not so that you can rob them. It’s just for fun. In every version I’ve seen aired on television (captured on security cameras) the victim is white and the perpetrator (dare I say hoodlum?) doing the damage is black. Is that coincidence? Are television stations trying to instigate racism? Or is the footage what it appears to be—a repeated pattern of black people attacking white folks just for the fun of it? In some cases, the victims have been grievously injured.
So here’s my question. What if it was your relative who got ‘knocked out’? What’s that do for your willingness to look at all folks, regardless of color, as being beloved children of God? Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, a story aired recently about a man attacked in the parking lot of a grocery store and beaten severely…for fun. Two white store employees who bravely came out to assist the man were beaten and knocked out as well. Footage taken with cell phones shows a sickening scene; Black folks running around laughing, kicking those unconscious white employees, and generally having a great time, even throwing pumpkins (stolen ones, mind you) at the victims lying on the ground. You could easily identify at least half a dozen of the perpetrators if you had access to the cell phone footage. But will there be any prosecution?
I doubt that anybody who ever participated in the Knockout game will ever read these words. But you can’t help but wonder if they realize that they are setting race relations back…way back. They are throwing fuel on the smoldering fire of racism. When you act like an animal, can you expect to be treated with dignity and fairness? We know that it is just a few who bring disgrace on the multitude. But when black folks won’t turn in the perpetrators, they add to the problem…and the problem isn’t doing anything but growing.
- By Greg Roberts (published 9/15/2014)
JUST THINKING ABOUT LOVE
Having just read again the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, I find myself wondering if I have ever loved. Love is patient; I am not very patient. Love is kind: I am often not kind. Lover never fails. Really? Is that the same as saying love never dies? Take just a moment and think about how many songs you know that speak of love gone cold. One of my favorites is from Paul Simon. In his song, I Do It For Your Love, you find these lyrics. “The sting of reason, the splash of tears, the northern and the southern hemispheres. Love emerges and it disappears. I do it for your love.”
My personal experience is that love can be killed by neglect or abuse. Periods of inattention from the one who loves us are to be expected as an inescapable dimension of our busy and overcrowded lives. It’s a two-way street. There are times when higher priorities demand so much of our time and energy that there is little left over to spread over a multitude of needy people. People start to feel neglected. Abuse, while regrettable, often results as a reaction to neglect. The neglected party lashes out with words of accusation. The accused person’s natural response to such attacks is withdrawal (from the more timid) or retaliation (from the more aggressive). In any case, a vicious cycle often results leading to an ever-widening gap of alienation. Abuse breeds neglect and neglect breeds more abuse until two people who once believed they loved each other find themselves wondering what they ever saw in that person.
Most people probably never offer the kind of love that “endures all things, keeps no record of wrongs”, and aspires to keep the other person and their needs foremost in every situation. The desire may be there but the ability to put that kind of vision into practice runs into an undeniable reality. That reality is simply that we are human beings and being human, we nearly always operate from a modus that ‘my needs have to be met before I can meet somebody else’s needs’. Few are those who manage to reverse the order, regularly subjugating their own needs for the gratification of somebody else’s…somebody they love. Sadder still, those rare folks who do find the strength to operate from this position of servitude are often trampled and used by folks who will take and take till there is no more left to give.
Jesus said, “No greater love has this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.” Who am I to disagree with that? I mean, Jesus is the most important human being that ever lived! And yet, I cannot help but wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to lay down one’s life than to actually live one’s life for the express purpose of meeting somebody else’s needs. If the essence of love is the willingness to sacrifice (and I believe it is) then the measure of love is found in our answer to the question, ”How much am I willing to sacrifice for the person(s) I claim to love?” A one-time heroic deed, such as jumping on a grenade to save your buddies, might be the result of a split-second decision without time to weigh the consequences. Compare that to a lifetime of decisions that weigh your own desires on one side of the scale and your loved one’s desires on the other side and then always doing what you think will meet their needs as opposed to meeting your own. Conscious, willful, ongoing sacrificial living may indeed be a greater sign of love than the one-time act of valor. It may well be that when Jesus spoke of ‘laying down one’s life’ he had in mind the daily routine as well as the one-time event.
Is any of this making sense or am I just whistling in the dark? I’d love to hear from somebody.
- By Greg Roberts (published 8/3/2014)
SEEKERS CHALLENGE EVERYTHING
I recently picked up a book in the church office entitled, "Readings In Christian Thought" by Hugh T. Kerr. It’s an anthology of writings by many and diverse theologians from the first century through today. You’re probably wrinkling up your nose…or gagging…but I admit this stuff’ appeals to me. Anyone who studies the history of Christian theology will find that there have been virtual wars (okay, word wars) over such subjects as who Jesus was, the nature of God, the meaning of salvation, and even the relation of males and females. This thing we call Christianity is by no means a universally agreed upon set of beliefs. What we have today has come down to us through controversies, debates, and eventually, councils. Even so, there is very little in Christianity that all ‘believers’ subscribe to.
One of the earliest Christian theologians was Justin Martyr. He lived from 100 till 165 AD and he wrote to defend the Christian faith from both Jewish antagonists and pagan polytheism (many gods). What follows is an excerpt that jumped out at me from Justin’s Apology (which means defense of Christianity), his most famous work.
“Reason requires that those who are truly pious and philosophers should honor and cherish the truth alone, scorning merely to follow the opinions of the ancients, if they are worthless.”
When I first began to write the Just Thinking essays, Ron asked me to write a brief introductory bio. In that introductory paragraph, I claim to be a seeker of truth and a student of life. Am I? Is life teaching me anything worth sharing with others or am I merely a leaf on the stream of humanity, drifting with the currents of culture and circumstance? More importantly, am I guilty of claiming to be a seeker of truth while content to repeat the platitudes and axioms that constitute modern day wisdom?
If you’re familiar with the Gospels, you may recall that when Jesus was brought before Pilate he said, “…I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” And then Pilate asked the question of the ages, “What is truth?”
For many folks, the answer is this: truth is whatever I’ve been told by my parents, my teachers, and my Church since I was a child. (Those folks will never, ever read "Lies My Teacher Told Me".) For some, even questioning what they’ve been taught is a form of disrespect. To actually challenge a traditionally held belief is tantamount to rebellion! (You wouldn’t believe how many ‘church folks’ have denounced such fictional works at "The Da Vinci Code".) Beyond the influence of early teachers, there are electronic information sources that claim to speak ‘the truth’. I can hardly bring myself to call them news media (such as CNN or FOX) but they spill a constant stream of biased information disguised as ‘truth’. Their disciples are numerous and noisy, claiming to know what is right and denouncing any and all who might have the audacity to harbor a dissenting opinion.
A well-respected pastor recently explained to me that for some, truth is not a universal entity. For some people, he explained, “There’s your truth and there’s my truth.” He wasn’t on-board with that kind of thinking. He insisted that the only real ‘truth’ was revealed in the Christian Bible.
Personally, I find that hard to accept, that God revealed God’s self only to a few select MEN, living in a particular geographical area, belonging to only one race, over a period of a couple of thousand years. But that’s supposed to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth for the entire human race? That says to me that God doesn’t speak to you or me—and that God never spoke an inspired word to anybody living in China, or India, or Tibet. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not hearing voices in the night. But I DO believe that God speaks to all kinds of folks who are listening…and seeking. What God reveals is sometimes put into print…or maybe text…and shared with others who might also be listening and seeking. To say that God stopped speaking truth to humanity when the Bible was created seems to me to be sealing the lips of God (assuming that God has lips like us humans).
My advice to anyone seeking truth is this: challenge everything. Don’t follow the opinions of the ancients if they are worthless. Take nothing for granted. Age-old wisdom just might prove to be age-old prejudice, or even ignorance. Perhaps the hardest test of discernment occurs when we have to ask ourselves, “Is this from God?” If all truth comes from God, then the truth-seeker has to ask him or herself, does this feel, taste, smell and sound like something from God? Oh! There’s the problem, isn’t it? If we can’t know what God is like, then how can we know if something comes from God? Maybe if I read some more of the theology book I’ll find out. Or maybe, just maybe, God will reveal God’s self to me if I seek with my whole heart. I hope so.
- By Greg Roberts (published 7/6/2014)
THE END OF THE 'PAPER PULPIT'?
If A. J. Liebling was once correct in asserting that the only persons guaranteed freedom of the press are those who own one, he would surely be astounded at the power and scope of what we call ‘social media’. No longer are folks eager to spend their hard-earned dollars to read the overtly conservative diatribes of some columnists, or the liberal rants of editors and publishers from that end of the political spectrum. Instead, they turn on their electronic devices and visit their favorite websites. Not only can they read what others are thinking, they can contribute to the conversation, even if what they have to offer falls into the category of illiterate rubbish.
The implications of this change are many, beginning with the eventual demise of the daily and weekly newspaper. The paper industry, and its parent, the timber industry, will find fewer and fewer markets for paper. Printing presses, no matter how technologically advanced, will have less clientele. A trip to the airport waiting lounge will affirm this. There are still a few newspapers lying around on the tired, vacant seats but the vast majority of folks are choosing to access the news on their electronic devices. Television screens abound in these areas but flyers are more and more enamored of their iPods, iPads, and Tablets. Who wants to be locked into one news network, chosen by the airport authority, when you can jump back and forth between Fox, CNN, and others?
If you spend your dollar on a newspaper and don’t find the editorial page particularly enlightening, all you can do is turn to the sports page or the comic strips (which normally reveal more real insight anyway). But you’re out a buck, or whatever the exorbitant price for a daily paper is these days. Conversely, if you go to William Buckley’s website and find yourself shaking your head in disbelief, you can bail out by pushing a couple of buttons and fleeing to a site where the views expressed are more in line with your own thinking. The freedom of choice is nearly limitless.
There are certain aspects of a local newspaper that are not readily available via electronic media. Classified ads, auctions, sheriff sales, and legal notices are still (presently) the domain of the local newspaper. However, if I can have access to the same information by going to the newspaper’s website, why would I want to spend a dollar? I don’t even own a parakeet so I don’t need birdcage liners.
Here’s my take: those in the newspaper industry had best be re-training for other job markets.…and without delay. When was the last time you saw a teenager reading a newspaper? Those who have had the luxury of sounding off from the paper pulpit had best get used to the idea that in the near future their expressed opinions will carry no more weight and reach no more eyes than those of the average man on the street.
Equality is coming to the world of free speech. Get used to it.
- By Greg Roberts (published 6/10/2014)
JUST THINKING...ABOUT PRIVACY
I was just thinking about privacy.
Crossroads magazine, a tourist guide to Adams County, contains a perennial ad for a getaway retreat. It’s a unique place where you don’t have to worry about what to pack in your suitcase. My guess would be a couple of bottles of wine, a couple of those books you’ve been meaning to read and a large bottle of suntan oil. Cedar Trails is a nudist colony, open to the public.
Recently, I spoke with someone who has been there and I asked, “Are newcomers reluctant to disrobe? Do they take off their clothes in the car?”
She said, “Some people are nudists and some aren’t. For some, it’s in their bones. They probably run around in their homes nude, maybe even in their back yards if they have a privacy fence. Others will never be comfortable with it.”
That got me to thinking, and now, I hope not to shock anyone. BC (before children) I used to be one of those who walked around the house in my birthday suit. Providing the house was warm, I liked the freedom of being unencumbered by clothing. True, nudity does have its drawbacks. If you’re one of those who absolutely has to have their cell phone or wallet within reach at all times, you won’t find nudity appealing. I’m not one of those. When we lived in the country, with the nearest neighbor a quarter of a mile away, I used to go check out the garden in the same natural state. The sun on our skin, especially skin that is rarely exposed, feels nothing short of wonderful.
Then came Ellie, our daughter. Nudity went by the wayside, along with sleeping at night. But after six years of being at least modestly concealed by boxer shorts and a wife-beater T-shirt, she began to go to school and I could once again prance around the house in the natural state until it was time for the bus to come home. I was working second shift, which gave me a few hours at home during the daytime.
Then something happened. I got respectable. Became a preacher. Moved to Sinking Spring. Nudity ended. The doorbell might ring at any moment. No more lying in the sun. No more privacy, not even in my own home. Which brings me to the point.
What has happened to privacy? Mr. Snowden (whether you agree with his actions or not) has revealed that Big Brother is indeed watching me…and you…and listening, and recording, and creating files. But it’s all for our own safety. The NSA and other government organizations tell us that without spying on us (and yes, that’s what it amounts to) they cannot prevent terrorist attacks. In Dan Brown’s fictional book, "Angels and Demons," a university lecturer is quoted as saying to his students that the goal of terrorism is to create fear…and a lack of faith in the government’s ability to protect its citizens. Do you feel more secure, knowing that the government is listening to your cell phone conversations and cataloguing the websites you visit?
When you’ve finished your session with the computer you can click on ‘tools’, click on ‘history’ and delete the list of websites you’ve visited. Think you’re safe now? Folks who should know what they’re talking about tell me that your hard drive is virtually impossible to erase, short of total destruction. So guys, if you think that porn you were watching last night is your little secret, think again. Maybe you don’t care but if you ever decide to run for public office, just know this: every website you ever visited can come back to bite you if some government agency decides to release that history. Your privacy on the worldwide web is non-existent, even if all you do is look at the pretty pictures. And yes, I know that as a contributor to Ron’s website I willingly subject myself to public criticism. But that’s in the public sector. What about the private sector?
I used to think that I had some privacy in my own home. Okay, I can’t run around nude anymore, not even in the house. Oh, just an aside…I read recently that the best deterrent to sex among seniors was nudity. Looking in the mirror, I can attest to that. But I can surely speak my mind within the security of my own walls, can’t I? Apparently not, unless you’re sure that the person you’re speaking with isn’t recording your conversation. Ask Donald Sterling, the soon-to-be ex-owner of the Clippers. The media, the NBA, the NAACP, and everybody else are ‘outraged’ by the personal opinions this man revealed in a conversation with his ex-girlfriend. Talk about Boyfriend Revenge! She used that conversation to destroy him. What began as a private discussion has turned into a public maelstrom of resentment. “Donald Sterling is a racist! Donald Sterling shouldn’t be allowed to own the team. Donald Sterling is a scumbag!” And the public outrage over a supposedly private conversation continues to spiral upward.
In one sense, it’s rather amusing. If you take the current attempt to make this man sell the Clipper franchise to its logical extreme, it stands to reason that if you or I are found to hold private racist leanings, and those leanings become public knowledge, we might be forced to sell our business. I might be stripped of my pastor’s license. Or, in Ron’s case, he might have to give up his city manager’s job. Or in your case….what might you have to forfeit if your private conversations become public? Maybe it’s not so funny.
I’ve shared in previous columns that I gave up the coffee club in the mornings. The hate just got too deep. I used to think that America was still the bright shining light of opportunity for people from every nation.
"Inscription on the Statue of Liberty"
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Author: Emma Lazarus
But to hear the folks in the local coffee clutches, that just isn’t the case anymore. “We don’t need no more damned foreigners.” My point is this: who among us can claim to have no prejudices and no trace of racism (whether you’re black or white). And who, among us, doesn’t feel that in the privacy of your own home, you should be able to express your thoughts honestly? Even if your thoughts aren’t noble, or politically correct. It’s my opinion that this ‘girlfriend’ has violated a sacred trust, the age-old concept that a man’s home is his castle, and that privacy within its walls is to be respected. But hey, that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?
- By Greg Roberts (published 5/2/2014)