Friday, September 28, 2018

Director of Changing the World

Several months ago my brother made the big move from his lake front cottage in rural Vermont across the vast expanse of the US to his new job in California. The job was created for him and came with the job title "Director of Changing the World."

My brother is a pretty cool guy. He is intelligent, articulate, humble and unassuming, and he can be pretty goofy, too. He genuinely cares about humanity in general and individual people, too. Personally, I can't think of a person better suited for the job of Director of Changing the World.
God knows we need some changes!

But I am wondering...
If the task of directing change in the world was left to you (or to me), how would we go about it and what would our priorities be?

When I look around me today -- the news, social media, the church, politics -- the thing that I find most disturbing is the amount of fear that we have. I know that much of it is hyped and spread by those that wish to control the fearful by promising control over the ones they fear, but the consequences are real and quite destructive. I don't know how to go about combating the machine that spews hate and causes fear other than to educate the masses to the truth.
Education, exposure, and experience are the greatest weapons against fear. Unfortunately, many choose to remain willfully ignorant because fearing is easier than education and education may mean finding out that we have been wrong all along.

What would happen if we each began to examine our critical beliefs with the idea that we may have it wrong? What if we stopped looking at generalities -- Republican, Democrat, black, white, Christian, Muslim, atheist, straight, gay, etc. -- and looked at individuals and based our judgments solely on their merits?
What if we were to examine the teaching of our god against the teaching of another god?
What if we examined the purpose of government and found that large blocks of citizens were being forgotten or actively oppressed by the political party we've supported?

Would we be willing to change our way of thinking and speak up about our new found truth?
In today's environment, many people are more afraid of the consequences of speaking to the truth they are of being wrong. They would rather continue in their ignorance than find out they need to make a change.

I'm afraid that changing the world would be far too difficult a task for me. I struggle with the changes that I need to make in my own heart and mind. Through education, exposure, and experience, I am finding that I have been wrong about a lot of things and a lot of people.

Maybe I need to hire my brother to be Director of Changing John.
It wouldn't make a great impact on changing the world, but it would be a start.

John <><

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Happiness Whores

How much would you pay somebody to make you happy -- even for just a little while?
How much could you charge if somebody paid you to make them happy -- even for just a little while?

I saw a Twitter post the other day that listed several categories of celebrities (athletes, movie producers, top actors, etc.) that earn lots of money but have little influence on the education and care of our society. That list was compared to the salaries of teachers, social workers, public servants, etc.

I realize there are some athletes and actors that work their butts off to scrape by on their way up the ladder in their chosen field. I also get that art and athleticism are worthy of compensation.
But the grand disconnect between the millions of dollars paid to some celebrities vs the salaries paid to teachers and others is astounding! And we support this system every time we pay 50 bucks (or lots more) to go to a ballgame or 20 bucks to go to a movie.

Have our lives become so bad that we are willing to work long hours and pay huge chunks of our income to find an escape from the daily routine?
How much of our phone, internet, and cable or satellite TV bills is to keep us entertained?
Has finding ways to escape from life become our way of life?

Don't get me wrong.
I love being entertained!
I've even had the pleasure of being the entertainer from time to time (though not with the huge $$).
I'm just trying to find some perspective in my relatively small world. Truthfully, I find as much joy in riding my motorcycle to and from a St. Louis Cardinal's game (about 500 miles round trip) as I do from watching the game. And I'm more comfortable watching from home, but I do miss that deliciously unhealthy ballpark dog!
The same can be said for the UFC Fights or any other form of giving my money to somebody else so that I can be "happy" for a short period of time. Most of the time I do these things without really thinking about it.

But, is it worth it?

I don't know.
When I think about paying somebody else to make me happy it does make pause and ask, "Why?"
And now, I'm also going to be asking, "Is it worth it?"
"Does this person/company/organization deserve this much of my money to bring this amount of happiness/escape/adventure into my life?"


John <><

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


I've been thinking (and writing) more about community lately. It might have to do with my (slowly) changing community or it might just be a recognition that I've not really had much of a community and we all need to have (at least) a core of people that we feel comfortable being with.

There are things that unite us -- interests, beliefs, politics, race, culture, economic status, etc.
Those things are often the same things that divide us.

Since southwest Missouri is largely a Republican stronghold and in the middle of the Bible belt, I am often confronted with political differences in any subset community. Since politics has become the divisive topic that it is, even once solid relationships have become strained when there are political differences and new relationships are difficult forge. My world is a constant reminder that I am a blue dot in a red sea. Even with my small core of politically centrist friends it feels like a tiny island in the deeply red sea.

Neither is this area racially nor culturally diverse. Any subset group -- church, biker, writer, sporting, etc. -- is made up of white, middle class, working people or small business owners that have spent most of their lives within a hundred miles or so of their Ozarks Christian (or pseudo-christian) home. Finding diverse ideas and beliefs (or acceptance of diverse ideas and beliefs) is quite the challenge in a non-diverse society.
I feel like Democrats need a secret handshake or Democrat friendly churches and businesses need a secret symbol to identify themselves as such. It may sound strange to say that churches are unfriendly to differing political views, but as a person that has been ridiculed for political beliefs and basically shunned by a church, I can assure you it is true.

I could be that my community is starting to grow because I'm finding more people like myself.
Not that we all look alike, act alike or believe the same things; but that we are willing to accept and talk about the differences.
I still spend most of my time alone and I'm okay with that.
But I'm starting to enjoy being with some people -- some of the time.
And I'm okay with that, too.

John <><

Friday, September 21, 2018

American Christianity: a lack of evolution

It's a stunning title -- don't you think?
Combining Christianity and evolution in a title is sure to get some attention even if I'm not talking about the evolution of humans, but rather the evolution of American Christianity.

Earlier this year I was preaching at a small church and said that it isn't enough that we believe in Jesus, but that we are to behave like Jesus. I don't believe that our evangelical churches are doing a very good job of teaching this.
For the most part, we seem to be satisfied in gaining a believer and never teach the evolution of following the behavior of Jesus. Once we've pointed out their egregious sins and properly condemned them to an eternity of hellfire and misery, we point the way to salvation through faith in Jesus.
We proclaim victory and leave them to struggle through their new belief as we move on in search of our next victim of religious malpractice.

Salvation and Christianity were never meant to be a moment in time.
Following Jesus is supposed to be a way of life. Sometimes it's simple; sometimes it's not.
Looking at Jesus' life back in the 30s (and I'm not talking about the 1930s or even the 1630s or 1030s. I'm talking about THE 30s!) can make it difficult to follow him in 2018.

How do I follow him as a husband when he wasn't married?
How do I follow him as a father when he didn't have kids?
How do I follow him as a worker when the Bible never addresses him as an employee (or a business owner)?

The answer is to study the life and character of Jesus so that we can become like Jesus.
Even if you don't believe that he is the Son of God, you've got to admit that living according to his teachings would make for a pretty respectable human life!

I think it's time for us to grow up as Christians -- to evolve as followers of Jesus.
I think it's time for us to stop focusing on what we believe and what we think others should believe.
I think it's time for us to behave like Jesus.

James, the brother of Jesus, warned about having faith without demonstrating it by our behavior. It's a little creepy that he could be accurately talking to us through the centuries
...and it's pretty sad.
Two thousand years later and we still haven't evolved past what we believe into how we behave.


John <><

Thursday, September 20, 2018

End of Life

Due to poor planning on my part, this morning finds me at a Springfield MO Starbucks.
I'll be enjoying a quad shot, grande Americano and using their wifi before buying some beans for future home use. The grande vs venti is simply because my personal cup is 16oz and I'm trying to be more aware of avoiding single use products like cups and bottles. I'm sure I'll opt in for a coffee refill before leaving.

My recent cell phone crash has me thinking about end of life stuff.
Weird, huh?
When I took my phone in to see about repairing it, "end of life" phone was how they described it.
It means that they no longer make this model. In fact, it has been quite some time since they have. The current model is five generations beyond my old phone and I am currently using a phone that is a generation older than that.

I thought that the term "end of life phone" sounded like one that you would give to a person that is dying and started thinking about the features that such a phone would have.

* speed dial for all of your loved ones so you could call and say "I love you" one last time
* pictures and videos of your fondest memories
* contact info of old friends that you owe an apology for a long forgotten misunderstanding
* a delete function to remove all of that embarrassing history at the moment of the "end of life"
* a playlist of music that reminds you of the good times or prepares you for the coming end

What features would your "end of life" phone include?

Unfortunately, most smart phones mark the end of life for their owners. It is the end of meaningful social interaction, the end of outdoor activity for many kids, and a certain distraction for people that need to be paying attention to spouses, kids, friends, or the task at hand -- like driving.
While smart phones have many features that can help us to connect with others, they also seem to tragically bring about both a figurative and sometimes literal end of life.
I think we can do better.

Yes, I'll end up with a new phone soon, but it will be the cheapest one that offers what I need. And that isn't much. Tops on the list for me is long battery life. Today's phones only have rechargeable batteries, not replaceable ones. I've been carrying extra charged batteries and replacing a spent battery until I can recharge them.
I don't need a great camera, so the camera on any phone is good enough.
I'd like to put my Kindle app on it so I have books available when needed and maybe a game or two.
And I do need to be able to use it for navigation and would like to be able to stream videos or watch online programs, but that isn't a priority. That's about it. I'm trying to be less dependent on technology and more about living life -- not ending it.

John <><

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Time to break the silence

It's seems like it has been quite some time since I've posted here at Out of My Hat. It's actually only been two weeks, but much has happened and is happening.

In the US there are mid-term elections just over a month away and now the Supreme Court has upheld a lower court's ruling regarding the disclosure of previously called dark money contributions. This is the time when things start to get ugly.
There is also the ongoing hearing for the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice that is causing much political posturing and controversy. (This one has been ugly from the start.)

There is the aftermath of severe storms on the US east coast as well in the South Pacific and southeast Asia.
There continues to be racial incidents between law enforcement and citizens of color in the US and Nike has weighed in on the issue with its new ad campaign.

I have to admit that part of not posting has been from trying not to be negative and adding to the noise of the internet. (And by noise I mean the stuff that is out there and consumes our time but doesn't seem to educate nor change peoples minds.)
Of course, there is always the part of just being too lazy to write.

Out of My Hat is a personal blog and I sometimes wonder why I write.
It certainly isn't to make money nor as part of some kind of job or promotion.
It isn't because I feel like my thoughts and ideas are really worth considering as others make up their own minds on how to think about various topics.
As expected, my thoughts and rants have often drawn as much criticism as affirmation (although most of the critics have ceased following me some time ago).

Currently, my posting silence has also been a part of a personal effort to listen more and to speak (or express) less. Even when alone and in relative silence, I am trying to listen more carefully. Listening to nature is teaching me that I can listen to hear without the need to respond. I am hoping to advance this skill and apply it to people -- listening to hear without the need to respond.

Today I want to encourage you to find a quiet place and just listen. You might be surprised at what you can hear in the silence.

John <><

Thursday, September 06, 2018

This date in history...

Okay, I'm not talking about the distant past or world history. One year ago today I set out on my epic motorcycle trip. It touched 21 states, two Canadian provinces, and the District of Columbia. I rode through some beautiful country, some mountain roads, and rush hour traffic in Chicago, Boston, and DC. I met with friends and family along the way and met some new friends, as well.

This year I haven't ridden as much nor as often as in the past two years. Although the motorcycle is still my transportation of choice, I've done considerably less pleasure riding this year. Perhaps, I'll start riding more often again this fall.
I'm replacing the existing saddlebags with locking bags. That will be nice for day trips to ballgames and such.
I need to plan another long trip and check off some more states -- maybe a Route 66 trip all the way to the ocean.

Be careful out there. Watch for us old, retired guys on motorcycles!

John <><

Monday, September 03, 2018

No Days Off

When I retired, one of my older cousins warned me -- There are no days off in retirement!

He's right! There are no more paid sick days, no more paid holidays, no more paid vacation days.
Every day you are simply retired.
So while the rest of you are enjoying the long holiday weekend, it's just another regular Monday for those of us that are retired.

That is not to say that I don't celebrate Labor Day.
It is because of organized labor and the many battles that were fought and won that I am able to enjoy my retirement with a decent pension and an adequate Thrift Savings Plan (the government 401K type plan).
I'm pretty sure that I'll be spending my Monday working in the yard. I'll wait until tomorrow (when the rest of you are at work) to get out and ride the rural highways or enjoy Lake Springfield on a kayak.

If you get to enjoy a long holiday weekend today -- thank organized labor!
For us retired guys -- it's just another day.

John <><

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Blog writing and social media

I just checked and my blog posting frequency has really dropped off in the past few months.
Part of that is a decision to be less negative and just putting the keyboard aside when I feel the need to rant. Another part is a conscious effort to disconnect from social media a bit more and unfortunately that has also included my blog and some of the other blogs I read.
Now, rather than reading them daily, I seem to read them a few times per week and catch several days at once.

There are an abundance of studies that show how community and personal relationships add years to life and make those years more enjoyable. Social media and technology have had great impacts on the amount of personal relationships we have and it seems that we (at least in the US) are becoming more isolated, more lonely, and more poorly equipped to actually interact with other human beings.

I have to admit that I don't interact with very many people on a regular basis. There are many days when the only person I talk to is Chris. I can't say that I feel lonely or depressed or anything. In fact, I rather enjoy my solitude.
Having said that, I probably should work on building some relationships and surrounding myself with a community of sorts -- even if it's primarily to help others that do feel lonely.

I'm going to continue to work on limiting my social media time. I don't know if social media relationships count for anything towards the community building necessary for long happy lives or not. I do enjoy interacting with people that I only know through social media and sometimes wonder just how well we would get along in real life. I've met a few of those people and it's been pleasant enough that I would like to continue to meet others.
And I'm not quitting social media; just continuing to monitor and reduce my dependency on social media as a substitute for actual face to face relationships with people.

I'm also going to work on finding something positive to share on this blog and try writing more often. I know there aren't many people that continue to read out Out of My Hat, but the blog began as a place for me to just write and share some thoughts and maybe needs to get back to that.

It's the weekend!
Go out and interact with someone!
Build a new relationship or nurture an existing one.
...if you need it, enjoy some solitude!

John <><

Monday, August 13, 2018

Another cancelled ride

I'm going to cancel the ride for today. I actually believe that today would be a good day to ride, but I would have to ride home through thunderstorms on Wednesday. I suppose I could reschedule a Thursday doctor appointment and stay a day longer to avoid the rain, but the simple solution is to just drive the car.

Between necessary repairs, rain outs, and scheduling, I've done very little riding this summer.
Such is life.

I'll be able to listen to the radio, enjoy a drink, and stay cool and dry in the car, so it's not all bad. It's just not as nice as a day-long ride. I'll have to plan that for another time.

I know that while I'm driving today, my social media feeds will be filling up with more of the latest political circus and other stupid things. I want to give you an opportunity to bless me and my friends (both of them) with some good news today.
How about sharing a good news story?
You can comment here or on the feed where you normally link to my posts.
Tell me something good so that I'll have plenty of good things to read when I break along the way or at the end of the day.

John <><