Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Happy Families

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  --Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina

John <><

Monday, July 29, 2013

Family Matters--a continuation...

It was a really good weekend!
Other than the initial drive of about eight hours in various states of rainy weather, it was a grand weekend of seeing the whole family! We got things started with a casual get together on Friday night.

One of the newest members to join our group is expecting the first great-grandchild in the Jerry and Leticia family. Naturally, somebody came up with the idea of a surprise baby shower! After eating sandwiches, chips, fruit and what-not, we gathered together and put Justin and Tiffany on the spot! I think that Justin was a bit surprised by the event. Tiffany, on the other hand, was a little more than shocked! It seemed that there were a couple of moments when she was struggling not to get emotional. Who wants to start crying in front of a bunch of people that you've just met?

I don't know what kind of family background Tiffany has, but I know that in this family, she is going to be loved on, teased, made fun of, protected, defended and made to feel welcome and a part of something that ought to define family.

In addition to Tiffany, Justin's older brother Jason introduced us to his fiancee, Jess, and my brother Steve brought his girlfriend, Michelle. I think that Michelle had managed to meet much of the family already, but a first for being with the whole gang of us.

I was thinking of how overwhelming such an encounter might be.

On the other hand, with such a large and diverse group of people, it would be difficult not to connect with somebody that has a similar job, hobby or other interest. Whether you own your own business, work for the government, serve in the military, work retail, health service, labor sector, banking, engineering, computers or a host of other occupations--or have made a career of being a stay at home mom; there is somebody here that can relate.

Figuring out how you're going to keep to your vegetarian diet at this gathering? No problem, we have vegans as a part of this family. We have people ranging from couch-potatoes to marathon runners; readers and non readers; sports nuts and those that really don't care for sports. We have those that excel in music (vocal and instruments) and those that can barely manage to select a genre on Pandora. Whether you are far right or far left on the political spectrum, we have someone that shares your views. We run the religious gamut from non-believers to preachers. We have connoisseurs of coffee and craft beer. We love hot and spicy...or not. We live in the rural Midwest and in large cities.

And we love each other.

The seventeen grandkids range from 35 years old down to eight...and they all get along. They played "Capture the Flag" until dark on Friday night and each side laughingly declared that the other side cheated. They played soccer on Saturday afternoon with the oldest declaring that he had earned the right to be the "lame cousin" and sitting the game out.

It has been so cool to hear what the kids have to say. Here are a few of the things I've heard or read:
"Hill family reunions are just the best!"
"My cousins are the very best"
"If I know you're visiting, I will have Starbucks." Grandmas are the best.
"This is a really cool family."

And my favorite from Friday night:
Mom (looking at the gathering of people): Jerry, look what we've started!
Dad: What are you blaming me for?!

Joining us for the day were all of the kids from my dad's sister's family with most of their kids and grandkids, and my dad's brother with his wife and one of their kids. I would echo the sentiments of my niece in saying that "My cousins are the very best!" It pains me that my kids don't get to see their cousins as often as I got to see mine, but I do rejoice in the way the get along when they do. The big kids are still the heroes and the little ones feel important every time somebody pays attention to their stories or plays their games.

Here are Mom and Dad with their grandkids and the women that their oldest grandsons have chosen:

And here is the whole gang minus Chris that couldn't be there.

John <><

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Family Matters

Blogging on the road this morning...

I'm enjoying coffee and oatmeal in the hotel breakfast area as the kids sleep in for a while. Today is the Hill Family reunion.

We all arrived in central Illinois yesterday and had a great evening together. Today's outdoor gathering looks like we will be blessed with sunny skies and temps in the mid 70s!

Only Chris is missing from the gathering as she has to deal with one of those jobs that is a 24/7 kind of deal.

Dad, Mom, six kids with their spouses/significant others, seventeen grandkids from 35yrs down to 8, three young women that have claimed the three oldest grandsons and one great-grand one the way! It was quite a gathering last night.

Today, we expect some of our cousins to join us so it will be an even larger gathering. There are plans for some of us to take in a baseball game tonight as the Cardinals' A team takes on the Cubs' A team.

I am looking forward to a grand day!
I hope that you have a wonderful weekend and wish that you all could come join us for lunch this afternoon!

John <><

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Anniversary!

In the Blogosphere, we say Happy Blogoversary!

It was seven years ago that Out of My Hat made its first post! This is my 857th post.

Over the past seven years I've had my streaks of writing and not writing. I've posted rants of things that drive me crazy and shared things that I hold dear. I've written things that are funny and things that I find interesting. I've told my readers about me and the things that are important to me and written posts just as an exercise in writing.

The most incredible thing that I've found through writing Out of My Hat, is that I've made a great number of friends in the ever growing blogosphere. Sometimes I mourn a little bit over the blogs that have wandered off the virtual highway and disappeared into the great internet wasteland. I rarely search for random blogs to read as I once did, but do find new blogs by reading through the lists of blogs to which my readers subscribe.

There are only a few professional blogs that I read on a regular basis. Most of them are written by bloggers that are just regular people that have taken a little bit of the electronic world and use it for the purpose of making their voice heard.

Out of My Hat has gone from only a few friends as followers, to many readers from many countries and back to a few friends as followers. Although I check to see if anybody is reading, the truth is that I write to write, write to rant and will write as long as I feel like writing rather than write as long as people feel like reading. I've thought about using advertisements on my post but figured that I'd feel like I had to write to get readers rather than just write for fun.

I think it's funny (in the sad sort of way, not the ha-ha sort of way) that I've lost friends over things I've written because we have become a society that hates people that voice differing opinions. I think it's great that I've made friends over things that I've written--not because we agree on everything, but because we enjoy the differences and embrace the dialogue that helps us to grow in our knowledge of one another.

Some times I'm disappointed that the social networking has seemed to cost me more "friends" that it has gained readers, but then again--we all get to choose what we read, who we like, who we don't like and who we want to hate. Whatever!

Today I could have written about any number of world events. I could have written about on political party's latest scandal or about a great injustice taking place in one corner of the world or another. I could have written something uplifting and inspiring or I could have gone on another rant about something that is ticking me off.

But , no...
Today I choose a little shameless self-indulgence.
Happy Blogoversary, Out of My Hat!

John <><

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Rise of the Christian Left and the Fall of Christian Conservatives

Recently I have read several articles that are about a study that shows a decline in conservative Christianity and a rise in the Christian Left. Here is one. I think that there is a blending of definitions that creates a great misunderstanding between the difference in conservative politics and conservative Christianity. 

I am a conservative Christian. I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God; that it is in his death, burial and resurrection that we have the hope of eternal life. I believe that the Holy Spirit of God lives in those that proclaim Jesus as Lord and guides us as we strive to follow our Lord. I believe that we are called on to share the Good News of salvation so that others may be drawn into the Kingdom of God.

I am not a political conservative--at least not as defined by today's standard. Most would say I am a social liberal. I believe that we have an obligation--both as Christians and as fellow citizens--to help those in need. I am not a political proponent, nor am I a political opponent of issues like abortion, birth-control, gay rights or other issues that seem to be so divisive between the politically conservative Christians and ... well, everybody else. I believe that any argument on legislation of social issues that begins with "the Bible says," is a poor argument. It's not a poor argument because the Bible is right or wrong about a subject, it's a poor argument because I don't want the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Tripitaka or any other holy book or religious belief to be the sole reason that we make the laws to govern all of our citizens.

I don't think that I really fit into the character of "The Christian Left." There are enough issues that I am uncomfortable with to keep me from identifying with them completely. Nor do I believe that the people that believe in the core theological beliefs of the Bible are in decline. If fact, I would say that they are on the increase. I would say that many new followers of Jesus are abandoning the judgment and the politics of "The Christian Right" and working to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus by sharing His love and compassion rather than condemning the behavior of those outside of the faith. Just because they are not followers of the Tea Party or any of their spokespersons, doesn't mean that they are not conservative in their Christian beliefs.

I welcome those that would share Jesus with others. I welcome those that share his love by taking care of those that are in need. And I welcome those that share the Hope of eternal life found in Jesus. I welcome those that are living out their faith and not just going to church on Sunday. It may be okay for outsiders to label us as Christian Right and Christian Left. However, inside the family of Christianity, shouldn't we just call one another brothers and sisters in Our Lord Jesus?

John <><

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Random Notes...

It's Saturday morning and I figured that I should throw something out there. Writing this morning is a bit of an exercise in forced writing since I don't necessarily feel like writing or have anything that I want to write about.  It's as good excuse as any to continue to sit on the deck and finish another cup of coffee before getting around to doing anything meaningful.

Another work week has come to an end and I find myself thinking more and more about retirement--still working out the fiscal numbers to make that work without handing over a large amount to the IRS. Chris found a house that she really liked and we made an offer last week. The owner countered, we counter-countered and haven't heard anything so I'm guessing that's a no-go. Retiring in Missouri might not be the best idea given the graphic in this article. I don't like MO falling into the lowest healthy life expectancy at age 65. Maybe there's still hope for a beach retirement...

I have a great job...and I still enjoy working. But there is usually at least one place that I can think of everyday that I would rather be. Most days, it's a list. I am looking forward to doing more ministry things when the time comes. Even though I don't particularly like being around kids that much, I recognize that God has gifted me to talk to them in ways that they can better understand His Word and His love. Maybe it's just that I appreciate and embrace the simplicity of His love for us. I've found that the deeper I go into studying the Bible; His plan, His love becomes more clear because of its simplicity--not because of its complexity. Reading books by scholars and theologians confirms the simplicity of what I already hold to be true.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to tell the kids at Hopedale's Vacation Bible School (VBS) about how much God loves them and how he has demonstrated that love. Ten kids made professions of faith, proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior and eight others are candidates for baptism.
That's some pretty awesome stuff!

This week I'll share some magic with kids in the Springfield Parks summer program and also with some families at Hopedale during an evening celebration of a week of work by a team of youth workers that will be here from Houston TX.

It's cool that I've already booked a couple of events for 2014. I'm glad that there are people that are planning that far in advance. If you are a planner for summer camps, VBS events, or even just a pastor that is planning a vacation and needs to fill the pulpit for a weekend; now is the time to schedule your speakers/entertainers/preachers.

Next month we'll be bidding our days off for 2014, followed by bidding for vacation leave. Even though I'm retirement eligible, I'm still about halfway down the seniority list. I believe that a Saturday/Sunday days off line will still be available to me. Fortunately, many of the more senior people like the additional pay for working Sundays and leave the weekends to lower seniority people.

I get to see my sisters tomorrow (briefly) and the whole family will be together the following weekend. I hope that you have the opportunity to be with the ones that you love. If not, give them a call, send them a text, make a contact. Life is too short to let the opportunities of a digital age pass you by.

John <><

Friday, July 12, 2013

Time to Get Busy

I will be busy for the rest of the summer!

It has been a little while since I updated the Coming Events section of the right-hand column. Mostly because I really haven't had anything to update about. Although, I've done a few things, none of them really had to do with preaching or magic, but it does appear that the rest of the summer will be pretty busy.

When it's been several weeks  (or months) since I've done a magic show, it does take a little bit of time to work on the old effects and get ready for another performance. When it's been a little while since I've been in the pulpit preaching, it also takes some time to prepare for that.

Of all of the coming events, the one that I'm really looking forward to is the one that will require the most prep work--the weekend youth retreat. For that event I'll be teaching two sessions on apologetics. I'm pretty stoked about it but I need to get busy getting the material together and organizing it into a couple of good lessons.

In addition to the "working" events, I've been trying to be more regular about getting some exercise. It is mostly walking or riding a stationary bicycle, but I've started to add a little bit of running into my walks. I'm currently toying with the idea of a 5K run in the fall--no commitment to it yet, but it's in my head and I'm looking into some of the training programs that are available to get a fat boy in shape to pull it off without being hauled away in an ambulance at the finish line.

Though I am an advocate of the diet for weight loss, exercise for health philosophy of healthful living, I'm sure that the physical activity is having its effect on weight loss as well. Better dietary habits have helped me to lose 13+ pounds since the beginning of June and that is a pretty strong motivator to keep it up. I'm certain that dropping a few more pounds will make the whole running thing less taxing on my joints and my knees will thank me for every pound that I manage to shed. I still haven't wrapped my head around the idea of running the 3.1 miles, but I'll start working up the running distance for now and see what happens with the knee pain, lung burn, fatigue and all of the other negatives of physical punishment that running causes.

I hope that the weekend is good to you and yours.

John <><

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mind Your Own Business!

Tonight I'm wondering just how often a younger, more arrogant John managed to look like a real jerk by offering an opinion that was neither requested nor welcome on a subject that he knew little about.

 I see that happening fairly often--in the work place, at social gatherings, even church groups. It seems that some people always feel the need to appear to have some special insight about matters that don't concern them and they are completely ignorant about.

Is it just something about youth and immaturity that causes us to want to appear to be more knowledgeable than we are? It embarrasses me to think of times that a person must have been thinking, "What an ass!" as I was the one butting in on a conversation where I had no business being involved. 

It's not often that I appreciate the aging/maturing that I am experiencing, but I'm glad that I'm less embarrassed by ignorance and more willing to say that I don't know anything about something rather than talking out of my butt and just rambling on to hear my own voice. It seems that the less people know, the louder and more belligerent they are about their misguided opinions. 

I'm appalled at the lack of simple courtesy in our society today. I'd call it "common" courtesy, but unfortunately it's become an uncommon way of treating one another. Have we become so narcissistic that we completely disregard the impact that our words and actions have on others? Do we think that it is okay to be a jerk because that's just the way we are?

I wonder if I owe them their time to be the immature jerk that I once was; or should I save them some future embarrassment and gently tell them that they need to mind their own business? 

Maybe their maturing process is none of my business. In all likelihood, they're just repeating the behavior that has been modeled for them by our professional politicians and outrageous news media.

In any case, I'm becoming more curmudgeonly about bad manners and poor behavior. Some days I really want to call on "Ugly John" and set some people straight. Fortunately for everyone, "Ugly John" has been banished to a far away place.

The kind curmudgeon,
John <><

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What would happen if...?

A recent political conversation has me wondering...

Given the number of conservative GOP governors that were once very much against ObamaCare but now embrace it because of the money it brings to their states and their states' economies;

And given the number of times the Republican controlled House has voted to repeal it, knowing that it will never pass in the Democratic controlled Senate;

What would happen if just enough Democratic senators voted in favor of repeal that it would take every Republican senator's vote to pass?

Would it pass?

Or what if the Senate passed its own bill and sent it to the House? Would a Democrat proposal be able to pass in the House?

When it comes down to the monies for healthcare providers and the benefits for their citizens, it would appear that the once vocal opponents have seen the light. If it appeared that repeal actually had a chance of passing, would they now lobby their Congressional representatives to oppose a repeal?

Would the House quit playing games that appeal to a shrinking base?
Could we expect them to...I don't know...start governing?

Just wondering...


Saturday, July 06, 2013

Am I really an enigma or a conundrum?

Dictionary.com defines an enigma as: a person of puzzling or contradictory character.
And conundrum as: anything that puzzles.

I've been called both of these in the past. While I understand that I fit into few boxes, I find it interesting that so many of us still try to put people into a nice, neat, descriptive box. I say us because I am also sometimes guilty of making broad assumptions based on little information about a person.

I can sort of understand why many of my religiously conservative friends would assume that I hold their same political views, but find it interesting that my none of my politically liberal friends expect me to have any particular religious views and aren't at all surprised that I am a Bible-believing, born-again Christian.

I appreciate those that are able to simply shake their heads and say that I am an enigma or that they find my beliefs puzzling and do not judge me but talk to me about how I can agree with them on many issues and disagree on others that they feel are tied together. For those that are willing to talk to me (rather than just disagree with me) I think that I have been able to share what I believe and how I think in a way that they can understand me a little bit better.

However, the comments that birthed the idea behind this post were not rooted in political ideologies nor religious philosophies. It was simply people that were surprised at certain "likes" that didn't fit their idea of John. It actually makes me smile sometimes.

For example: one person (not the first) seemed shocked that I was a UFC fan and am looking forward to going to the Hometown Throw-down in Milwaukee with my son. Chris says that it's a redneck sport like NASCAR. I think that's an insult to both (but figure that she probably meant it that way!).

Another "I never knew that about you" thing that I get has to do with my love for peanut butter. I'll put peanut butter on just about anything. I have to admit that my latest greatest peanut butter combination wasn't my idea. I like to think that I was the inspiration behind the idea, though. A co-worker brought me a sample of his creation, knowing that I was going to love it. He was right. And everybody that has been brave enough to try it has liked or loved it!

On our recent missions trip, I was with the ladies that went to the store for food and grabbed a handful of jalapeno peppers. Back at our base, I cut a couple in half, cleaned out the seeds and filled them with peanut butter. Soon I was preparing the rest of them and the few peppers were gone in no time! A day later, one of the women presented me with another small bag of peppers. When I brought them into the lunch room, it was one of the guys that really liked the peanut butter peppers that took the knife and went to work preparing the whole bunch of them. I think I had one!

If you haven't been following Out of My Hat since the beginning and haven't read some of the posts that give more information into my puzzling character, you can check out these past posts:
Who Am I, Who Am I (again), Facebook and Random Things, and finally Ten Honest Things About John.
And of course, if you want to know me, just peruse any of my past ramblings. I am the guy the writes this stuff. They come out of the character of John.


Thursday, July 04, 2013

Honor Flight

I suppose that I should be posting something about today being the day that we (in the US) celebrate the anniversary of our independence. Since I'm certain that there will be numerous patriotic post to read about that, I'll take a little different patriotic path.

Several weeks ago, my dad made his way to Washington DC as a part of the Greater Peoria Honor Flight that pays tribute to those that have worn the uniform and served our great country. A part of the tribute is a mail call that allows for family and friends to write letters that are presented to the veterans on their return flight. (I know that this is supposed to be a surprise, but since the Honor Flights have been taking place for several years, I really don't think that it's a secret anymore.)

As one that often gets caught up in the busyness of my own life, I managed to let the deadline for my letter to be included pass. Even a feeble late attempt to include a letter failed. So this mornings post is to write my letter as an open letter to my Dad. It's fitting that it is on the Fourth of July--not because it's Independence Day, but because it is his birthday.

Dear Dad,

I'm sorry that this comes to you so much later than all of the other letters of thanks and appreciation. I know that your days as a young man were far different than mine and from the days of your grandkids. In a very real way, I think that our country has suffered from the fact that so few of our people now serve in the military forces. Perhaps our sense of entitlement would be greatly curbed if we all learned the discipline and honor code of our military forces.

I know that you are very proud that two of your kids did choose the military way of life, one retired National Guard and one serving as career Navy.

To say that your choice of serving in the Navy had a lasting impact on our family is an understatement. You must have been quite the young sailor to lure a young Filipina girl away from her family and everything she knew to marry you and move to the US as your wife!

So thank you for serving your country. Thank you for finding Mom and marrying her (good choice, by the way). And thank you for serving your family, as well. In spite of all of our quirks, faults and differences--I think that we've got an awesome family. Your kids are raising incredible kids. I can't wait to see everybody in a few weeks. You have a lot to be proud of.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

We will celebrate it with our kids and probably shoot off a firework or two. We'll eat some burgers or dogs and have a small helping of homemade ice cream. And while we're at it, we'll remember our freedom in the US of A and salute our country, as well.

Your ever procrastinating son
John <><

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Service Perks

As is often the case in ministry, the ones that are serving are also richly blessed. This was true for me (and those that were with me) on our recent trip into the coal mining area around Harlan County KY.

One of those unexpected blessings came from getting to know the members of my own church family a little bit better. Even though I knew them as members of my church, I really only knew them in that context. Travelling, dining and working with them allowed me to get to know them as the people that they are and not just as the one that sits a few rows behind me on Sunday morning.

We made the trip in a convoy of vehicles. I initially rode with a husband and wife team that has been at Hopedale for a number of years. I really didn't know much about them other than their names and which kids were theirs. I really enjoyed hearing about their jobs; the work that they do and the people that they work with. I also found out about his hobbies. One might think that riding for several hours with people that you don't know is something to be apprehensive about. I found it to be very interesting and without any awkward silences.

From Lexington to Cumberland I rode in a different vehicle--a mother travelling with her 11 yr old son and her sister. The mom invited me along to show Jack some magic. So we played in the back and participated in the conversation in the front. The sister is not a member of our church and I enjoyed getting to know her. I'll have more to say about these ladies in another post.

The mom in that car later called me a car-hopper and said I was a fickle passenger since I rode home with yet another group. (Apparently nobody else was swapping from one vehicle to another.) This carload left several hours ahead of the rest of the convoy and dropped off a couple of passengers in the boot-heel area of southeast Missouri. Once again there were no quiet moments as we talked, laughed and shared the adventures of the week and the stories of our lives.

When you eat meals together for a week, work hard and get sweaty as a team, sleep in bunkhouse type lodging--you get to see one another at that early morning/late at night wouldn't be seen in public level of personal appearance. It really doesn't take a week to begin to think of this group of men, women and kids as something more that fellow workers on a mission. I was a little bit surprised at church on Sunday morning when two of the women on the trip greeted me with a hug. I've seen them at church every week for years and never been greeted that way. It didn't seem awkward or artificial. It seemed like a very natural way to greet somebody with whom you've shared an experience that changes who you are and how you look at things.

I'm pretty sure that I'll be working with these people again. Perhaps these shared experiences will bring us together for other activities, as well.

Then again, maybe we'll all just go back to doing what we were (or weren't) doing before and life will go on as it always has...

...but I doubt it.

The blessings and the lessons were too real to ignore. We have to be changed to embrace them. One would have to completely ignore or dismiss all of the people and activities of the week to remain unchanged.

For those of our trip that read this, thank you for your service to the kingdom. Thank you for faithfulness to our Lord. And thank you for your friendship.

John <><
the car hopping, fickle passenger