Monday, August 28, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday

Just some random thoughts on a Monday afternoon --

This morning was our semi-annual dentist visit. Chris found a new dentist since we were not happy with our former dentist. As first impressions go, this one is much better. Chris took the earlier appointment and by the time I got there, I didn't need to worry about any of the first visit insurance stuff -- I just told them it was the same as hers.
Visits were okay, as dentist visits go. She finished first and went home to wait on me.

We went to Springfield for a light lunch and a couple of errands. She just dropped me off at a Starbucks where I'll kill some time while she takes care of some other things.

This past weekend, we went to a memorial service/family reunion for one of Chris' cousins. Her cousin had been living in Florida and the funeral service for her there was several weeks ago when she died. The get together on Saturday was for family and friends in the St Louis area that were unable to make it to Florida. The memorial service was simple and pleasant and was followed by lunch in the park and visiting with family and friends.
Over the years, we have had very little interaction with Chris' cousins, so I didn't really know anyone other than her sister and brother in law. I did know her cousins and aunt, but wasn't positive of their names and didn't really know which kids or spouses went with which cousins.
I think Chris has had a little more exposure to my cousins, but it is also pretty limited. Our mobile society has dispersed many families.

Since Chris is more social than I am (and also more likable), she has connected with many of my cousins through Facebook and I have connected with none of her cousins.
Just an observation.

Again, there are certainly many benefits to social media and its connectivity. I have to admit that I have purposely chosen to keep my Facebook group relatively small. I guess that is also true of my actual friends, too.

It's a little ironic that we have access to so much information and yet choose to remain ignorant of many of the issues that affect the people that live around us. We seem to be pretty keen on checking out that which affects us directly, but even so, we remain largely misinformed because we choose to believe what we want to believe rather than checking things out for ourselves. Most information that we read on the internet can be easily verified or shown to be false.
We should probably do a better job of checking things out.

Just as social gatherings have me thinking about social interactions, memorial services and news of friends or relatives dying gets me to thinking about how temporary and fragile human life is.
Whether we run the distance and live life to an old age or cash in our chips with many fewer years, this is but a temporary dwelling. I wonder if death is easier to deal with if you have no belief in an afterlife. Does believing that the end is the end make it more or less final than believing in the hope of heaven?

I wonder if that changes if you are the person that is dying or one of the persons that is left living.
My own beliefs are that there is a God and a final judgment. There is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. I believe that Jesus was serious and truthful when He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father  except by me."

I know that there are people from around the globe that read this simple blog from time to time. I can only imagine that there are many different beliefs about life, death, and eternity. While I have listened as others remember loved ones, I can't imagine that my own passing will leave much of a void. Sure, there will be a few that will miss me, but life goes on and the day to day grind quickly fills the void for all but those that are the closest.
After all, death is just a part of life.

It could be that we won't make a grand difference to a large group of people in life, but perhaps we can make a small difference for one person for today. Maybe changing a life is too great of a challenge for most of us; changing a moment for someone should be doable.
A call.
A text.
A word of encouragement.
A smile.
I know it's not a big difference, but it is a difference.

John <><

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Long Ride

It's getting closer to my long ride and I am starting to get excited about it. I spoke with my brother yesterday and I have been looking at possible routes and points of interest along the way.

I have to admit that I am more focused on the journey itself and am having to force myself to think about stopping and enjoying more than just the ride. Some of the days will cover quite a few miles, so there won't be a lot of time for sight seeing. Other days will find me in cities with all of my gear strapped to the bike and no way to really secure it from being stolen.

There are a few people I would like to see on my journey and I still need to coordinate with them. It is difficult to know what my daily plans will be since I'm wanting to keep it pretty loose and make some allowances for weather or unforeseen problems.
I think the outbound ride to my brother's place in Vermont will be pretty straight forward.

Right now I'm planning a relatively short Day 1 with a 400+ mile day and an overnight at my parents' home in Metamora IL. I hope to visit with them through most of the following day before making the short ride (125 miles) to Chicago to see Aaron and Jenny.
Leaving Chicago will be a long day as I clip the northwest corner of Indiana and then cross southern Michigan on the way to visit my Canadian friends north of Toronto.
From there, I'll ride to Montreal and then drop down to Vermont for a few days with my brother.

It's after Vermont that things are less clear.
Initially, I plan to make my way to Kittery Point ME. Mostly, it's just to add a couple of more states to the journey. I'll skirt the Boston metropolitan area, pass through Rhode Island and Connecticut and plan on making my way through the NYC area past the Statue of Liberty. As much as I'd like to spend some time in NYC, I probably won't. I'd rather see it with Chris (although she has been there many years ago) and I'd need a place to stash my stuff while I sight see.
I suppose I could find a hotel and use public transport or cabs ... we'll see.

Mileage wise, that's about the halfway point.
From there I'll ride into New Jersey, clip Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, cut through the northern tip of Delaware into Maryland, go around DC and into Virginia. There are a couple of friend stops in Virginia before heading through North Carolina (maybe a stop to see my nephew and his wife and new baby) to the Tail of the Dragon.
Then it will be westward through Tennessee until Nashville, then north to Kentucky and home across southern Missouri.

If that route holds, I'll touch 18 states and 2 Canadian provinces in the 4,000 mile trek over nearly two weeks.

If you know of a must see place along the way or a dive restaurant that is a can't miss establishment, let me know. If you're close to my route and want to meet for coffee or a snack, let me know that, too.
I should be hitting the road around the 6th or 7th of September and back home around the 19th.

Watch out for old guys on motorcycles!

John <><

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse 2017 ... and 2024

I'll give you my take on the eclipse.

Before I do that, I should tell you that I am an admirer of the celestial realm and generally keep track of upcoming events. I have been known to be up at 3 AM for meteor showers or lunar eclipses. We packed the kids to venture into the path of total annularity (May 10, 1994) for an annular eclipse when they were young and  I have called home from working a mid shift to make Chris wake them up for a spectacular meteor shower.

It still isn't that unusual for someone to call me with a question about a star, comet, event -- even when the information is available to them on the same device they are using to call me. Sometimes I think they're just testing me.

This event has been on my radar for some time and traveling a few miles to advance from 96% to the total eclipse wasn't even a question. It will come as no surprise that the 2 minutes and 31 seconds of total eclipse was an event well worth setting the day aside. The difference between 99.9 percent coverage and total eclipse is too significant not to mention.

In the hour leading up to the full eclipse, there were many interesting things that I observed.
The crowd that had gathered in the park was a mix of people from all ages. Several had telescopes with cameras attached. Most had lawn chairs. Some had blankets. I even saw a couple of air mattresses. People were talking to strangers and enjoying the day. Even the little fast food restaurant across the street from the park had a sign that notified patrons they would be closed from 1:10 to 1:25. Totality began at 1:15.

Even though it was midday and the sky was still relatively bright, the diminished daylight was enough to cue the night sounds and the birds and bugs became active. The light sensitive street lights came on. The feel of the air cooled as if you had just stepped into the shade of a large tree.

At that moment -- when everybody removed their eclipse glasses and looked at the total eclipse -- a spontaneous cheer and applause happened. Then the sounds of the crowd became more muted as people looked on in wonder and amazement. It makes me a little sad that we have overused the word awesome because this event was truly an awe inspiring event.

I don't have any pictures to post -- and I'm not sure if I would post any pics, even if I had them. I've seen pictures of an eclipse and there is no way to convey the raw feeling of experience. The difference between this and the annular eclipse was ... well, astronomical!
If you were indifferent about the eclipse or unable to get into the belt of totality, I would encourage you make every effort to see a total eclipse the next time you have the opportunity.

As most of you are already aware, the next total eclipse to pass over the US is April 8, 2024. Even though it will pass through Southeast Missouri, I'm thinking that the beach in Mazatlan on Mexico's Pacific coast will offer a more enjoyable view. Is it too early to start planning a trip to the beach for the spring of 2024?
Whether you watch it from Toronto, Ontario in Canada, Poplar Bluff, MO in the US or Mazatlan, Sinaloa in Mexico, you owe it to yourself to see it.

The next total eclipse will only be visible in South America.
July 2, 2019 might be a good time to visit Argentina!

John <><

Friday, August 18, 2017

Black Lives Matter

I struggle to write this post.
My thoughts are such a jumble as the emotions of anger and frustration overwhelm the desire to be orderly and eloquent. Parts of my brain are screaming while other parts are silent and without words. I don't want to ramble from one random topic to another, but I fear that if I don't start somewhere, I will wait too long to capture the moment and appeal to the indignation of others that feel the same types of emotions.

I have been surprised and disgusted by some of the posts and comments that are on social media. I get that most white people don't have any understanding of their own privilege, but that is not an excuse to turn deaf ears to those that are oppressed. Their oppression is not a figment of their imagination. It is real.

Maybe that's a good place to begin.
Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is not a hate group or a movement that discriminates against whites or any other race or ethnic group. It is a movement to create an awareness (among whites) that blacks are disproportionately targeted and killed by law enforcement and that black deaths are not pursued and prosecuted at the same rate as white deaths. It does not mean that cop lives or white lives matter less. It calls attention to black lives that are largely ignored by others.

The response of "All lives matter" or "Blue lives matter" ignores the reality of the disparate treatment of black lives. I know that is difficult for white people to understand so let me give you an example.

We get group tickets to a baseball game. Twenty of us go to the game and sit together. Our tickets include a hotdog and soda. Everybody gets a dog and a large drink in one of those large plastic souvenir cups, but your drink comes in a large disposable paper cup.
You say, "I want a plastic cup."
The response is, "We all want a plastic cup."

Do you see how that tells the truth but does nothing to address the inequality?
It completely ignores your issue.
As a matter of fact, it kind of puts you down for asking for fair treatment.
That is exactly what "All lives matter" says to those that are trying to bring awareness to an injustice. It says that your injustice doesn't matter to anybody but you.

Listening to others -- actually listening to them -- is the beginning of understanding. We need to put ourselves in their place and hear with their ears, see with their eyes, feel with their heart. When we get to that place, listen to what we have said and know the frustration they know. Even though we mean no harm, our indifference does contribute to the continuing injustice.

If you can get to that place of understanding, it will give you a different perspective on a lot of things -- including the Confederate flag and Confederate statues.
But that's a rant for another day...

John <><

Monday, August 14, 2017

We could all use some Good News!

I was blessed yesterday to be able to teach the Bible study for Hopedale's Youth group last night.
The opportunity came due to our Youth Pastor needing to be out of town for some personal family business.

Since my current Bible reading is in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, it seemed natural to go there for my study. I find it interesting that many feel the Old Testament isn't really relevant to our lives today. In a way, it's not. For instructions on how to live as a follower of Jesus, the New Testament is where to look. But the story of salvation is several millennia in the making and is found in the Old Book.

Story Time with Pastor John came from the old covenant that God made with Abram in Genesis 15, in hopes to convey the need for our salvation through a Savior and the difference in the covenant of the Old Testament and the New Covenant found in Jesus.

As is often the case, I don't really know how well the lesson was received and will (hopefully) get some feedback in the coming days. I was getting such feedback about last weeks evening message yesterday.

The opportunity to share was a good way to end a weekend filled with not such great news.
It makes me want to start the week by sharing some Good News --

(Yep, you guess it...)
God loves you!
Jesus died for you!

Have a Good News kind of week!

John <><

Saturday, August 12, 2017

First sadness; then anger.

I had a good day today.
We spent most of the day with friends at the Route 66 Festival in Springfield MO -- The Birthplace of US 66. There were a great number of old cars and trucks and a large area dedicated to motorcycles. There were several music venues and many food and drink vendors.

Although I was aware of the events that were taking place in Charlottesville and the potential for violence, It was pretty much out of my thoughts throughout the day. After we left the festival, Chris and I had a nice dinner out. By the time we got home, the Cardinals were in the 2nd inning. I grabbed my computer and a good cigar and headed out to the deck to watch the game and enjoy my smoke.

While watching the game on the laptop, I began to scroll through my news feed on my phone.
As saddened as I was to hear of what took place in Charlottesville, I was even more saddened by the response and non-response by many politicians and religious leaders. Some comments on posts that did speak out against the hatred and violence were downright disgusting.

Every political leader
No, make that every citizen of this country needs to stand up and condemn the racist, white nationalist bullsh*t that is being spread by this movement. There is no alt-right. It's time to quit giving it a name that sounds like they are sane people of a different political belief. They are racists. They hate anything and anyone that is different from them. They want to take this country by force. They spew hatred, bring violence and blame others for their lack of ingenuity and intelligence.
Their leaders know what to say (and what not to say) to inspire hatred and followship; all the while acting as if they, themselves are innocent.

There is no place for such racist thinking in our society.
There is no defense for anyone that does not stand against such hatred.
There can be no neutrality on this issue.
Not from politicians.
Not from clergy.
Not from responsible citizens.

There will be no more silence from Out of My Hat.
While I don't plan on daily political rants; neither will I avoid them as I have in the past. If that's too much for you, I would suggest moving on.
Yes, I am angry! Most of you that read this are not the objects of my anger, but there are a few ...

I will call out racism, hatred and stupidity when I see it.
You should, too.

John <><

Self Esteem Boost for #45

It's been reported that President Trump has a folder delivered to him (twice each day) with pages of positive things the news media has said about him.

You wouldn't expect the guy sitting in the White House to need a self esteem boost. Maybe that's why I'm sitting here in my simple home in Ozark MO, typing a silly blog on my laptop -- I've never hired anyone to look for positive comments about me!

I suppose that would be a full-time job! I'm content to not have anybody know about me, much less write or publish something good about me. How is it that a guy that was elected President of the United States of America has to be told how great he is?

Maybe we need to recruit Hans and Franz from the old SNL shows to come by twice a day and

Or Senator Franken of MN could send him some Stuart Smalley clips -- "You're good enough. You're smart enough. And doggone it, people like you!"

Would that help him feel better about himself?

Even though it's reported that White House staffers have dubbed the folder the propaganda folder, Stephen Colbert is quick to point out that propaganda is supposed to convince the masses to love the leader, not convince the leader to love himself!

Sheesh ... when can we get a grown up in the White House?

Sorry for the rant.
John <><

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Making God Look Bad Makes Us Look Bad

A Southern Baptist Pastor that delivered a message on the morning of President Trump's inauguration has said that God wants President Trump to "take out" Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

Geez! I'm not sure who looks worse after a statement like that -- God or the loud mouth jerk that claims to speak for him. I've really had enough of self serving, self-righteous, self-proclaimed Christians spewing false teachings in the name of little g - god!

Those that know me understand that I mean no irreverence to the God of the universe, but rather make the claim that the self-serving god of these false teachers is not the God of the Bible.
While I do believe that God calls on us to expound on the scriptures, I also believe that he calls on us to do so in a way that can be verified by the scriptures. I don't say that Jeffress isn't speaking for God because I disagree with him. I say it because his words disagree with the Bible.

I will give him the leeway to say that the Bible does say that all authority on earth is given by God and that the President has limited authority when it comes to war and putting our nation at risk (Congress has the ultimate say so in declaring war), but I don't think that God has confided in Pastor Jeffress that it is a part of His plan to have President Trump take out North Korea and put us at war.
And I don't think that most Christians or most Southern Baptists feel that way, either.

A clear example of the old saying -- Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

John <><

Monday, August 07, 2017

Monday, Monday ... no big deal

That's right, folks. It 's just another day in the life of a retired guy.
But this particular day is a little bit different and it is fitting that it falls on a Monday.

Typically, Sundays are good days. I spend many Sundays away from my home church of Hopedale and am often found preaching at one of the many rural churches of Southwest Missouri or traveling home from a weekend event somewhere.
Yesterday, I was home.

Sunday mornings at home mean I get to sit in with the Hopedale Youth group and be a part of their Sunday morning Bible study. It also means that I get to worship with great friends and hear one of the best preachers I know deliver his weekly sermon. By noon, I have to say that I was having a very good Sunday. God spoke to me through His people, His pastor, and His Word.

Yesterday afternoon was not a typical Sunday afternoon of napping and watching baseball. Yesterday afternoon was a day to celebrate the life of one of our church members and to offer condolences to his family.
Any Sunday with two morning service and an evening service can be physically taxing for a pastor that takes such responsibilities seriously. Add in a memorial/funeral service and some personal physical issues and it can quickly become too much.
I sensed that this might be one of those days for my pastor and asked if there was anything I could do to help. He asked if I might have a sermon in my pocket that I could use to fill in for him for the evening service.
What kind of preacher would I be if I couldn't talk about our Lord and Savior on short notice? I ended up preaching last night's service.

There are days or weeks that make you pause to think about just how fleeting life can be. In the past week, two men of our church (both much younger than me) lost their fathers (both younger than my dad). The second funeral will be this afternoon, but due to the distance (only an hour away) and our schedule we will be unable to make it.
Oddly enough, as people talked about Bill (yesterday's service) -- the life he lived as a father, husband, friend, child of God -- it wasn't my own dad I was thinking of. I was wondering what people will say of me at my funeral. I was even wondering who might show up for my funeral!

I imagine that most of the people that will be there, will be there as friends of Chris and the kids to give comfort and support to them. I somehow doubt that I will have had the impact on as many lives as Bill had. I don't expect that people will say bad things about me -- that would be in pretty poor taste. But what if people were free to say what they really thought and felt?
What would they say about me?
What would they say about you?

We are blessed with today. We should make it a day that makes a difference for somebody. I know that I will not be the out-going-talk-to-anyone-and-everyone kind of guy that Bill was. But that doesn't mean that I can't do something to encourage or strengthen someone ... today!

If you could prepare your funeral service ... for next week:
Whom would you invite?
What would they say about you?
How will you be remembered?
And by whom?

Hopefully, I'll have lots more time and can work on changing some of those answers.

John <><

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Road Trip (Going solo)!

I'm just beginning to make plans for a late summer road trip on the motorcycle. The outbound destination is to visit my brother in Vermont, but truthfully,  it's as much about the long ride as it is about the destination.
I have yet to get into the habit of making stops along the way. I'm usually happy to be on the road. For this 3,500 mile trip, I'll need to be more aware of places to stop and things to experience.

I have a few ideas of places I'd like to travel through along the way, but still need to work out a suitable plan. A few things on my list of potential stops:

Chicago (to see the kids)
Cleveland Indians baseball (they're in Cleveland on my outbound journey)
Pittsburgh for UFC Fight Night (this would be on the homeward journey)
A wide swing through Portland ME and Providence RI just to add a few more states to the trip.
Springfield VA for lunch with blogging friend
Deals Gap NC to ride the Tail of the Dragon (318 curves in 11 miles)
Return route through Louisville KY (again to add another state)
Cicero IN for an overnight visit at my sister's home.

Obviously, I am not going to be able to make all of the stops or detours for the sake of checking states off my traveled through list. Although Cleveland works well for being on the way, it isn't really where I want to stop for the night (it would be a pretty short travel day) and so I need to figure out how to secure my travel pack while I watch a ballgame.
A detour through Louisville would mean skipping the overnight at my sister's place near Indianapolis. Actually, Louisville isn't a detour if I make the run to ride the dragon.

For now, everything is just an idea or thought of what might be. I wouldn't mind stopping in NYC but since I know I won't have much time and I'll be on the motorcycle I think I'll pass this trip. The UFC Fight Night isn't a great card so even though I'd love to see it, it isn't a really big deal. I've also considered bypassing Cleveland to travel on the Canadian side of the lake and visit our friends near Toronto.

A few days visiting with my brother at his lake cabin will be a nice break to the motorcycle travels. I'm looking forward to a little kayaking, a good visit and the serenity of the lake setting.

If anyone has thoughts or suggestions, feel free to comment. I expect to be on the road beginning around the 6th or 7th of September and back around the 19th or so. I am enjoying checking out the possibilities and looking at the map to see where the road might take me.

John <><

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Thoughts on UFC 214

I didn't get to watch most of UFC 214 because of our family reunion. I did see the main event, the decision of the co-main event and video of the other fights.
As far as the actual fights go, I guess I don't have much to say.

There has been some pretty strong criticism of Tyron Woodley, the winner and still champion of the welterweight division. The UFC President feels strongly that it is the job of the fighters to bring exciting fights that put butts in the seats and sell PPV subscriptions. The Chosen One (T Woodley) figures it's his job to do whatever is necessary to win. I know that Saturday night's fight was a slow moving, 25 minute event, but the champ retained his title. I'm hoping that the champ will continue to remain classy in spite of the derogatory comments by the UFC.
If the UFC doesn't want to promote the champ, perhaps they can do just as well (financially) by promoting the fight or the challenger. After all, if making money is the object, does it really matter which fighter is the draw in a fight?
I think letting Woodley defend his belt in his hometown of St. Louis would be a good draw and he can defend it against the guy that he defeated to win it! I believe that he would show that he is capable of doing whatever it takes to win.

In the main event, the challenger Jon Jones regained his title by defeating Daniel Cormier (DC).
The two have had quite the rivalry over the years that has done damage to each of their reputations in my opinion. Jones has not been the kind of champion or athlete that you would want for a role model for your own kids. Whether DC's smack talk and out of the octagon interviews were a part of the pre-fight hype or not, I feel they have diminished his reputation as a person, as well.
In the end, Jones had some very good things to say about his opponent and DC acknowledged Jones' talent as a fighter (he always has).

I know that much of the pre-fight garbage is to get people to buy tickets or increase the viewing audience size, but the UFC has become like the WWE in that regard. I enjoy watching a good fight for the fight, and good fighters for their skill in the octagon rather than for their loud mouths and trash talking. I actually prefer fighters that show respect for their opponents and exhibit the kind of sportsmanship that we were taught when I was growing up. Maybe that's just a part of being old and a curmudgeon-in-training...

In any case, it is now time for the post fight evaluations. Perhaps DC will decide it's time to retire and continue with his career as a fight analyst with Fox. Jones is calling out Brock Lesnar in hopes of a big payday super fight.
UFC President Dana White has changed his mind about giving the winner of the Woodley/Maia fight a bout with returning superstar GSP and said that GSP will fight middleweight champ Micheal Bisping at a future date. The Bisping/GSP fight is another one of those fights that is about making money for the organization rather than letting the top contenders fight for the belt. Bisping has yet to defend his belt against a real contender -- but at least he has the mouth to talk a good fight. He is a veteran of the octagon and a good fighter but he'd rather tell you about it than demonstrate it and the UFC knows he's more valuable to keep as champ than to have him lose the belt to a less outspoken champion.

And yet, I still watch and enjoy the fights.
Just thinking out loud, so to speak...

John <><