The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween: The Long and Winding Road to Ghosts, Ghouls, and a Sugar Rush

All over the country, the preparations are well underway. Parents are either quickly sewing or out buying those last minute Halloween costumes for the kiddies ... unless they've already been in some small town Halloween parade and then the costume is already well in hand. Pumpkins have been picked and carved (and with luck not stolen and smashed by some little jerk who wasn't raised right) and are waiting to be lit for the big night. And, of course, candy has been purchased ... lots and lots of candy. If you're making a last minute purchase, the candy of choice is and always will be chocolate. Just so you know. Older kids and adults prepare for costume parties. Some folks prepare to turn the lights out and pretend not to be home. But, where did all of this early evening pageantry come from?

Some say, Halloween, the contraction for All Hallows' Evening, began in the deep, dark past with the Celtic festival of Samhain. It was a time to celebrate the harvest taken in, stocking up all the goodies for a long, hard winter. Bonfires were a feature of the festivities. Rumor has it those fires drew lots of bugs, calling in lots of bats, hence the bat symbol ... no, not the one on top of the Gotham City police station. However, on a darker note, October 31 was the night when the boundaries between this world and the next thinned and the dead walked the earth. Not peaceful, happy dead, but dead intent on crop damage and disease. However, that name, All Hallows' Eve, is considered a Christian remake of that festival.

But, where does the costuming and the candy crawl come from? For that we go to the Middle Ages practice of Christmas wassailing. Known as souling, the poor would go knocking on the doors of others on November 1, a.k.a. Hallowmas, where they were given food in exchange for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day the next day. This practice stems from Britain and Ireland.

But the heavy costuming does not show up until after 1900 and appears to be of American manufacture. In the 1930s and 1940s, trick or treating caught on in America, sweeping the nation from West to East, its sugary advance slowed by sugar rationing in World War II.

However, candy would be a late arrival on the scene as the booty of choice for trick or treaters. While candy corn originates in the 1880s, the seemingly eternal tradition of candy for Halloween actually took off in the 1950s in America. From an article in The Atlantic, I discovered that the average Halloween Jack-O-Lantern bucket will hold roughly 250 treats, weighing in at 3 pounds of sugar and 9,000 calories. Back away from the bucket parents!

And what of our friend jack, the Jack-O-Lantern. His cheery face was first popularized in Ireland, where turnips, mangelwurzel, or beets were said to be used (any port in a storm, I guess). It is said to have originated with the Christian practice of soul lights, representing the souls of the dead. By Celtic custom, those glowing visages were designed to ward off the restless spirits of the dead seeking to spread disease and damage crops! Now we've come full circle. Happy Halloween.

For more Halloween fun, see:,,, (in honor of the 75th anniversary of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast), and

For more history, see:,, and wikipedia for quick and colorful histories with lots more to tell. We've only scratched the surface. Happy Halloween. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Toyota Yaris Savings on a Long Trip, More MPG

When my wife and I went down to Jonesborough, Tennessee, from our home, the trip was some 540 miles one way. Now, the Yaris has an estimated MPG of 35 miles. A mechanic we used pooh-poohed that number and told us we'd do better. I did the math and he was right. We averaged a little over 42 miles per gallon each way on that long drive in a 2009 Yaris with manual transmission. With a small gas tank, you really save at the pump. We filled the tank when it reached the quarter mark on the way down and then filled it again on the way back. It was wonderful and economical. It didn't hurt that Staunton, Virginia, had a gas station selling the go juice for $2.98 a gallon that burned just fine. The wallet was kept happy and the money available for other things.

In other news, the Yaris like many cars lets you know when your tire pressure is getting low. On the way home the other night I stopped at a gas station, got change for the air pump, went through the ritual removal of all valve stem covers prior to dropping my coins in the machine and starting the timer. As I was finishing up, a woman drop up and started the same process, letting me know her car had told her it was time to fill up the tires too. Ah, technology. I wonder who is really in charge here?

For other posts related to the Yaris, see:, and the most popular post of them all

Drive on!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ominous Fortune Makes for Fiction Fodder: The Five Minute Response

The other night I received this fortune in my fortune cookie. No past, no future, only today? It sounds ominous, almost threatening in some vague way. To me, this fortune sounds like the beginnings of a science fiction or horror story.

The hero or heroine receives this fortune while in a public restaurant on earth or elsewhere depending on the tale, laughs at it, thinks about something witty her or his mother or father would have said in response. The smile freezes on our hero/heroine's face as he/she realizes the response of the parent just won't come from memory, nor that parents face ... and the story begins.

Strange what you find in a fortune cookie these days.

That's the five minute response.

This isn't my first unusual experience with fortune cookies as you'll see in:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Between Heaven and Mirth: How Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life: Book Review

Read this book for yourself. Read it now and keep it close at hand for the future.

I do not have enough time and you wouldn't have enough patience for me to tell you all the reasons this is a good book ... and an important book ... to keep close at hand.

Jesuit Priest James Martin explores deeply just why joy, humor, and laughter are essential to a healthy, happy spiritual life. He gives you a brief and compelling history of why the Church (and by this I mean the Church all inclusive, not just Catholic, Protestant ... but all Church) went on a multi-hundred year binge of being oh so serious ... and why we needn't do so today.

Here you'll learn that joy is a gift from God well worth enjoying, you'll be told the difference between a good joke and a bad one (and why bad ones ... and I don't mean simply humorless or badly told jokes here ... are sinful), and how having a humorous, joyous, laughter-filled demeanor makes you just so much more attractive!

You will get to know the funny sides of many of the Christian saints of the past, long held up in statue and story as straight-laced dour people. It's refreshing.

You will hear from Catholics, Protestants, Jewish, and Muslim authorities on the essential nature of joy, humor, and laughter. From time to time, you may even laugh.

Again, I highly recommend this book. And now, I'm out of time. But I will leave you with this, a very brief definition of joy: "Joy is happiness in God." I like that.

This book lists for $25.99 in hard back and is well worth it.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Our Robots Exploring the Solar System Continue to Amaze ...

Our robots scurrying around the solar system continue to send back amazing pictures to inspire us. Here are three for your enjoyment.

Juno swings by Earth
to pick up speed on
the way to Jupiter
and turns a camera
on us. 
Cassini keeps sending back amazing pictures from Saturn.

Curiosity sends back this large 900 image panorama of Mars. You can almost
feel the grit underfoot!

All images courtesy of NASA.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Prayer for Those Killed in School Shootings

It is with heavy heart that I write this in the wake of the middle school shooting on October 21, 2013, in Sparks, Nevada. This simple prayer is for the families of all of the victims of shootings everywhere, and especially those who lost their lives in school shootings.

Pray with me:
Eternal God, let your mercy rest upon us as we with grateful affection remember all those we loved who have departed this life. We thank you for their days upon the earth and the joy that they brought to many. May our remembrance of them live long among us and be to us a source of guidance and strength. Give to those who miss them most deeply wells of consolation from which to draw comfort, and enable us to be your ministers of mercy to them in their time of need. Amen
May God bless and keep you all. May this senseless violence at last come to an end.

Understanding Our Differences, Acting More Charitably

Given in a sermon in Sabraton, West Virginia, on October 31, 1937, Reverend M. L. Hall reflected on the Christian need for a charitable approach to the varying views of others. Using the analogy of the Christian mariner, he wrote:
The Christian's conscience, like the mariner's compass, is more or less influenced by early associations. We can never permanently settle ourselves from the effects of the moral direction in which our prow was set, or the spiritual atmosphere that surrounded the laying and shaping of our keel. Because of these great channels and laws of influence no two Christians look out upon the sphere of duty from exactly the same standpoint; and we need nothing so much as charity to enable us to patiently meet and rightly construe the opinions and conduct of others, who, though perhaps equally conscious, may not be able to see eye to eye with us in many things pertaining to Christian character and conduct. 
I would have to say, this idea could be easily applied to anyone of any group to great effect. If we would all reflect upon those people and events that gave us all our forms, our ways of thinking, our survival tactics, and our biases (to name but a few), and understand that everyone else in the world has been through the same formative process with people and events far outside our range of experience, we might be able to better understand one another and be more respectful of our differing points of view. Recognizing that how our "prows were set and keels shaped" are inevitably going to differ, we might want to step back and try to imagine why the person who believes differently from us on any issue, large or small, has come to that position and try to have a discussion on the point rather than an argument about it. Rather than coming at every disagreement from a "I win, you lose ... unless you see the light and agree with me" mentality, we might want to change tactics and approach moments of disagreement as an opportunity to learn from one another. It might just make a world of difference in how we treat each other and how we get along in a ridiculously black and white, yes/no, my way or the highway age. Just a thought ...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Gerrymandering Denies Congress Access to Broader Truth

In the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress, the strategy of gerrymandering is denying Congresspersons access to a broader perspective ... and I'd assert ... to access to the truth. Take the districts of Tea Party conservatives as an example. Their districts are more full of twists and turns than a backwoods mountain road. From what I've read recently, those contorted districts are designed specifically to keep such members in power. All the zigs and zags, twists and turns are designed to create districts in which the population is far whiter, far less well ... hmmm, how to put this politely ... educated, far less urban, and far more likely to get all their news from various far right news outlets. In those districts, Mitt Romney won the election by a landslide. So, when a Congressperson from such a district says, "I have heard from the American people!" or "I am following the will of the majority of the American people." well, it just isn't true. They have heard from the bizarre echo chamber of their own ideas reflected back to them by a populace who represent a very small portion of America. That portion of America that appears to assume (if I misrepresent here, I apologize) it's okay to stand out in front of the White House where the first African-American president resides waving a Confederate flag. Now, at the end of the fiasco that was the government shutdown, which cost you and me fellow taxpayers roughly $24 billion, 144 members of the GOP voted to leave the government shut down and continue to rack up an ever higher bill, continued to be fine with the suffering inflicted upon government employees and contractors, and continued to want to deny sick and suffering people health care across the nation. I'm sure they heard from their constituents in their twisty, turny districts that this was a fine thing. They'll tell you that "America spoke and they responded."

Well, Congresspeople who keep their seats with gerrymandered districts, ask your colleagues on the Senate side (well, maybe not all of them ... Ted Cruz might not be a wise choice, for example) who have to run in statewide elections and hear from a far less cherry picked crowd whether you heard from America. I think you might hear a different story.

So, for everyone who finds themselves at odds with "leaders" in Washington, D.C., leaders who would rather fight ideological battles among themselves rather than guide a nation ... or with those Congresspersons who enable such destructive folks by not standing up to them when they pitch their hissy fits, I'd ask you to write to them and give them a broader perspective than the twisted one they receive from their own districts. To find any Congressperson, use this site:

If that representative requires your full Zip Code to contact him or her, use this site to obtain that number::!input.action 

In this day and age, we really can't afford to let our leaders view the world through the heavily distorted lens of the gerrymandered district. I would say it is our duty as citizens to do otherwise. 

For more on truth and perspective, see:

Another post of interest is:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Acid Reflux Disease: What It is and How to Fix It: Another J.S. Brooks Public Service Announcement

Do you take a lot of antacid tablets? I mean, should you own stock in antacid companies because you invest so much in them.

Do you get frequent sinus problems and have a lot of post nasal drip?

Do many foods leave you feeling awful? 

Do you get a lot of heartburn ... you know, that burning pain that starts in your stomach and moves on up to your chest and even into your throat? 

How about that nasty, sour, bitter tasting acid backing up into your throat and mouth in a vile rush? 

Does it feel like food gets stuck in your throat, that you wheeze, have dry cough, are regularly hoarse, or have a sore throat most of the time? 

How about hiccuping and being unable to stop, or burping a lot, feeling bloated much of the time? 

How about the simple act of swallowing ... does it hurt?

Does some of this sound familiar? If so, you, my friend, may have acid reflux disease. 

Don't panic! There's a lot that can be done. See the doctor. Get a recommendation to see an Ears, Nose, and Throat specialist. 

Acid reflux is caused when the valve at the top of your stomach either won't close all the way after food enters your stomach or opens too often, like a looney jack in the box. This allows those powerful stomach acids designed to break down food to rise up into your throat where they don't belong and create those nasty symptoms above. There are others ... but those above are enough to give you the picture. 

Aside from the medicines your doctor can provide you to bring you relief ... go, stop suffering ... here are things you can do to help yourself along the road to recovery. Be warned, this all takes time. Be patient. Remember, life without this misery is worth the sacrifices you're going to make ... and a few of them will be mightily disappointing. Still, do them. Be well.

Here are the foods you need to stay away from, listing the most disappointing first to get the shock out of the way right up front ... please don't stop when you see the first few. Denying them to yourself is worth it when you feel better, believe me, I know. 

Okay, let's go. The foods to avoid like the plague include:
  • Chocolate (Hang in there, it's bad, but white chocolate has no chocolate in it. See, it's not impossible.)
  • Carbonated drinks (Yeah, there goes your favorite soda, but stay strong.)
  • Caffeine (I know, for many of you I should have placed that first. Still, three days of headaches and you're cured.)
  • Citrus fruits and citrus fruit juices (Come on, you still have apple, grape, and other non-citrus fruits and juices.)
  • Alcohol (Yeah, even that.)
  • Dairy
  • Onions
  • Mint/Menthol
  • Tomato-based foods (includes Ketchup and sauces) and spicy foods and hot sauce (For me, these would be near the top, actually.)
  • Fatty foods
Believe it or not, that still leaves you with lots of good stuff to eat, even some candy, cookies, and delicious pastries ... and I'll be you can get away with a lean steak and some wonderful salmon as well. The most maddening part is in the first month when you eat things containing off limit foods you didn't realize were present. 

Okay, there are other life changes you can make to help out with the problem as well. 
  • Your smoking days are done if that is your other habit of choice. 
  • You'll need to take off the extra pounds if you have them (if you don't, don't talk to me ... but congratulations I say, begrudgingly.)
  • Exercise but don't lift weights (That hurts. I love weight lifting. But I also love the elliptical so I'll live.)
  • Don't eat 3-4 hours before bedtime. (Make dinner the last food of the day.)
  • Eat smaller meals spread over the course of the day. (No all you can eat buffets.)
  • Find a nice triangular pillow (big wedge-shaped things) that will elevate your head and chest.
  • This last one will seem ironic after all these don'ts ... reduce your stress levels. (Amusing, no?)
Okay, that's it. Do these things and you will feel better if you have acid reflux disease. Being better to that stomach and that body will make you happier and healthier in the long run. You'll have to deny yourself some things ... but think of the pain you're avoiding when you do. Best of luck to you.

If you are a speaker, you really need to deal with this. You will probably also need the advice in this post:

Another malady you should be aware of, if only to avoid, is shingles and you can be informed with this post:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Adventures in Fitness 19: One Guy's Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: SETBACK!!!

If you're like me, Spring and Fall are not your friends. Seasonal allergies knock you down. I firmly believe no poet who ever rhapsodized about these seasons was ever effected by pollen and other scourges of those bloomin' seasons. They would have written about blessed summer heat and winter freeze instead. So, allergies begot other things in me and kept me away from the gym for over a month.

Here's the thing I have to remind myself of constantly: I'm in this for the long haul. This is all about feeling better, doing more, and living healthier for the long run (despite seasonal setbacks). It is easy to throw in the towel after such a setback. You've lost a lot of what you gained in terms of muscle mass and stamina. You've gained what you didn't want, weight. But remember, this is a lot more about remaining flexible, being able to do what you want to do for much longer (within reason based on age), and being there for family and friends for the long haul.

When you go back, you will once again discover who good it feels to exercise ... after the initial few minutes in which your body whines about how horrible you are being to it and wouldn't you rather go out somewhere for ice cream? Don't listen. Keep working. After a few minutes, the body realizes this really feels good and will get with the program.

However, there is one stipulation to all this. You can't let your ego rule the day. You can't try to return to the time and the weight you were running and lifting prior to the setback. You've got to go back to the beginning as they say in the Princess Bride and start with lower times and weights, unless you want to hurt yourself and spend even more time away from the gym. Your choice. I chose last night to shelve the ego and I feel much better today than I have for a month.

Good luck fellow fitness warriors out there. Take it slow, stick with it for the long run, leave the ego at the door, and remind yourself that unless you are under 25, you will never look like the muscle men and women on the magazine covers or in the movies. That's really not the point. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chris Sattulo Calls Political Gridlock in D.C. Vandalism

I've said my piece about the current, shameful government shutdown in Washington, D.C., that now enters its third week. Chris Sattulo, WHYY's Vice President for news and civic dialogue provides his take, which I think is very insightful. I wish you could have heard it broadcast. Follow this link to the Center Square blog on Newsworks to read Mr. Sattulo's assessment:

I hope rational thought somehow invades our legislators soon and they get on with the nation's business. 

Wisdom for Anyone Who Ministers to Others

In the Protestant tradition, we speak of the "priesthood of all believers." By that, we mean that everyone has the amazing and wonderful duty to follow the two great commandments of Jesus, to love God with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (neighbor = everyone, especially those who need your help whom it is within your power to help). We are also to spread the good news of the Bible and Jesus everywhere.

Now, the challenge of this model is that you end up with vastly different interpretations of what is meant and vastly different ideas on how best to complete the personal mission. Some approaches have been quite harmful to others, and if you have been subjected to such, I apologize personally for your wounds.

Here is some wonderful guidance in completing that mission successfully:

First, a little perspective on your screw ups (we all make them, we are human, it's what we do):
[God says] "Get over yourself! You make mistakes like everyone else does." Or "Everyone else makes mistakes, too, just like you. --James Martin, SJ, Between Heaven and Mirth, p. 202
Here's a humbling little bit of useful perspective for members of the "priesthood of all believers" and everyone else:
Unplanned occurrences are reminders to check your tendency to think that you're the one in control. In reality, it's someone else.  --James Martin, SJ, Between Heaven and Mirth, p. 203

Lighten up ministers, you're not in this alone:
... in ministry, no matter how hard you work, ultimately it's God's work, not yours. All this puts our work in perspective. ... You are not God. And if you forget this, God will remind you. So we need to lighten up about life and ministries. Not that our work and family and religious lives are not important. But we're ultimately not the one who brings about results. --James Martin, SJ, Between Heaven and Mirth, p. 205

The joy of communicating joyfully:
As the story of Jesus is declared in Luke 2:10-11 to be “good news of great joy for all people,” Christians evangelists really should provide a joyful witness to the world. Years ago I donned grease paint, a crazy quilt outfit, and hit the boards as “Joyful Noise,” a Christian clown. Using a “joyful witness,” integral to the very definition of evangelism according to American Baptist Churches USA, I was able to invite people to accept the messages of God’s love and Jesus’ redemption while we laughed together, sharing the joy I feel in my faith. ... the New Testament is filled with joyful messages of God’s redemptive love and the Gospel of John states that joy is complete and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, through whom we find the joy we all seek. The parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, and prodigal son all speak powerfully of the joy felt in heaven over the return of one lost soul. The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah speaks of God’s joy in humanity in 3:17, “…he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Further, Psalm 16:11 boldly declares, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Communicating joy, and joyfully communicating, should be integral to evangelical witness in the twenty-first century. --Jeffrey B. Snyder, "Joy in Evangelism." 

So, all you ministers of all sorts, remember the basics:

  1. Get over yourselves ... [I mean that in the kindest possible way]
  2. Remember who is in charge.
  3. Leave the results to the one who IS in charge.
  4. Communicate the joyful message with ... joy!  


Friday, October 11, 2013

Acme Supermarket Returns to Last Millennium Sales Tactics: Promotional Dishes! The Five Minute Response

I was surprised by the sudden flashback to my childhood when an Acme Supermarket employee explained to me they were giving away Rachael Ray dishes when you collected so many stamps. Each stamp was given with the purchase of $10 of groceries. The dishes offered were all in the bright, solid colors in a variety of colors made popular by West Coast and Midwest pottery companies of the 1920s and the Depression years of the 1930s (is this a statement on the current economy?!), among the best known being Bower, Pacific, and Fiesta ... that's just naming a few, there were more.

Back in the halcyon days of yesteryear (i.e., our individual childhood years, which most of us consider our personal halcyon days), everybody gave away stuff to promote their businesses. Banks offered up toasters, blenders, and other shiny functional items for a savings account established with them. Groceries stores gave away food stuffs for coupons ... and dishes like Acme today if you carefully followed the special offer rules. If you were persistent, you could collect a whole set of dishes, china, Corning Ware, or encyclopedias, whatever suited you.

Many of us remember the Anchor Hocking or Libby glasses given away at gas stations, along with a variety of useful freebies like key chains. You got a glass when you filled your tank. If you were a regular customer, and that was the intent, you could end up with a complete set before too many months had gone by.

Then there's the free stuff you could get in boxes of food--ceramics included, in Cracker Jacks, and through your Jewel Tea door-to-door salesman. All of it was designed to create customer loyalty, at least until a complete set of something or other was obtained. Good luck, Acme, and thanks for the blast from the past!

I wonder what blast from the past will be next ... oh yeah, it's already here, the wrist watch communicator! And that's the five minute response.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Get That Flu Shot! The 5 Minute Response

Get the flu shot while the shots are available. With the children in Washington, D.C. refusing to act like the adult leaders they are supposed to be, and instead standing around raising tantrums and deeming themselves and their gym essential personnel and facilities while the real workers in the government struggle to make ends meet while booted off their jobs, there may be a hitch down the road in getting those shots. If you can get one, get it. You especially need to do so if you have any sort of chronic (long term) condition, such as asthma, or you get recurrent conditions such as bronchitis or sinusitis. You have a compromised immune system and the flu can do you much greater harm. You don't have to be old to have such conditions either. So, get the shot.

The myths about the flu shots today are false. You can't get the flu from the shot. These days it uses dead viruses your immune system learns to recognize and fight but that can't make you sick. As I stated before, your age is no guarantee you won't get sick. Do it for others if that's what motivates you. If you come down with the flu, you'll get others in your family, your office, your church, your gym, and elsewhere sick before you go home to your bed as a quivering mass of misery.

Not convinced? Okay, let me tell you what happened to me back in the George W. Bush years. During one of those years flu shots were hard to come by. The President asked anyone who wasn't elderly, very young, and who was healthy to leave the shots for those less fortunate. I didn't get a shot. One of our children came down with the flu. I got it. I had what one of my doctors called a "cascade." I got the flu, which turned into sinusitis, which morphed into a massive ear infection, the first of my life. The pain was horrible and relentless. While much pain comes in waves, ear infections only keep rising in the level of agony. I was medicated. The pain went away. Then the right side of my face froze. The nerves running through the ear canal (an open topped U shaped canal rather than an entirely closed on, lucky me) were pinched by the infection. I was hospitalized for two and a half days and had a stint put in my ear ... after receiving 6 pain killing shots before it could be implanted in that very irritated ear drum. With four intravenous antibiotics coursing through my veins I did recover in time quite fully. It all might have been avoided if I'd had the shot that year.

Once again, if you can get the flu shot this year, get it! That's the 5 minute response. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Colorful Story of Perception and Truth for a Troubled, Black and White World

Let me spin you a tale:

Once upon a time there was a suburbanite, born and raised, who needed to go into the big city nearby on a research assignment for a book project being worked on. This suburbanite entered a neighborhood of tightly packed row houses near the library where the research materials were housed. The suburbanite grew nervous. This neighborhood looked a whole lot like the neighborhoods the suburbanite had seen so often on the news as scenes of violent murder and despair. The suburbanite drove slower, on guard for trouble. The suburbanite locked the car doors as the shadows seem to grow darker and the houses loom larger. This neighborhood also seemed to be populated largely by peoples of an ethnic group not the suburbanite's own. Nervousness crept toward fear ... until, the suburbanite remembered the teachings of the family in which the suburbanite was raised. The family had taught the suburbanite to think independently and to judge no one on the basis of prejudice or preconceived notions. The suburbanite took a deep breath and decided to really look at this neighborhood to capture some of the truth of the situation. As the suburbanite did so, the shadows and threatening, looming structures receded and took on their actual proportions. The suburbanite discovered the houses to be well maintained row houses. The suburbanite looked at the people of that different ethnicity and actually saw them for who they were, not who the local news had made them out to be. There walking up the far end of the street were three men, three well dressed businessmen carrying briefcases. On the other side of the street were three women on a stoop ... mothers waiting for their children to come home for lunch from school. Sure enough, there came the children from the opposite end of the street. The truth of the situation embarrassed and unnerved the suburbanite. The suburbanite laughed at the fearful self who had not seen what was in front of its own face. The suburbanite was disturbed by how reality had been bent before the suburbanite's own eyes by what had been said, seen, and heard from distant sources, sources concerned with ratings and the darker side of life, sources unconcerned with creating a balanced picture as that was not their job.

So ends the tale, based on truth and lived experience.

We are living in an amazing age of high technology and rapid communication. It is amazing technology that could be used to bind us all together. Instead, however, what has been created for dissemination has been material generated to support one point of view or another, liberal or conservative, Tea Party or PETA, the list could go on and on. Now I come from a different age in another millennia where we called this hand tailored "truth" propaganda and tried to avoid it. Back then reporters worked hard to remain impartial ... and   sometimes managed to do so while at other times failing spectacularly.

But, let's get to the point. As in the parable above, our view of reality is becoming increasingly distorted as we seek out more and more frequently those sources of information that agree with our particular bias or biases. We associate mostly with people who agree with us. We use our cell phones to maintain a tribe electronically with those people we know best while ignoring those right in front of our faces while we stumble off curbs or collide with lamp posts ... the number of injuries while walking and driving distracted by these little devices is on the rise ... or so my sources tell me. In doing so, we are catering to our more ancient minds, which are happiest in small tribal groups that no longer exist, groups of no more than 150 souls because that is how many we can really know and our more primitive minds like that.

In seeking those sources that agree with us and hanging out mostly with a tribe that agrees with us, we become increasingly like the suburbanite before that epiphany. Our view of reality is completely distorted by the information we have taken in that has been tailored for us by people we don't really know for purposes of turning a profit more often than serving the truth or the common good. I suggest that the current situation in Washington, D.C., amongst our elected officials who seem to have back slid into kindergarten playground behavior rather than governing, may be highly influenced by this tailored version of reality ... along with heavy influxes of cash from special interest groups operating under some distortion of reality not intended to promote the common good. Increasingly our society is becoming a black and while, yes or no, you're with us or again' us mentality that is truly helpful to no one.

It's past time we worked hard to shake off our preconceived, tailor made, bias supporting views of reality and saw the world as it truly is, in all its complexities and colors and shades of gray. It's past time we put aside childish things, realized we are big enough and mature enough to actually listen to and entertain other points of view. It is way past time we admitted we might be wrong about some issue or other and rather than just fall back on "facts" we heard from one source or another supporting our biases, actually worked together to come to some more sensible, less emotionally driven view of our common reality. The world is too small and we have grown too powerful through our technologies to do otherwise.

Shake off perceived truth and seek the actual truth of the matter together.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Using Humor to Create a Reservoir of Joy

I've been reading a book I highly recommend to you, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Live, by James Martin, SJ. It has a lot of wisdom to pass along amidst some pretty good jokes! I was very interested in the use of humor to create a reserve for joy, sort of a well to dip into when you are distressed and thirsty for a rising sense of joy in your life.

First a good definition of positive, constructive humor: good humor is always charitable to others, kind and never tearing anyone down, building others up, self deprecatory if anyone needs to be laughed about ... which keeps us humble if done well and is never mean-spirited. Good humor always leaves people with their dignity intact and never, ever attacks someone's good name. Malicious humor, this Jesuit priest states quite clearly, is actually sinful. Once unleashed, it can never be recovered, and you as the teller have no control of where it goes in the world or what further harm it does after it has been loosed.

So now we know what it is. How does that help us create a humor reserve for joy? Father Martin suggests creating a collection of happy, humorous memories from life experiences. As one who has just returned from the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, I can tell you that storytellers old and new tap into these happy memories from childhood to create some of their best work ... and then, perhaps, maybe, stretch those memories a bit to make us all laugh more. But, I digress. Think back to the funny stuff that happened at home or in school when you were a kid. If your childhood was particularly fraught with misery and woe, turn to your work life and think of coworkers' pranks and oddball occurrences in the office or at home. Let me pause here first and say how sorry I am if your childhood truly was miserable. I feel for you.

Once you have thought long and hard, and come up with these amusing experiences and amiable antics, make a list of these wonderful memories. Include jokes and stories that make you laugh ... get a few CDs of storytellers' tales to get you giggling, if need be. Seek out only constructive, positive humor, leaving the evil, malicious, sinful humor alone. As the author states, "Look for constructive and positive humor, which you will find, in the long run, to be more rewarding than anti-ethnic or put-down humor.

Return to this list of amusing, happy material often and enjoy savoring those happy times. Then take it a step further and tell your stories, share your experiences, with your friends, so, quoting Father Martin again, "...they will want to share more joy with you, multiplying the laugh for everyone. The triggering of laughter in others and their sharing in your periods of it facilitates the development of a humorous group perspective--the feeling that we can all laugh at ourselves and each other's failings and that we hold amusing experiences in common in this mad world."

In doing this, from list to sharing, you create a reservoir of happy, funny, humorous material that can act as your reservoir of joy. When you're feeling low and joyless, return to your list and find the lighter moments again. Then seek out the company of others you share humor with for support. Who knows, together you may even create new moments of humor to add to the reservoir, to broaden the list some more.

Wishing you joy, humor, and laughter today and always.

For more on joy, see:

Adding a little to my own joy, this is post 1100! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

National Storytelling Festival: Do It!

The main street at dawn ...
Old Medicine Show wagon from a previous storyteller ...
If you are a person passionate for stories, a good listener who delights in humor and is "man" or "woman" enough to shed a tear when necessary, have I got an event for you! The National Storytelling Festival held in Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough, is a wonderful experience well worth the price of admission (this year that was $170 a person for Friday, Saturday, and a half day Sunday ... which seems steep until you think what you'd pay to see each teller individually and add up how many you are treated to in those two and a half days). You arrive on Thursday and register, paying your admission fee and receiving a quilting swatch as your badge of admission. Never take that swatch off while at the festival! This year's celebration occurred on October 4-6 in warm, sunny weather with temperatures in the 80s in the middle of the day.

Original log cabin, 1777, moved about 1 mile to this location ....

First, a little about Jonesborough. To say the town is scenic is a ridiculous understatement. You'll find eye candy architecture everywhere you look from the main street to the back alleys. It's ridiculous. There are shops there to cater to all your needs, wants, and those souvenirs to take back to those you left behind. There are some gorgeous inns there you can set your sights (and wallet) to staying in some far future year. Talk to them about what's possible and what's not. My wife and I stayed in Kingsport and that worked out fine.
Baptist church to the far right of street scene ...

History Museum ...
There were several startling discoveries in town. Did you know the first abolitionist publications came out of Jonesborough, Tennessee? Me neither. Who'd a thunk it! I was impressed. It was bizarre to travel 500 miles from home in the northeast to find a guy settled there from Lancaster, PA, to start an Inn, as well. That's fairly close to me. Then a guy wearing a tee shirt from a storytelling festival in June in my neck of the woods walked by and we had a lively discussion of the possibilities. You never know who you'll meet in Jonesborough!
First abolitionist publication site ...
that's the Presbyterian church right there.

My Dad and Mom have gone to this festival for decades and raved about it. I was always planning on going with them both one fine year. Then Mom developed the evil disease ALS ... and that opportunity was lost. So, this year my wife and I went with Dad and some mutual friends (we're definitely mutual friends now after sharing in the laughter) and had a ball.

Kevin Kling
The storytellers themselves were wonderful. I knew they would be when the MC for the first session, Kevin Kling, a theologian and storyteller in his own right who I'd heard on Krista Tippett's program OnBeing, took the stage. And the tellers ... well, look them up, find their work, and listen to it on CD for yourself. The collection of tellers shown here are all worth a listen (and they are far from every teller who graced the stage over those 3 days ... you can't cover them all, even if you go to the evening and midnight performances, although you'll come a lot closer than we did). Several are ministers or theologians, which was interesting and uplifting for me ... yeah, we pastors really can be funny ... and insightful! Really!!! One piece of advice though, don't let Minton Sparks write your obituary ... trust me.

This was the 41st National Storytelling Festival and there will be many more to come. Go, see for yourself. Unless you don't have a funny bone and hate stories. In that case, stay far, far away from this blessed event.

Striking house next to the site of the abolitionist publication ...
Church next door to yellow house

Old advertising ...
Flowers and tobacco ...
Eureka Inn ... you'd be lucky to get reservations ...
One of many places to be good to yourself between sets ...
It's scenic on the back streets too ...
It's scenic down the alley ...
Mural and whimsy ...
Recent restoration ...

And now for the stars of the show we saw in the Courthouse Tent (one of six available for listening pleasure):
Inside the big Courthouse tent!

Bill Lepp, 5 time winner of the West Virginia
Liar's Contest! Really!!
Geraldine Buckley, British storyteller,
former prison chaplain ...
Ed Stivender, storyteller and Catholic theologian ...
Minton Sparks, with John Jackson on acoustic guitar,
poetry and storytelling ... but, like I said, don't let her write your
Reverend Robert Jones, Baptist preacher,
blues man with a steel guitar, storyteller ...
Donald Davis, brings to life his childhood in Southern Appalachia.
Oo, oo, oo, is he good!
Sheila Kay Adams, knows sooo many ballads!
Tim Lowry, a new voice this year, teller of folk tales, history,
and hysterical antics from school!
Syd Lieberman, whose stories about his Mom will make you laugh
and stories about his daughter may bring a tear to the eye. 

International Storytelling Center
If you want more information, see the International Storytelling Center's website at They'll set you straight and let you purchase tickets as well. It's never too early to start planning. Hope to see you there!

For more about storytelling and its virtues, see:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Protect Your Image: Avoid Victimization through Revenge Porn

The story on the drive home was disturbing. A woman was forced to quit her job when her ex-husband decided to lash out at her, using nude photos of her taken when they were married to exact his revenge for their divorce. He posted her images, along with her work address, her boss's name, and her colleagues' email addresses, on the Internet in an act of "revenge porn."

Let this story be a cautionary tale. In the age of digital photography and digital video, when any picture can be taken, no matter how disturbing or wrong, without threat of censure (you see in the old days you had to have "film" removed from a camera and developed by a company with a lab, and individuals in such companies could report you to the police ... and would ... if you tried to have pornographic images developed), too many people are placing potential instruments of social status and privacy destruction into each others' hands. As a result, people once loved with whom X rated images have been shared, when spurned, are suddenly carrying digital weapons to wield against you if they are bereft of morals and filled with hate. As was brought up in the story, if you give someone such photos or allow them to take such compromising images of you, they are the owners of those images and can do with them whatever they please. When love dies, reason often flees the scene. "Revenge porn" is apparently on the rise as a result. There is no legal recourse against an aggrieved ex using their property in this way in most places, with the exception of California.

The moral of this story in an age when our very concept of privacy is eroding in the face of the ever expanding digital revolution is ... NEVER, EVER allow yourself to be photographed or videoed in the nude. Never "sext" anyone (we have some politicians who learned that the hard way now don't we)! Keep tight reign on your image. Your privacy is a valuable and fragile commodity today. Don't give it away and hope that no harm will come to you later. Don't bet on the moral fiber of anyone who wants to take such pictures or videos of you in the first place. Don't trust that when the chips are down and the relationship ends, such an individual will destroy those nude photos and sex videos out of the goodness of their heart or a sense of moral obligation. Don't set yourself up for future humiliation and perhaps even the endangerment of your life.

In the story related, the ex-husband went way too far. He posted too much too often and was arrested for sexual stalking. Had he possessed a little more restraint, and provided he didn't reside in California, the victim would never have had any recourse against him. Don't be the next victim. Protect your image and your privacy.  

For more on privacy and the future, see:

Where Can We Find True Happiness?

What do you know of happiness? It's written into the Declaration of Independence as something the individual is free to pursue ... but what is it, really?

In the nuts and bolts definition department, happiness is subjective; it is a determination that a person's current situation and concept of the good life are getting along nicely. True happiness comes from positive relationships, not stuff and not special places to go. In fact, to be truly happy, you need to make other people happy (Bible verses abound). Happiness is a byproduct of a life well lived with others, reaching out that helping hand, lifting up the folks around you, and being willing to accept others' attempts to make you happy (accept the compliment graciously, don't be too proud to humbly accept help offered out of the goodness of another's heart)! Above all, true happiness can never come at the expense of others. Real happiness has a very moral component.

Happiness as so defined will elude those who seek it in consumerism (sorry advertisers), in fleeting and ephemeral pleasure/thrill seeking, and ruthless competition for limited resources against others in a pitched battle for dominance. No long-term happiness there. See how countercultural happiness has become?

Viewing happiness through this lens, unhappiness can become a very useful gauge of what is going on in the world around you. If a person is persistently, chronically unhappy, it's time for the individual to look around and assess his or her relationships with others. Has too much time been spent at the office? Have social relations with friends and family deteriorated? Has too much emphasis been placed on the next shiny thing or the accumulation of wealth for its own sake? Be objective here with your subjective state ... you'll learn something useful.

On a larger scale, if unhappiness exists and persists in a group you are a part of or a group near you, it is likely that group is suffering from some sort of injustice or abuse ... and could use a helping hand ... like 800,000 Federal employees suffered on October 1, 2013, when the Republicans in the House of Representatives decided to shut down the Federal government in a Don Quixote-esque attempt to tear down the Affordable Care Act, which was impossible as it was already the law of the land, and thereby threw these hard working employees (whom they tarred as "non-essential") out of work and out of a paycheck while these same lunatic legislators kept their hefty paychecks flowing. There's an example of injustice and abuse rolled up into one revolting package.

Returning to that nuts and bolts definition, it seems to me that if your concept of the good life is skewed to either the bright and shiny thing end or to the "I must martyr myself for others" end, happiness will always elude you. Happiness as defined and explored here requires resetting that concept of the good life to include positive relationships with others. This leads me to a fascinating link with the Old and New Testaments. In both, righteousness is defined as being in right relations with God and each other. It's about loving others as self, being willing to serve others (and humble enough to be served), and having faith enough to trust others. So, I guess, the righteous person in the Bible is a happy person, not a hectoring, forbidding person.

Will you be happy today? Will you make someone else happy?

For more, see the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, p. 494. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Republican House Holds America Hostage to Cater to Party Fringe: Damage Done & How to Respond

Normally I wouldn't venture into the never very useful world of national politics in a blog post; however, this issue is simply too important not to speak out against it. I had a friend ask me why I speak up on things like this in a platform as small as Facebook. The reason is simple. With the giant propaganda machines arrayed against us and masquerading as news outlets, we all need to speak up in every way we can against those things we find morally offensive. This is one of those situations where the actions of some have become so utterly offensive, so morally aberrant, that we need to speak up in every vehicle available to us. My hope here is that if you feel the way I feel, you'll share this blog post with others and then act on the hyperlinks you find at the bottom of this page.

Last night at midnight, the Republican controlled House of Representatives caved to the far right extremists in their ranks, the Tea Party anarchists, and allowed the government to fold rather than pass necessary legislation to keep the government running. They attempted to hold the nation hostage because they don't like a program properly debated and passed in their own body and in the Senate and found constitutional by the Supreme Court. They refuse to believe that providing affordable health care insurance for many suffering souls is the right thing to do. That is a stance I find morally reprehensible and antithetical to a nation that claims to follow Christian precepts. I won't even go into their loathsome behavior, trying to balance part of the budget on the backs of Americans who do not have enough to eat. I can say this. I will never vote for any politician this morally bankrupt. I will never support a party that finds this behavior acceptable.

Here's what the behavior of the House of Representatives is now going to cost US with their totally unnecessary government shutdown: 

  • A one week shutdown will cost the shaky economy about $10 billion ... just one week (and these are the same folks who want to cut aid to hungry Americans to try to balance the budget, what obscene nonsense). Remember, the US government is the nation's largest employer. During that time, our members of Congress, deemed "essential personnel" by ... well, members of Congress, will continue to receive their $174,000 a year salaries while average working Joes and Josephines in the government considered less than essential (but without whom most government functions will grind to a halt) will suffer from withheld pay. I wonder how their essential service providers and creditors will feel about that. Do you suppose those folks will be lenient with them when the bills come due and their checks don't. Yeah, me neither. All the while, our Congress people and Senators will feel no financial pain (and that really is at the heart of the matter isn't it?). 
  • Services providing healthy meals for 2.5 million seniors will lose funding. Sorry guys, guess you'll just have to tighten your belts a bit and go hungry. I know your representatives won't. 
  • An extended shutdown (and do you see the behavior of the Republicans in Congress allowing this to be short?!) will cut into veterans' compensation, pension, and education benefits. Sorry guys, you may have put your lives at risk in defense of your nation, but your representatives really don't care. They just want what they want, not matter what, thanks to their Tea Party radical fringe. Personally, I find that obscene and know you deserve far better for your valiant service. 
  • In an extended shutdown, mothers and young children may be cut off from vital nutrition assistance.
  • Hundreds of thousands of workers are immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay. Again, your representatives will be rolling in dough while you can't pay the bills. 
  • This information is made available at Go check it out for yourselves. 
There are a few things you can do if you find this situation as despicable as I do. If you are without healthcare, please take this opportunity to begin finding the care you need and deserve under the affordable care act, which goes into effect today (October 1, 2013). Go to to find out how. You deserve affordable coverage. You deserved not to suffer. You deserve better than my friend got who lost his job in the banking industry, after nearly a year of unemployment fell seriously ill, delayed going to the doctors for fear of the expense under a tight budget, and was overwhelmed. He lived alone. He died alone. His body was discovered a week later. That death did not have to happen. We his friends and family did not need to grieve for him. Lash out against this uncaring House of Representatives and join the ranks of the insured. Your participation will strengthen the system and improve healthcare for everyone. Take a stand against hyper-individualism and a stand for a strong, supportive community. Act today and show these callous legislators you won't allow them to deny you coverage for their narrow ideological (twisted ideological) reasons. I was proud our paper ran an editorial by Vice President Joe Biden today about delivering health care in spite of Congress and its posturing. Leave the ranks of the tens of millions who are suffering, who have been unable to afford healthcare until now. At this moment, there are 53 plans to choose from. According to the Biden commentary, nearly 6 in 10 eligible Americans without insurance today will pay $100 a month or less for their health insurance. A family of 4 in Pennsylvania making $50,000 a year will be able to get coverage for as little as $209 a month. Considering I've paid the equivalent of a second mortgage many times to keep my family covered, that's a great deal. Take advantage of this and end the Republican attempt to deny you coverage. Please. Don't end up like my dead friend.

The next thing to do is use this link to find YOUR member of Congress and give him or her hell! Let them know their current behavior is reprehensible, spineless, and morally bankrupt and you are extremely angry:

If your representative is playing it cute like mine, you'll need the four digit extension on your Zip Code to leave an email. Here's where you can get that number:!input.action Don't let that little maneuver discourage you from writing. Be civil but firm, polite but extremely clear. Enough voices speaking at once do make a difference, whether they are backed by big bucks or not. Remember, 76 percent of all Americans stood against bombing Syria from drones and our war hawks backed down. We really do count ... IF and only IF we stand together and speak clearly and often! I'll let you know what I hear back from my representative! I'll post it right here on the blog for all to see.

Tomorrow I'll move on to issues of more lasting value to you all, dear readers. Today, I will seethe over what is happening with what is supposed to be OUR government, but which has currently been hijacked by extremists and those too spineless to stand against them.

Update, 10/1/13, 10:00 PM: In the first day, the Federal Government's Affordable Care Act website (mentioned above: was visited by 2.8 million Americans seeking healthcare. Hmmm. Seems more Americans like the idea than the Republicans want us to believe! That was just day one.

These House Republicans seem to be working toward a "brave new world" an economist recent wrote about, a future world I refuse to support:

For a pithy synopsis of how we got to this disgraceful moment in US history, see: Yeah, it's biased ... but then what in this blog post isn't?!