Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fasting...weird

Lately, my mind has pondered a lot about my youth, and how lucky I am, given how stupid I was, to be where I am today.  There have been many points that are making this more and more obvious but the reason I bring this up today, is fasting.

I wrote a little about fasting and how it relates to helping those in Harvy and Irma in my article in the Boulder City Review (see here). But I recall how stupid I used to think fasting was. No matter how many Sunday school lessons I sat through on it, I just didn't see the point. It just felt like a way to torture myself by not eating. And given that the only reason I did it was that my sister, Ta, watched me like a hawk, that was likely all I was doing. Frankly, I could see why some people just think its weird.

The more I age, the more I am impressed with how wise occasional fasting is.

The world is full of good men who spread misery or fail to meet their potential because they cannot do the good they want to do. Why? Because they cannot let go of their own physical needs. They degrade women and break the hearts of their wives to gratify sexual passions. They leave their own children destitute because the drink has more pull on them than a job. They steal from their fellow man, due to the desperate need to get the next high. Even those without such obvious failings can be guilty of allow passions to rob them. We wake up but can hardly think until we have had a coffee, or energy drink. We go to work but by 9 o'clock spend more time thinking about what we will eat for lunch than what we are working on.

While these minor personal addictions may not be so great as to cause us to destroy our family, does our focus on our own needs limit our ability to help others? Can we really be open to figuring out what we can do for others when we are worried about our next drink, cigarette, meal, sexual encounter, etc?

Men become great by learning to sacrifice their immediate desires in pursuit of something better. And at it's core that is exactly what fasting and fast offerings can teach us. It is meant to give us power to find and focus on goals and pursuits that are bigger than us. It is to learn to be able to set aside our own desires, even our most basic needs, when called upon to be able to open our mind and hearts to others. It to teach us that no carnal appetite should be so strong as to distract us from celestial objectives.

Isaiah 58:6-11

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him...Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am...And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Singing Through Life

The boy belted "I Am a Child of God" out with enthusiasm. When it came to singing, he did not have much talent but he did have desire. The chorister was a very talented chorister for such an inexperienced choir. Indeed, "overqualified" was an understatement in every way. She was skilled in music, a natural leader and exceptional teacher, so her spending her time teaching young kids who had little hope of becoming great, may have appeared to be a waste of talent. Why didn't the church have her oversee a large adult class or choir, or serve in a "more important" leadership calling? Such would have been far more fitting. But she had been asked to lead the off key youth, so that is what she did. And even with his lack of skill, she was willing to work with desire. She asked the boy if he would like to prepare for a solo. She and her equally skilled accompanist met on Saturday's and weeknights to help him improve his voice. In a short time he was performing solos for the little congregation. Was he great? No. But he was improving.

The work was not easy. They worked with him often and continued to lead the young choir. Now this is the exciting part. Can you guess what happened? The children performed in a choir that put the Von Trapps to shame? The young boy grew up to perform in the Met? Top the music charts? No, nothing so exceptional. Rather he grew with music being a significant part of his life that he shares with his wife, children and local congregation.

I love music. I play the piano on occasion for church, love to sing in choirs and, on occasion, still sing a solo at church. Joye Cummings was not the only influence in my life that pushed me towards music. No doubt, my parents who forced me, against my will, to play the piano (which I am exceptionally grateful for) deserve some of the credit. But as I attended Sister Cummings funeral this Summer, it struck me how much of a positive impact she had on my life. Music and the few abilities I have with singing and other instruments have greatly enriched me.

Joye Cummings, my primary chorister, passed away on July 22, 2017


Most of us who coach little league won't ever coach the next Bo Jackson. But we will coach many, perhaps hundreds of kids whose lives will be enriched by what we teach them. I am exceptionally blessed because of the volunteers in my life. That is why I wrote the article that was published in the Boulder City Review today (click here to read it). So while it may be a bit of a fluff piece, I truly am grateful for all those in any community, but especially here in Boulder City, who give so much time and effort to making our lives and community more enriched.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Drugs...It's always the drugs.



One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Monk. If you have not taken the time to watch every episode, I highly recommend you quit your job and stay home and watch them tomorrow. "You'll thank me later."

There is one episode, pictured above, where Monk goes to Mexico. The two detectives, when asked what led to the murder, answer, "Drugs...it was drugs...it's always the drugs."

"But the man drowned while sky diving," Monk puzzles.

"Trust me, Monk. It's the drugs."

Before I started interviewing homeless. I had the idea, and still feel many around me have the idea, that in many ways, that is the usually the answer for homelessness. "Why are they homeless?"

"It's the drugs."

Once I started interviewing people, I was surprised how often it was not drugs. Was drugs a significant issue? Yes. Was it the key issue for some. Yes (see story of Oswaldo). But the drugs we usually see as the problem...heroin, meth, cocaine etc... have rarely been the main issue with those I have spoken with.

Yet...it's still the drugs.

What do I mean? It really hit home when I met with Keith.

Keith and Tom in Denver

Keith came to Denver 8 years ago from Pennsylvania. (He has the red shirt). I met Keith and Tom sitting outside a Walmart in Lakewood, Colorado. (I'll write about Tom later.) We talked for a while and then Keith and I walked over to a local sub shop and got some food. His story was nothing out of the ordinary. He had worked some in construction in Pennsylvania but was between jobs when he met a girl online and rushed out to Denver to live with her. It lasted two weeks, and after that, he found himself on the streets. Eight years later, he is still there.

But what struck me most about Keith was the topic of conversation. When I approached, he asked, "got any cigs?" I, not surprisingly, did not.

As we walked towards the sandwich shop, he asked, "see any cigs?" hoping that I would notice any half smoked cigarette butts on the ground. Once we were walking out of the sandwich shop he said, "you know cigarettes are so much more expensive here then they are in Pennsylvania." We walked by someone else and he asked them, "you have a cig?" they did not. Then as we walked, he said, "do you have any money for me to get a cig?" A minute or two later, "I sure could use a cig." And then shortly after looking around he said, "It sure is hard to get a cig."

I would love to tell you this conversation was unique to Keith but it is very common among the homeless I speak with. Keith is not a druggy by most definitions. He is not hooked on meth or some other illegal drug. Yet almost 100% of his mental energy goes to an unfulfilled addiction.

I learned how he gets by, by living on the streets and food stamps. Meaning he gets very little actual income. The only cash he sees is from the very occasional odd job and from pan handling. This means that it is entirely possible that 100% of any money he sees, goes to cigarettes. I asked him if he ever looks for work. He looked at me as if the idea hadn't crossed his mind. I firmly believe that he is so in the thralls of this addiction that he rarely thinks about much else.

I felt awful for Keith. I feel awful for anyone trapped in addiction. I don't mean to diminish the negative impact from heroine, meth, cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs, but I think if we were going to really peel back the true cost to society we would find that these hard drugs negative impacts pail in comparison to that of alcohol and tobacco. I think that you would find that while very few would say they became homeless because of alcohol or tobacco, it is almost universally part of the story.

If you follow this blog at all you will not be surprised to find that I hate homelessness but love the homeless. I do not have very many answers, but no answer that fails to recognize the debilitating nature of even what we see as "socially acceptable" and legal addictions will have the deep impacts that are needed.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"people like to see blood"

Last night at City Council I saw everything I love and hate about local politics. (In regards to my hopes for the debate on the Hoover Dam Gateway see my article here. I admit I wrote this article before the council meeting, but after the meeting was glad I wrote what I did.)

I saw a large number of concerned citizens show their public officials they cared about and were willing to speak about an issue.

I saw good city politicians, who listened to both the presented information and the people.

While each elected city official spoke differently they all made excellent points.

Councilman McManus spoke about some significant issues regarding finances and the cost of the utilities. What had been presented was rosy and he was playing the skeptic. He did not attack the report or those who put it together but took a skeptic view of what it presented and where we were going. Professional skepticism is healthy and I thought he brought up some excellent points. I didn't agree in his final statement but thought overall he brought a lot of value to the meeting.

Councilman Harhay spoke of the fact that no mater how good or bad an idea this may be, now is not the time. The city is too understaffed to tackle such a huge project and we should wait for a different time. He is right on. Even under the most favorable circumstances this city is simply not ready to be moving forward with this project. High turn over is something the city will have to tackle and they will be hard pressed to get all the day to day done, let alone large, new, ambitious projects. He also pointed out he was glad the study had been done and that it brought a lot of value.

Councilwomen Leavitt agreed that now was not the time but added her gratitude for the information brought out in the study and reiterated that the goals were to not cannibalize existing business but to draw in new business. She pointed out that such a study would be important for long term planning and that such planning is valuable and necessary. She was spot on.

Councilman Shuman noted the scope was huge and likely beyond what we needed at this time but called for not giving up on perhaps finding something that does make sense at that intersection. Particularly he noted signage and visitors center. He also said that proper zoning should be considered for the future. All his points were excellent.

Mayor Woodbury was the quietest about the project itself. He was happy for the most part to listen to the presentation and others opinions. Mostly I was exceptionally impressed with his ability to keep calm and listen to others views even when the attacks became personal against him.

And that leads me to the one thing about Tuesday's council meeting that disappointed me. The unprofessional and personal attacks leveraged by some. True, these people made up a very small minority. Most of those who spoke did so with professionalism and spoke their views. Others however, made the attack personal against those who drafted the report and those who voted for it to be created in the first place. Such attacks are never appropriate but are unfortunately, to be expected from a few. But the most disappointing part to me was not even that such attacks occurred but how much they seemed to be encouraged by the general assembly. Good people who I respect seem to cheer at the attacks.

In regards to an upcoming fight Floyd Mayweather has decided to go with 8 ounce gloves. When asked why, he said, "because the people like to see blood."

I hope our political choices, even the words we choose, encourage by our comments, or cheers are never because we "like to see blood."



Thursday, August 10, 2017

StoryBook

This week I wrote a few thoughts I had on the StoryBook contract vote. You can read the article Here.

However a few other thoughts to add.

1. After the vote I heard some people say and write that Councilman Harhay had gone against his campaign promises by voting for this. That seemed crazy to me as nothing about this contract went against any thing he had promised, as far as I could tell. After all this contract conforms 100% to the growth ordinance.

2. If you read my article you will see that if I had to vote I would have voted with Councilman Schuman and Councilman McManus for a few reasons I outline. But while I disagree with the vote I was super pleased with the process. We had very professional behavior and the council showed it can be divided, express clear opposing positions, vote the way they feel is best and move forward. I am proud to call each of them my leaders and think they are a great council.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Boulder Cities New Rates

Boulder City has new utility rates. I write about some of my thoughts on the new rates in my article for the Boulder City Review and you can read it here. I am very grateful for a chance to write for the paper and appreciate my editor, but once and a while struggle with the titles they give me. I don't think water rates are the answer to attract families. I think our current rates might not encourage families but I digress.

But, in addition to what I wrote, I have had a few additional thoughts. One, while I do believe our rates need to be sustainable, I think the new rates are too aggressive. I think the city needs to run on a little bigger picture and see if we can't both be sustainable and maintain our status of lowest rates in the valley. The current rates seem very hasty and aggressive. I hope the new council will reconsider and look into new possibly lower rates.

The second thought is any family budget has two variables, income and expenditures. Most of us like to solve our financial woes by focusing on income. Meaning we'd rather get a raise then spend less money. I hope City Council is looking at both ends of the equation not just looking for a raise, so to speak, by increasing rates. I say this realizing that we do have real needs for infrastucture improvement. But I wonder if there couldn't be other cost savings as well. Something I have not had time to investigate just hope and trust those we elected are.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Chapter 2- The Ad

Reminder if you haven't read Chapter 1 here it is. You may want to read it first.



 Julie rushed in to her favorite café.

 “Sorry I’m…”


 “Late again?” Her best friend Becky interjected as she sat at the table across from her. “I planned on it.  You’re having Tuna on Rye with the Minestrone soup.”


 "Minestrone soup?  It can’t be Wednesday already!”


 “No Jules, it’s Tuesday,” Becky replied dryly.  This was clearly another subtle attack on her ‘too rigid routine,’ one of their many over-discussed topics. After years of trying to fix her with persuasion she now resorted to flat out defiance.  At least Julie felt it was unlikely she could forget which meal she took on Tuesdays after 3 years of eating lunch together.

"Well, I suppose I’ll  have to take Tuesday’s lunch tomorrow.  Maybe this way the waiter will actually get me my food before I have to request a "to go" box.

She probably shouldn’t have complained about the speed of staff because she wasn’t all the way through her complaint when a waiter showed up with food.

“You know," Becky began, "if your boss keeps you at the office till 12:10, he shouldn’t expect you back until 1:10.  Maybe you should talk to him about that.  I really miss the days when we could relax and enjoy our lunch break. Hey!  Speaking of Minestrone day, tonight is your big date!” she quickly brought up, knowing it was a topic she didn’t want to leave undiscussed.

No, I'm pretty sure my last date was my biggest date: 300 pounds big.  Photoshop is definitely the cupid of internet romance,” she replied.

“And you probably didn’t list ‘bitterly pessimistic’ under your profile, so he wasn’t the only one stretching the truth.” 

"Shrinking the truth," Julie interjected.

“Come on!"  Becky censured, "That date was over a year ago. And you're going to love Ricky.

“I am not going tonight, Becky. I don’t feel up to another blind date. You know I never said I would go.” 


“But you never stopped me from talking about it, and I would call that a passive agreement. Bryan and I have been working on setting you up for months now, and tonight’s all set. Ricky is showing up at your door at 6 whether you like it or not, so you really ought to be ready. Plus, if it doesn’t work out with Ricky, I found you another guy.”


“You haven’t even got me on the date and you already have another guy?”

Rather than respond Becky slid a portion of the newspaper across the table.




Local Professional Seeks Wife!!!

No contact required. Prefer 
to live separately. Offering $500 per
month. No previous marriages or
children please. Lifetime commitment
 required. Email response to 
yourhusband@hotmail.com

Julie was shocked, who could possibly be willing to pay $500 a month for a wife you have no contact with. The ad was so strange that she took a second look to ensure this was the real paper and not a hoax Becky had put together. After her short inspection, she surmised that it was indeed authentic. “He’s probably an immigrant who needs citizenship to keep his job,”

“And why would an immigrant leave no room for divorce?” Becky asked.  “I think he’s an OBGYN who doesn’t want to come across as a pervert.”

“No way, you don’t have to be married to be a respectable OB,” Julie retorted.  

“Well whatever the case, if Ricky doesn’t work out, then this could be your answer,” Becky said jokingly. “No more invasive mother issues, no more dates with weirdos, and hey--supplement your salary!”

“Yeah, just marriage to a weirdo--and not even real marriage.  Thank you, but no.  I’m not desperate enough to sign up for matrimonial prostitution.”

"Well, I'm disappointed, Jules. I was going to start a new job as a wife hunting agent with you as my first client. If it had worked out I could charge a 15% fee. That comes to ...", Becky paused as she thought. "$55 dollars a month." Math was never her strong point. "Just think, you could pay my internet bill every month."

"Your internet bill for my self respect." Julie interjected.

"Oh, well, Since you aren't interested in an extra $500 a month I had better go back to my day job. I will let you know if any higher offers come in. And in all seriousness be ready on time, Ricky likes punctuality." She finished her last comment in a hurried fashion, grabbed her bag, placed some money on the table and headed out of the café.

Julie knew her friend's rush was to avoid letting her make any derogatory statements, but Julie was determined, and as Becky got up she said, “Why should I care what Ricky likes?” Of course, Becky pretended not to hear as she walked out of the cafe.

Julie began to pick up her things, also placing her money on the table in a much less rushed fashion, as she did, a large man in his early fifties approached her from a nearby table. He was short and mostly bald and his teeth told her he had smoked for most of his life.

"Excuse me miss."

Julie hoped he was telling her she had dropped something, but from the past experience  she knew what was about to happen.  

"Yes?" she replied sounding as indifferent as possible.  

"Miss, as I was eating my lunch, I happened to notice you and was quite taken with your elegance."

Elegant huh? She hadn't heard that one before. When she thought of elegance she thought of women from the 1800's with big dresses and ....but a compliment is a compliment.

"Thanks," she said as she began to walk out. She knew men didn't approach you to simply tell you that you’re elegant. Compliments from men were sure signs of them wanting something, and Julie was not in the giving spirit. But before her goal of ending the conversation with a quick exit was realized, he continued.

 "Let me introduce myself," he said, hindering her forward progress. "My name is Harold." He put his hand out.  


Quickly her mind raced trying to figure how to get out of this interchange. She went ahead and shook his hand while she thought.

He gave an empty look as they shook, obviously expecting her name in return. The moment grew more awkward as silence continued: he, waiting for a name, and she, too busy trying to think of how to get out of there to realize it was her turn to talk.  

Finally Harold continued, and she was relieved as he let go of the hand, "Well I will be in town over the next week, we should meet sometime, maybe here…tomorrow… for lunch?"  

This was usually where Julie would simply say, “I’m sorry, I’m dating someone.” She used it so frequently that it no longer bothered her that there was no truth to it, but she worried that he may have overheard some of her earlier conversation, taking the boyfriend excuse off the table. But thinking of tables made Julie notice that the tables in this establishment were very top heavy. While she had eaten here many times, she had never noticed just how unbalanced they appeared, rather like a hippo on a unicycle. With this thought came the almost involuntary sway of the hip that allowed her to test just how stable these tables were. True to its appearance, the table a chair, and all it contained, quickly found the floor. The crash had caused all heads in the diner to turn her way.

“Allow me!” Harold’s chivalry kicked in like clockwork and as he bent down, she got out. As she dashed down the street the first thought was one of sheer victory. However, as her distance from the café became comfortable and the relief of being away from Harold diminished she began to feel rather bad. This feeling came from several sources. She felt bad for Harold, the café’s broken dishes, and the fact that she wouldn’t be able to eat at her favorite café with Becky for a couple weeks because Harold might be there. Her mother always said that if she spent half the time trying to find men as she did avoiding them, she would have been married long ago. What her mother didn’t seem to realize was just how many men out there were worth avoiding, and Julie was beginning to wonder if there were any worth finding. It was her experience the more men she found, the more men she had to find ways to avoid.

The debate between the side of her that wanted companionship and the side that disliked almost every man she dealt with continued to battle within her flustered brain, with interruptions now and then by the echoes of her mothers advice, all the way to the office. Finally, as she sat down at her desk, her practical side told the other two sides that they were being stupid and to stop their endless bickering so it could have some brain power to get some work done.

"Hey Juju bug," Larry said, inviting himself into her office.

Larry was someone who qualified as a man she worked to avoid. The fact that he worked in her office though, made it rather difficult. "The name is Julie, or rather Ms. Reid, if you don't mind," she said critically.  

"Well anyways, JuJu, I have got two tickets to see Garth Brooks this weekend, and I know you love country."

"I'm seeing someone Larry, you know that." She lied.

"Oh, he won't mind friends getting together to enjoy the concert. It's what we do after the concert that he might get upset about." Larry said, as manly as a 120 pound man can.

Her response was simply an irritated glare that would have clearly conveyed the meaning of "Get out!" to anyone with any sense. But in doing so, she forgot who she was dealing with.

"So, what do you say?" he quipped, anxious for a positive response.  

"No, my boyfriend would kill you. So while there is an upside, I still don't want to."

"Come on, Julie, these are great seats, give me a chance." He only called her Julie when he got desperate, or when the boss was around.  

"Larry you have to accept that I'm dating someone else. If that changes I will let you know." She said as definitively as she could. 

Larry showed a smile and simply said, "Everyone knows you really don’t have a boyfriend.”

His cool confidence worried Julie. Could it be true? Did everyone know? Yes, the lie was her tool to push off Larry’s endless pursuits, but it was so convenient that she started to use it for more then just avoiding Larry.  Co-workers trying to set her up...out came the boyfriend. Dinner party at the bosses place...boyfriend planned a nice night. Did they all know it was a sham?

“What do you mean? Of course, I have a boyfriend. You think I just made him up?”

“Oh, I don’t know, What's his name?"

She paused, in all this time she had never been asked his name and never thought to make one up either. It may be one of the miracles of the human brain that it literally had thousands of male names in its database, yet at this crucial moment of need, her’s was able to keep access to such data just beyond the reach of her tongue. With no name coming to mind, she finally shot back, "It's none of your business what his name is."

Clearly the pause made it very unconvincing. "Forget his name, huh? Quite a boyfriend," Larry said, half laughing. He was practically giddy about exposing her lie. Somehow he had convinced himself that if he exposed her imaginary boyfriend then she would suddenly be willing to date him. The thought brought warmth to his cheeks and made his whole face glow. “I have also noticed that you’ve been dating, he who must be left nameless for years, and yet no pictures. Look at all these lovely pictures,” he began as he started walking around the office, “Oh, here is one of you and your good friend Becky, updated just a few weeks ago. Oh, and here you are with your parents, and one with your niece. But where is the boyfriend?" 

As he went on, he felt like a detective on CSI about to lay out a 'who dun it'. “Oh, I see your screen saver is up. Look, there you are on the beach at a reunion. Hundreds of pictures you have loaded. Shall we wait to see if a boyfriend pops up?” 

Even with things going south, she wasn't about to give up her favorite excuse. "Even though he dislikes cameras, my boyfriend would not want me seeing Garth with someone else." She stated this with as much of a 'case closed' attitude as she could.

"Well, let me know if you change your mind," he said as he left the office, still gleeful from his partial victory.

Julie was left alone with the sad realization that, what only someone as socially inept as Larry would vocalize, was most likely going on in everyone’s mind.

Her mind became fixed on this idea of proving a boyfriend. Didn't she have a friend or relative who could pose as a boyfriend? A few pictures would go along way. The sad part was she couldn't think of any guys she knew well enough to pose in the photos. The only men she knew well were all at work, and pretending to date them was out of the question. Perhaps she could just meet a guy one night at a bar and pretend to be interested long enough to get a few good pictures.

As her mind raced over ways to show proof of her imaginary boyfriend she suddenly brought herself back to reality.  Why was she so desperate to perpetuate this lie? Being single was no crime. She didn't need to come up with some elaborate hoax.
She didn’t even want a boyfriend. Even with as big an annoyance as Larry, the real issue was her Mom. Her Mother was relentless.  She came from the old school of thought that any girl who isn’t married by 30 was destined for a life of loneliness and misery—not to mention financial destitution. Julie hadn’t been reminded of her age so much in one year since she was four and was prompted to show her 4 fingers every time a guest came by.  “You are 29, you know… Men don’t want to date a girl over 30 cause her birthing window is closing quick… Men want to have an heir you know…”  she wasn’t sure where her mother got that--|probably the History channel special on Henry VIII. Did she have to alter her life to appease her mother, push off Larry, and avoid Harold?

Tonight would be her first date in over a year. The last being a blind date
she met online that made her sick, both metaphorically and physically. Not only did he look nothing like his online profile picture, but his cousin had owned a restaurant that served Mexican-Chinese Fusion food. She had a re-fried bean stir-fry. It was shut down by the health department a week later. It was in her bathroom later that night, as the water chestnuts in Spanish rice made their way from her stomach back to her mouth, that she made a vow against blind dates.  That promise quickly put an end to her dating life and increased the need for the imaginary boyfriend excuses. Only Becky, her best friend, who even had the power to convince her to bungee jump, eventually wore her down. Becky's husband had been friends with her date, Ricky, since high school, Ricky's wife had passed away in a car accident a few years back. Becky had brought pictures and stories to convince her it was okay. It was true, he sounded normal and actually looked very handsome. He was about 6' tall with dark hair and brown eyes. Not fat, not bald, and not twice her age. He didn't even live with his parents and he maintained a steady job.  

While she didn't expect it, she was somewhat hopeful her blind date tonight might go well. She didn't expect to get that boyfriend she had been telling everyone about but she wouldn't mind a guy friend. Maybe one she could get a few pictures with.