Friday, January 18, 2019

A Short Commute

I'm glad I don't have a commute into work every day.  That is probably the biggest advantage of working from home -- no daily travel to and from work.

It hasn't always been that way.  My first job out of college was about a 6 or 7 mile commute into town every day.  We lived in the country.  The next two were just a couple of miles.  The third one varied because we moved in the middle of it, but it was anywhere from 12 miles down to about a mile.  Later jobs had as much as 30 miles one way commute, but all of those were country miles and were a great way to get "geared up" for work and then to "unwind" on the way back home.

The worst commute I ever had to deal with was driving into Grapevine from Justin, Texas, on a daily basis.  The distance wasn't unreasonable, but the traffic often was.  I generally allowed an hour for that travel -- one way.

For many years I have worked from home.  The downside is that most "from home" jobs also require lots of travel.  Your office is where ever you happen to be.  As long as I had my cell phone, laptop computer and an Internet connection, I was at the office.  That makes for some very long days when on the road, because often, the evenings at the hotel were spent working on various projects, whether involving spreadsheets, presentations or, just responding to e-mails that accumulated during the day.

I always thought some type of Star Trek transporter device would be ideal for those who have jobs requiring extensive travel.  I can see having a device on your belt that you program coordinates into, push a button and are suddenly transported elsewhere.  There are lots of problems with such a device beyond the obvious one that it doesn't exist.  It would have to include a proximity alert so you didn't suddenly materialize inside another object -- or another person.  It could be used by criminals to pop in and out of targets.

One solution would be to have designated platforms for departures and arrivals -- such as the "transporter room" on Star Trek.  The limitations would simply be the queue for the transporter -- how long would you have to stand in line waiting for a departure and arrival time?  Can you imagine the logistical nightmare computer algorithms required to handle that problem for a giant skyscraper in New York where 10's of thousands of people work and are arriving to/from just as many different places?  There would also still be some other form of travel to your actual office.  Maybe have one transporter platform per block -- but that's a lot of infrastructure cost.

I guess there will always be problems and inconvenience associated with travel.  Mass transit is a solution that works in some places.  Car pooling works in other cases.  Working from home at least eliminates some travel for those able to do so.

Maybe the best solution is for more people to live where they work.  There was a time when most store owners lived either in the back or, above their store.  In our small town we are seeing a number of those old buildings being restored with apartments above that are accessed by street front private stairways.  The apartments are operated as a separate business from the store or, restaurant below.

Well, it's time for me to head to work.  I will finish this post and switch applications on my computer....

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Today's News: Brought to You by....

A part of my morning routine is to grab a first cup of coffee and sit down in my recliner to peruse the news.  I read the news on my phone rather than a newspaper.  In fact, there is almost a ritual to the way I approach it.  I first take a quick glance at any e-mail or, text messages that came in over night and then do a quick daily word puzzle to get my brain in gear before opening the Fox News application on my phone.  I then go to BBC News and read it.  I have found that BBC does a much better job of covering International events than does Fox and they often release stories more quickly due to the time difference.  I then look at Reuters News Wire Services before turning to Twitter.  The reason I look to Twitter for news is that many of those I follow are also up early scanning their various news sources and post links to articles of interest from sources I may not follow -- such as their local or regional newspapers, or other national and international journals.  I tend to avoid CNN, MSNBC or some of the other news services.  Most of them get their stories from the same sources such as Reuters or the AP.  The problem with CNN et. al. is their left-leaning commentary and the pervasiveness of entertainment news scattered throughout their sites.  I couldn't care less about what some Hollywood starlet thinks.

I mention this because the first thing I feed my mind each morning is what is going on in the country and the world around me and yet I am committed to (at least trying) to keep this a positive place.  It's kind of hard to do that some days when the news all seems to be negative -- at least from my point of view.  I suppose if you have a socialist or, anarchist bent you might see it as positive, but that's not the way I am wired.

A lot of folks seem to have their head in the sand when it comes to what is going on in the world.  I admit that I am sometimes guilty of wanting to avoid the news because it is so depressing.  I continue to view Facebook most days and the things I see posted there may be the most depressing of all -- it has become a place where the political spectrum has disappeared to become replaced by distinct camps.  I won't say "armed camps" because that connotes violence, but both sides are definitely armed with memes and opinion commentaries that foment the discord.  It is not healthy.

Throughout the history of our country there have been news sources that supported particular political candidates or political points of view.  Polarization of political philosophies has been around as long as political parties have existed.  Historically, it has been fairly obvious which news sources supported which political party.  Some would argue it is the same today.  I disagree.  Today, I think it is more a matter of whether the news source supports globalization or, a more nationalist approach to government.  Since most news organizations are global in scope, most support globalization -- even those with so-called "right-leaning" pundits among their editorial staff.

I try to be a "nationalist" in thinking, but often find I am a "globalist" in my view.  What I mean is that I would like to see the rest of the world be "blessed" with the type of government ours was designed originally to be.  The problem is that I fear the concentration of power desired by most in the "globalist" camp into a one-world government.  Corruption occurs with power -- even at the city council or school board level.  Can you imagine the level of corruption that would occur with a one-world government?  (Just look at the U.N.)  Imagining such is like trying to envision a trillion dollars.  It is mind boggling.  For that reason alone, I am opposed to globalization of the political system.

Along with the push for globalization of political systems comes the power of corporations.  Most, if not all major corporations are global in scope and influence.  They probably have a greater influence on governments than does the news media.  In fact, the media is in many ways, just a tool of the global corporations.  Money is power and the amount of money in the control of some companies is enough to buy political control of most countries.  The only thing keeping it in check is that other companies are vying for that same control.  It is a matter of competition to see who is the highest bidder.

So, how do I turn this post into a positive?  I think it is simply this:  We must first recognize that there is a global power that is in control.  In fact, that power is in charge of the entirety of creation.  God is in control and our brief time on this planet matters only from the perspective of our relationship with Him.  Do we choose to accept Him and His control, or do we believe mankind knows what is best?  To me, the choice seems very, very clear -- especially after reading the news.

Romans 8:28-39

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Thinking About Thinking

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head that just keeps playing over and over and over again?  When you realize what is happening you do things to try and get it out of your head such as focusing on another song and that one gets stuck in your head and eventually morphs back into the original song?  I wonder why that happens?

How many times are you asked, "What are you thinking about so hard?" only to respond, "Oh, nothing," when the reality is you had a thousand random thoughts bouncing around in your mind, but you really weren't focused on anything in particular?  Maybe you aren't that way and really were focused on something specific but, didn't want to admit what it was to the questioner.

What is it that causes our mind to do such things?  Why is it that our mind needs to be active when we are awake?  We can't actually think about nothing -- it is an impossibility; if you think about "nothing" you are actually thinking about something and that something is "nothing."  Yeah, I know, I'm a little weird at times.

Sometimes I have a hard time reading because my mind keeps drifting off, thinking about things other than the book in my hand.  It frustrates me, especially when I want to read the book in order to "escape" thinking about work, or whatever it might be, for awhile.  When that happens, I can sometimes turn on the television and listen to it while I read and it mostly eliminates the problem.  Yes, my attention is divided, but I can at least get rid of the "work think" for a time, but that's a different problem than having my mind adrift with a song, or random thoughts.  I envy those people who at least claim to be able to focus 100% of their thoughts on a problem.  I tend to chase the covey rather than a single bird.

I must admit that I have zero training in the area of the brain or, of psychology.  I don't necessarily equate the two things like some might do.  The brain and how it works has always intrigued me however, and I am inclined to be an observer -- it's part of my personality -- the way I'm wired.  I sometimes find myself thinking about thinking -- would that be meta-thinking?

I suspect what is happening when we become fixated on something like a song, or our thoughts drift randomly in a daydream, that our subconscious mind is completely focused on something else.  Somewhere below our level of awareness, our brain is wrestling with a problem and the "aware" part of us is left to "automatic" mode, or to "neutral" mode -- it is disengaged until some external stimulus releases a hormone that snaps it back to attention.

When you think about it, that's pretty amazing.  I cannot grasp how anyone could believe such a thing could be the result of natural selection from random mutations through eons of evolution.  Some would say that's because I don't have the mental capacity to do so.  To them I would ask that they explain it to me on terms that I can understand -- if they can't, they don't understand it either.  If you truly know your subject you can teach it to others on a level they can grasp.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sweat and Rocket Power

Some mornings I look at the blank page before me and have nothing that seems worthwhile about which to write.  You might think that would occur during the slow times, those times when there isn't much going on, but instead, it is mostly when my mind is preoccupied with something.

Usually when I go to bed, before I fall asleep, I remind myself to come up with a subject for my morning post.  I have found that my mind will work on it without me being fully aware, although there are times I awake at night with a "eureka" moment and realize I have been inspired.  That isn't usually the case -- especially if there are other things that are taking up the "processing time" that is the realm of REM sleep when our mind is actively sorting through events and organizing them for later retrieval.  It is the time we recognize as dream time, even though we don't usually realize we are dreaming unless we awaken directly from that state.

I find dreams fascinating.  I know it is just my brain trying to make sense of things and to organize itself into patterns but, it intrigues me to think about the dream when I become aware that it is one, and to try and figure out just exactly what events, or minor piece of trivia, triggered it -- to what is it related.

Last night I had rather strange dreams in which I envisioned myself rotting -- at least my skin was deteriorating and falling apart.  To some, I can imagine it would have been a nightmare, but I just found it interesting.  Was it my mind dealing with aging?  I suppose that is possible, but I actually think it was stimulated from the fresh bread that filled our kitchen with pleasing aromas yesterday.

It was sourdough bread -- my wife makes excellent sourdough bread -- and it releases an aroma that is distinct.  Bread is associated with yeast which is a fungus.  Fungi are part of the natural cycle of breaking down dead things into their component and reusable compounds.  Dead trees in the woods are often covered with fungi -- especially those which are still standing.  The tiny filaments of the fungi penetrate the pores of the wood and slowly break it apart -- much like I dreamed was happening to my skin in the dream.

The entire episode reminds me of what I wrote about a few days ago -- we all are made of the elements of this earth and someday will return those elements back into the earth.  It is part of the cycle of life on this planet.

Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are the most common elements in our bodies.  They each are part of cyclical patterns that have existed since the earth was formed.  The carbon released from our breath may have once been part of a Tyrannosaurus which roamed the earth.  The oxygen we breath may have once been a part of some ancient Chinese Emperor.  The hydrogen in a drop of sweat may someday help power a rocket to the moon.  Whether we like it or not, we are physically "one" with the earth.

So, what sets us apart?  Perhaps it is simply the ability to recognize a dream for what it is, the assimilation of data into informative patterns.  Those informative patterns reveal a masterful hand of creation.  By recognizing our limitations as part of the cyclical nature of this planet, we are able to see God and to know that He is not us, but much, much bigger.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Uneven Thinking

Some days
My mind
Won't stay
Engaged in
Any particular
Line of
Thought and
Bounces from
One place
To another.

It's usually
When there
Is something
That is
Using up
Most of
The processing
Capacity and
Continually is
Running in
The background.

This is
One of
Those days
After a
Long night
Of wakeful
Thought about
A project
On which
I wish
To embark.

The result
Is that
This morning
My thoughts
Are disjointed
And broken
Into small
Fragments that
Make focusing
On something
Else a
Difficult task.

I can't even keep the number of lines the same....

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Allergies and Responsibilities

In our part of the world we have had a very mild winter so far.  It has been wet and it has been cold, but it hasn't really been that cold.  We have only had a handful of days where the temperatures dropped below freezing.  I haven't had to break ice on the cattle water a single time so far.  I'm sure that will change, but the near-term forecast isn't calling for it.

The mild weather has meant an early allergy season.  I don't think the cedar trees in our area are releasing pollen yet, but they will soon.  However, the cedars to the southwest of us in Central Texas are in full bloom and the amount of pollen arriving on the prevailing southwest breezes has been overwhelming.  It affects my breathing and my eyes mostly, but on some days, I can't stop my nose from running either.  My better half has been fighting it for weeks.  It is debilitating to someone unused to dealing with it.

Growing up on the High Plains of the southern Texas Panhandle I didn't have to worry about cedar pollen.  It was all to the southeast of us and prevailing winds took it another direction.  What got me there was the pollen from Careless Weeds (Pigweed), Kochia, corn, grain sorghum and who knows what else.  In the fall, the dust from cotton affected me greatly.  Gin dust triggers asthma within seconds of breathing it.

I've lived with allergies to pollen and dust all of my life.  You just learn to suck it up (sometimes literally) and go on.  It saps your energy and it is annoying -- both to you and to others.  It keeps the Kleenex company in business.

I suppose I could jump on the "Climate Change" bandwagon and blame my allergies on the rest of humanity.  It couldn't possibly be something natural that is causing this mild winter; it must be the result of human activity.  After all, if a person doesn't believe in God, everything becomes the result of human effort.  It also fits the pattern of finding fault.  It is popular to blame someone else for your problems rather than just accepting that things happen and moving on.

I'm responsible for my behavior.  Part of that responsibility is in how I react to adversity or, to the good things that happen in life.  I also believe we each have the responsibility to help others through times of adversity because we may need similar help in the future.  Right now, I will pass the box of Kleenex and take on a few extra chores because for whatever reason, the allergies aren't affecting me quite as hard.  Maybe I've built up some immunity through the years.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Nairobi Was Not What I Expected

In going back through my files I stumbled across the following piece that I wrote soon after returning from a trip to Kenya in 2011.

Nairobi was not what I expected.  In many ways, it looked like most modern cities.  It didn’t conform to my image of Africa.

Nairobi was merely the point of embarkation for the reality of Kenya, a land of contrasts.  Distance from Nairobi provides a scale with which to measure, to place in perspective, the glimpses afforded us on our journey of both spiritual growth and cultural awareness.

Beauty was everywhere in the Kenyan countryside.  Tea plantations, flowers in profusion, banana trees, green hillsides, eucalyptus trees, and brightly colored clothes adorning the people were a visual delight providing unending variety.

Except in the enclaves of privacy, remnants of British Colonialism, people were everywhere.  Walking, selling, bicycling, riding motorcycles, crowding into matatus (local version of a taxi), washing clothes in roadside streams, or merely milling in groups of varying sizes, people were everywhere.  They represented various tribes that once lived in homelands destroyed by the well-intentioned colonial system of integration that was designed to transfer loyalty from the local chieftain to the Commonwealth.  Now mixed in all their variety, tribal identities were still visible in associations and in physical features only.

Scattered throughout were the impoverished and the marginalized.

Distance from Nairobi served merely to emphasize the depth of poverty among the people.  Near the capitol city, the slums were pushed to waste lands, away from the bright gems of modernity.  As distance multiplied, the gems became fewer and the poverty overwhelming.

HIV is one of the culprits.  With one of the highest rates of AIDS in the world, Kenyan is home to a huge number of widows and orphans.  These outcasts from society due to the stigma of a father dead from AIDS, spend their days struggling for survival.  Whether selling produce from a tiny garden at the speed bumps placed along the highways, or depending on neighbors and relatives for food, these victims of the HIV pandemic fight daily just to live.  They are ripe for exploitation.

The churches springing up among these most vulnerable people are seen as a refuge from exploitation.  They are a place of belonging for those who no longer belong.  They are a community to which the love of Christ draws inexorably those who crave love most desperately.  They are a source of hope in an otherwise hopeless existence.

How can such churches survive when there is no support?  How can a congregation that consists of the impoverished provide the help for daily sustenance that is so desperately needed?  How can the pastors who seek to serve these needy believers support themselves while giving endlessly to those who are even needier?

The bi-vocational pastors that I met in the Western Highlands of Kenya give their all to serve their congregants and their God.  They struggle to support their own families while providing for the needs of those who depend on them for spiritual guidance.  With offerings that often fail to exceed the equivalent of $1.50 on a Sunday, how are these pastors to continue?  Many are disheartened – almost to the point of despair.

A stigma attaches to those who seem unable to live up to the expectations of their neighbors.  This is true in every society.  Just look at the pressure to “succeed” that is evident in every community in the United States.  Imagine a situation where one is seeking to do the very best for their “flock” of believers only to fall under the judgmental eye of neighbors who mockingly accuse them of being unable to care for their own family.  Many of the pastors to the impoverished of Kenya feel that this is their case.

Schooling in Kenya is not free.  Tuition is required to educate children at every grade level.  With the struggle for daily bread occupying every free moment, the bi-vocational pastors who give generously to the widows and orphans in their congregations, often find themselves unable to meet the required tuition to educate their own children.  Such an example is often felt to be an impediment to effective outreach to evangelize their communities.  It is a situation that could easily be remedied by the wealth of fellow Christians in the United States.

Why is it that we see ourselves helpless to do anything as we wallow in relative luxury while those who are truly doing the work of the church – sharing the love of Jesus and making disciples – struggle just to feed and educate their family?  We own multiple cars while pastors in Kenya must pay more than they can afford to ride on the back of a motorcycle to a conference where they can meet with other pastors serving similar congregations.  We complain if we miss a meal that contains more calories than most of the orphans and widows in the slums of Kenya will receive over several days.  It is a ringing indictment against the church in the U.S. that we fight over buildings and parking lots when new churches in the slums of Kenya are meeting in metal-sided sheds or under trees.  Do we truly serve Jesus, or do we merely serve ourselves?  I think our Father in Heaven has given us the answer.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  -- John 3:16

Friday, January 11, 2019

Winter Rain

A soft gray glowing dome
Of reflected light
Before the dawn,
Without a sight
Of bursting colors,
Day is creeping upward
As though reluctant
To reveal the dreariness
Of expected winter rain.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Working Through My Thoughts

Today is a writing deadline for me.  My column for a trade publication for which I write is due today.  I have made numerous starts, but can't seem to complete it.  Maybe that's inaccurate; I've written a couple of them and then deleted them because they didn't "feel" right.

Usually, deadlines are good for me.  I like to have something virtually completed in my head before I "dump it" on paper -- er, type it into the computer.  Having started writing in the days of paper and pencil and later with a typewriter, old thinking dies hard.  I should just immediately begin the rough draft on the computer and correct it afterward.  Corrections are much easier today when it only requires a backspace or delete key.  The trouble with today's deadline is that I still have no clear idea about what to write.

The Publisher will likely be reading this post later this morning and will laugh at me.

The topic for the issue is, "Where do we go from here?"  The magazine will include industry projections and analysis.  Maybe that's the trouble; I don't have a clue where we are headed.  The level of turmoil and uncertainty in the world is high, but thinking back through history, when has it not been high?  Maybe that's the answer; just like the writer of Ecclesiastes, I will point out that there is nothing new under the sun.  It will be another year of same-old-same-old.

That's not like me though, I don't believe it for an instant.  Change is inevitable, but usually gradual in nature.  Change creeps in like a cat stalking a bird.  It is silent and stealthy and keeps its head down until suddenly springing upon the quarry which bursts into a ball of feathers beneath the swatting paw.  I suppose the answer is, don't be the ball of feathers.

Well, I'm glad we've had this little chat within my head, maybe now I have some sense of what to write for my column....

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Waking Up

Some mornings it seems really hard
To get myself in gear;
It's like a cloud hangs over me
And sleep seems oh, so dear.

But I drink a cup of coffee
And then a couple more,
Put on my boots, my hat and coat
And head right out the door

Into the frosty morning
With stars still shining bright
And the silence that surrounds me
Before the breaking light

Where my body slowly wakens
To the wonder that I meet
Or, maybe it's responding
To the obvious lack of heat

As I climb into my pickup
And crank the heater up to high
'Cause I need to check the cattle
Whose calving time is nigh.

There's ice to break and hay to feed
And maybe a new life
Born upon a frigid morn
Amidst the birthing strife.

And the sweat begins to trickle
'Neath the heavy clothes I wear
So I roll down my window
To let in some cool air

Then pausing in my labor
I begin to realize
That right there in the eastern sky
A brilliant sunrise

Has turned the frozen blades to crystal
And in spite of all the cold
I stand and look in wonder
At the colors painted bold

And know that I have wakened
Fully to the rising day
As I climb back in the pickup
And head on my merry way.