Department of Common Sense

Not long ago, I saw emblazoned on a pickup truck a bumper sticker that boldly stated, “What we need in government more than ever, is a Department of Common Sense”. Now that’s a political slogan I believe we could all rally around.

Recently I spoke with a friend who is a pastor. When I inquired how he liked the ministry, he said, “I’d really love it if it weren’t for the people.” I laughed. As a man of the cloth myself, I am not discouraged by those individuals who come to me frequently for help. That is part of the job. What literally drives me nuts more than anything is individuals who lack the basics of common sense.

I had a recent stay in the hospital and as anyone who’s ever been a patient, hospitals aren’t the place to find rest. Imagine my dismay the following morning after my release, to receive a call from a well meaning church member at the crack of dawn. Bleary eyed, I listened to them tell me, “I’m praying for you and I hope you get some rest. When they took a breath from their rehearsed blessing I repeated back to them this question, “You woke me up at at 6 am to tell me you want me to rest?” There was a long pause followed by a hasty, “God bless and have a nice day” before the phone clicked dead. I think they had a delayed epiphany.

Some time ago a large family had the idea that they wanted to have a picnic with my wife and me. We told them that would be lovely. Since it was their idea for the get together, imagine our surprise when just prior to the their arrival they called to ask, “Do you want us to bring anything?” To my dieting friends, this is an additional reason why I keep my favorite pizza joint on speed dial.

The story is told of a kindergarten class that went on a field trip to the local police station. It was there that one of the students named Larry saw pictures tacked to a bulletin board of the 10 most wanted criminals.
Raising his hand to ask a question as he was taught, he pointed to one of the menacing pictures of a scary man and asked if it really was a photo of a wanted person.

The policeman said with a lot of enthusiasm,’Yes, and all my detective friends and I want very badly to capture him.’ Little Larry paused for a moment then raising his hand again said, “Well, why didn’t you keep him when you took his picture ?”

I don’t know what the future holds for Larry, but if chooses to run for Congress when he grows up, I’m voting for him.

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My Stay was Hairy

The lights above me whizzed by so fast I had to close my eyes to keep from getting dizzy. It’s not the sort of ride I advocate as someone else does the driving. I was on a gurney headed for a cat scan.

Nothing like a visit to the most expensive hostel in town; the local general hospital. I had gotten a wave of dizziness and before I could barely finish my breakfast, my wife had me out the door and at the registration desk of Madison General Hospital. Say heart attack or stroke symptoms and you immediately become the most popular person in the ER.  I don’t recommend you doing that. More people running around and making over you translates into a higher bill.

I had so many people asking questions I felt like the nursery rhyme, “The Little Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe”.  As you recall, she had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. That was me! I couldn’t answer fast enough. As I was fitted for my token of a gown (more like a small tablecloth with arm holes) it brought to mind my car insurance policy; more coverage than I thought I had.

Poked and prodded was an understatement. Apparently I have the skin of a rhinoceros because when my IV line was inserted in my right arm, it bent like a fish hook. I assume it means my iron level is running on the high side. I also gave more blood than an IRS audit.

The protocol for anyone who may be at high risk for heart issues is to be hooked up to multiple lead wires. The wires are then plugged into a digital machine so it can monitor all your vitals. It is the first time my chest felt like a distributor cap for a 1971 Ford. My greatest angst was if there was any similarity, I wanted the firing sequence to be accurate. I could just imagine getting up in the middle of the night to use the rest room and as I made contact with the water, I would suffer a short. I could then imagine being found unconscious in the wee hours of the morning with a smoking black afro.

While some people and cultures value hairy chests, a hospital is not one of them. For every lead that made poor contact with my skin, they would add three more. By the end of my 24-hour stay, my chest looked like the military jacket of a third world dictator; an overabundance of medallions. And don’t even begin to share with me your interpretation of pain! On discharge the next morning, my nurse tried to clear my chest of all the offending stickers, she failed. It took her three times to get just one off my chest. I’m not ashamed to say that I screamed like a five year old girl on a preschool playground. The stickers when pulled ripped so much hair, that when laid on the bed beside me they gave the appearance of tarantulas nesting.

I’m home now, and I’ve stumped the experts. My bad cholesterol is below 100 and my blood work is enviable. The good news is I’m doing well and they say I’ll be ready for bathing suit season in a few months. I hope so, because my once hairy chest looks like a cheap golf course. A smattering of bare patches and whole lot of divots.

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Sometimes Life Offers No Answers

They blew by me like I was standing still. Two Massachusetts State Police cars traveling in excess of 90 miles an hour with no lights flashing. I was on I-495 north of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, on a Friday break from my college studies. The purpose of my travels was to surprise my grandparents with a visit; they lived in Andover, Massachusetts.

It was a beautiful day. Spring was giving way to summer and it was showcasing the thick foliage of the trees in the strip of forest that ran between the north and southbound lanes. The foliage as I was to find out would play a significant part in this story. I remember thinking two things as the police cars sped by, “How unusual to be traveling so fast with no emergency lights, and who was the lone person in the back of the second cruiser? Did a prisoner require that much attention? I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. A mile up the road, I saw the two police cars come to a skidding halt in the left breakdown lane. The man in the backseat did something odd. As they stopped alongside an unmarked wooded area, the man in the rear of the car leaned over from his spot in the right. Laying down on the seat, he quickly opened the door and started waving his hand as if to prompt  a “come on”. As I was pulling alongside this unfolding scene, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. It was the face of a little girl about eight years of age running out of the woods swiftly as if her life depended on it. The look of fear was etched on her face. As the door opened, without breaking stride she dove head first into the backseat. Then before the door was even closed, the police cars accelerated at an unbelievable high rate of speed and passed me yet again faster than they did before. In moments they were out of sight.

The drama of the moment had me asking many questions. How did the little girl get in this particular wooded area? How did the police know exactly where to pick her up? Was this a kidnapping rescue? My curiosity got the better of me. I scoured the Boston Globe and area papers for several days afterwards and not one peep was ever mentioned about this incident. It has been over 30 years since that day and I have reconciled I will never know the answer.

Throughout life there are incidents that prompt us to ask why. Why did I lose my job? Why was my loved one taken from me so soon? Why have I never found the person of my dreams? We all have many of the same questions, yet seldom is our answer forthcoming. In fact, many of us will live our complete lives never getting the answers to our questions.

Over the years I have spent a lot of time trying to fill in the missing blanks of the little girl in the woods. Sometimes I’ve painted a beautiful ending yet other times I’ve imagined a painful conclusion. Yet each time I expend energy on this unfinished story, I have pangs of guilt, I know I’m wasting my time. The only one who truly knows the answer to this story is not talking, and that’s God.

When it comes to unanswered questions in life, I find solace in the Good Book. I Peter 5:6-7 says it best, “Humble yourself, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Considering the state of world affairs and life’s lingering questions that plague me, I can’t help believe “His due time” can’t be very far off.

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The Theology of Particle Board Furniture

In our weekly study at church, we’ve been studying the weighty subject of end times. Will there be an eternal hell, will I ever achieve perfection before the Lord’s Big Day, etc.? As I ponder these theological conundrums I have learned that aside from the Good Book, answers can be found occassionally in the most unorthodox way.

Last week, my wife no doubt restless from a harsh winter season, ordered not one but four pieces of furniture. No not the assembled kind, this is the kind that requires a Harvard engineering degree, the steady hand of nucleur physicist and the calm spirit of Billy Graham to assemble.

I reached a quick conclusion that if you don’t want your angel using WhiteOut corrective fluid liberally on your heavenly record, assemble all furniture only while blasting gospel music throughout the work area. It helps when the last screw inadvertently goes plum through the other side of the smooth surface, and your tongue wants to betray you.

There is a spiritual lesson when putting together cheap furniture. It mirrors life. You start out with enthusiasm, then when the box (life) is open, you become overwhelmed with it’s intricate parts. All the while you trudge your lonely path studying the instruction manual wondering when by faith your nightmare will mercifully end.

As I unwrapped the large cardboard box, twelve blister packs of parts fell out onto the floor, twelve!

A pipe organ couldn’t have this much hardware! Then as if 12 wasn’t enough, the shadowy figure who packed the potential file cabinet added a 13th pack labeled “miscellaneous parts”. Why didn’t he just place a note on the plastic sleeve that said, “We swept the floor, thought you could use this?”

If you need guidance, don’t even try to call the help line unless you know Mandarin Chinese. I threw away the instructions when I saw the manufacturers phone number begin with an (081) area code followed by 24 numerals.

And so as the task commenced I found the experience a mix of frustration, highs, lows, and ultimately joy. The same path we follow as believers.

Now going back to my original premise that particle board furniture does indeed offer glimpses of theological clarity, I return to my first question.

Is there an eternal hell? Well I can’t prove my theory to quell all doubters, but I don’t believe so. However if there is an eternal hell, it will entail a large sweaty group of people assembling particle board furniture with bent screwdrivers and extra blister packs.

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