Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jury Duty: A Small Sacrifice

For the first time in my life, I was chosen to sit on the jury. I have been summoned maybe a half dozen times or so, but never made the panel until this time. The trial only lasted two days, but it was an experience I won't soon forget.

Most people I have talked to about jury duty cringe at its mere mention. It seems the common thing to do is try to get yourself excused from service...or make sure you present yourself in a way so that you would never be selected to serve.

When people find out you have been summoned, they give all kinds of advice on how not to be selected. They say things like...

"Make yourself look like a redneck bigot."

"Tell them you support capital punishment for misdemeanors."

"Cough and don't cover your mouth."

Yeah. It's mostly said tongue-in-cheek, but the attitude is there, nonetheless. Whatever you do, don't get chosen!

I think most people's reticence to be chosen can be credited to one of two reasons:

  1. They consider jury service a terrible inconvenience;
  2. They are afraid of having to interact and speak their minds in a room full of strangers.

Both reasons are understandable...until you consider that trial by a jury of your peers is your right as a citizen of the greatest democratic republic the world has ever seen. Inconvenience? Discomfort? Those are pretty nominal prices to pay for freedom's privileges.

The American system of justice is not perfect, and I plan to address that somewhat in my next post, but it is the best model in the world. It is the standard. (Well, it certainly beats the Sudan all to pieces, anyway.)

Sitting on a jury in a felony case was not easy, but I am proud to be an American and I am happy to have performed my civic duty. It didn't cost me much, just a couple days and a little displacement from my comfort zone. It did, however, cost hundreds of thousands of other Americans much, much more, as they paid with their lives - or the lives of their loved ones - so that I would have the privilege to perform such a service.

I decided not to dishonor their sacrifice by coughing all over a few strangers so I could get sent home.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Being Barry Bonds

What if you broke the most hallowed record in all of sports...and almost everyone was angry at you for doing it? What if you became the Fall Guy for a generation of drug abusers? What if you were arguably your generation's best in the sport you played, but had very little chance of making the Hall of Fame?

What if you were Barry Bonds?

I know, you wouldn't be. You're too squeaky clean, too honorable, to committed to the integrity of your industry. You never cheated. Not on your taxes. Not on your wife. You never stepped outside the lines of propriety in order to get ahead. You never looked for that angle, however immoral or illegal, to give yourself a leg up on your competition.

Plenty have. Plenty have paid for it, too. They got their pink slip or their prison jumper for their troubles. So, you don't feel sorry for Barry Bonds. The guy could have been the least bit likeable and maybe this would never have happened. He could have stayed clean...or at least come clean when he was interrogated under oath. Jason Giambi did. He took his lumps for it, too. But he won't face prison time. Barry may.

I am in no way defending Barry Bonds. I'm not. But I refuse to celebrate the indictment of the man who is the face of a problem much greater than himself. He wasn't alone in his cheating. He wasn't the only one shooting up so he could bulk up. He was just the only one who did it while assaulting a hallowed record.

I imagine it isn't much fun, being Barry Bonds. I doubt it was a great deal of fun even when he was smashing the record-setting tater. Probably wasn't any fun when his achievement was mocked and an asterisk burned into the historic ball he hit out of the park. It was even less fun when he was served notice that a grand jury had indicted him.

Being Barry Bonds has to be a pretty lonely feeling. But somebody had to be Barry. Somebody had to bring this house of cards tumbling down. Who knows where it will end? How many will be forced to own their mistakes, their duplicity, their cheating, their law-breaking?

Maybe...just maybe, this turns the tide. Or, maybe it at least stems the tide. Perhaps, at long last, the playing fields will be level again, and the athletes who do it the right way will have a crying chance. Maybe the madness will end...and we can all return to believing in Santa Claus, happy endings, and the integrity of professional sports.

If so, I will celebrate that.

But I will not celebrate the fall of Barry Bonds. Self-destruction is not a pretty thing. It isn't fun...or funny. It's just...sad.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Come Winter

Come Winter, it'll all be gone.

November already? Here in Dallas it has been in the eighties all week long. Doesn't feel like my favorite time of year. Doesn't feel like Summer or Spring either. Doesn't feel like much of anything. (In case you haven't noticed, I am sometimes given to melancholy.)

Fall is my favorite season. I love the cool, crisp cleanliness of the air. I love it when the sun is bright, but the wind nips at you anyway. I love it when it is too cool for short sleeves but not time to bundle up. As much as the weather, though, I love that it signifies the coming of the Holiday season: that time between Halloween and Christmas...my favorite time of year.

I am a sentimental, sappy sucker for the pageantry of the holidays. I love the feel of it, the look of it, the sound of it. I just do. But there are always little moments...when I am alone with my thoughts and emotions. During those moments, I feel the chill in my soul, the longing for something I can't quite define. Sometimes it is a distant, even faint, memory. Sometimes, it is a scent that brings back a flood of all-too-vivid memories and makes me long for yesterday. Other times, it is just this gnawing cognizance of the rapidity of passing time. I lament the passing of some moment I ought to have cherished and, ironically, miss another, current moment I will surely mourn later.

My least favorite month is January. I know it marks the birth of a new year. The slate is wiped clean and here is a fresh new start. But I am hardly ever completely prepared to lay the old year to rest, first of all. Second, in Texas, January usually means ugly, bitter cold to go along with those post-holiday blues.

So, I am thinking all of this when I find the lyrics to the song, Come Winter, by Daphne Loves Derby:

The First Day of fall is the last day I'll kiss the sky...The cold air surprises my bones have been spoiled by the summer's heat...The sun hides its face, and I'll hide mine too...Sooner or later this winter will rain down and leave me to wait for one year...I'll be there, I'll be there...Next year this time, I'll be there...I'll dream of the past, and wish that I was there....I am burning the letters of days gone by...I'm so sorry, but I'm scared that my heart will regret the things that I've done...Breathe in all of the ashes of my mistakes....Gently collapse so no one will notice that you're falling too short of your breath...I've wasted more time dreaming than living...I've wasted more time dreaming...I'll be there...So cherish these days, enjoy every breath like it will be the last of your life...Please never look back because you won't forget why you cried.

Ah, sweet melancholy. Come Winter, I always feel it.

And yet I dare to say, "Come, Winter."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

What If...?

What if you wrote a letter and sent it to nobody? What if you expressed an opinion and nobody cared? What if you crafted a blog that nobody read? Were you wasting your time? Would the words be better left unsaid...unwritten? Should they just roll about in your own head until they fade into whispers and are blown away by the winds of time?

Don't look at me! If I knew the answer, I wouldn't have asked you!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I Believe!

I haven't had many theological discussions lately. Last Sunday, I did.

My wife and I went to visit my mother in East Texas, and my aunt and her friend happened to be in town. During the course of conversation, these two (the aunt and her friend) decided to pull me into their discussion/argument over the accountability of the heathen who have never heard the gospel. Will God hold them accountable for their unbelief?

This is not a new subject. Christian theologians have wrestled with its implications for centuries, and have arrived at varying conclusions. I won't go into the details of the two stances presented to me. Nor will I tell you how artfully I dodged the subject, presenting them with "evidence" to support each of their theories, and then leaving them to their own conclusions.

What I will share here is how little I know these days. When I was in my twenties and thirties, pastoring a thriving congregation, seminary degree in hand, I knew so much. I had the answers. I felt I needed to have the answers. I was expected to know things.

Now, I am plowing through my forties like there is no tomorrow, and I realize how very little I know. I believe many things. Some of them are even things I believed back when. I believe there is valid evidence to support my beliefs. I believe in the God I believe in the very same way so-called "nonbelievers" believe in their conclusions about God.

I don't apologize for my shortcomings. I am not ashamed that I don't know the answer to questions like, "what about the heathen?" I am not ashamed that I am not sure where or exactly what heaven is. I am not ashamed to admit that I cannot quite figure out God's system of justice. I don't know why some children are born blind or crippled. I believe God has His reasons...but even if we knew them, we might not find them reasonable.

But, I believe. I believe in the God of the Bible. I believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. I also believe that any Christian who believes he has all the answers is a fool...and a detriment to the cause of Christ in this world.

I believe I will stop there.

Friday, September 28, 2007

It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)

I have heard that in Europe they don't do this, but in America we do. When you meet someone new here in the good ol' USA, what is one of the first questions you ask?

"So, what do you do?"

We use the answer to that pervasive question to establish relationships. If the guy has a better job, more money, is a self-made something-or-other, a CEO, a CFO, a COO or some other lofty acronym, then we know we have certain choices. We can envy him, honor him, patronize him, hit him up for a job...or a loan, or wonder why a loser like that is doing so much better than me.

If he, on the other hand, is unemployed, an hourly worker, or uneducated, then we know we can relate differently to him. Hey, maybe I can impress him with my pedigree. I can pity the poor bastard. Or, I can assume he has little to offer me and kind of blow him off, give him the old stiff-arm.

SO, what do I do? Well, some days, as little as possible. Others, as much as necessary. But most days, more than you can shake a stick at.

What do I do? Well, if you had asked me that question sometime between 1980 and 1996, I would have answered, "I am a minister." If you had asked me sometime between 1997 and 2000, I would have answered, "I am a salesman, no store manager, wait...I am an entrepreneur. Yeah! Enterpreneur." 2001 - 2004? "I'm a middle school English teacher. (God help me!)"

Ask me today, and I might answer with the Emperor Severus of Rome, "I have been everything, and everything is nothing." Severus was near death when he said it. Hopefully, I am nowhere near it. Although, as today is my birthday, I am certainly nearer than I was.

Birthdays are like that for me these days. Time to take stock, reflect, ruminate, relive, revisit, regret, rejoice. I should be wiser by now. Wealthier, too, probably. But, I suppose, when considering Ben Franklin's three marks of good fortune - being healthy, wealthy, and wise - batting .333 isn't so bad.

So, a tidbit of wisdom...something I have learned in my forty-six years, something to share with the random soul that reads this whisper-in-a-windstorm blog of mine. Hmmmm (scratching my greying goateed chin). OK, I've got it. here it is...

Time marches on and it doesn't stop to pick you up, dust you off, or pat your back; moreover, it doesn't have to stop in order to give you a swift crotch-kick now and again. What time does with you is inevitable and irrevocable. What you do with time...is all that matters.

Happy birthday. Pass the ammo.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Too Jaded To Be Motivated?

Yesterday, I went to a mega-business seminar at Reunion Arena in Dallas. It was so big, in fact, that the crowd filling the entire lower bowl of Reunion was really the spill-over crowd. The really big gathering was down the street in the newer, larger American Airlines Arena.

Truthfully, I went there the same way I go to all such meetings, with a suspicious mind, expecting to be rah-rah'd to death. As far as the Master of Ceremonies and the host company were concerned, I got precisely what I expected. Cheese, man! Cheesy cheese.

Peter and Tamara Lowe, the couple behind these gatherings, have been at it for two decades. They look like Ken and Barbie, if Ken were redheaded and goofy-looking and Barbie had Tammie Faye Bakker hair. The Master of Ceremonies for the day was annoying enough to wish for a marksman with a tranquilizer gun to take aim from the balcony...whether at him or me is immaterial.

That said, I found myself motivated. I did. Steve Forbes was the lead-off speaker. He was engaging, lucid, full of real-life examples of ordinary people who persevered to achieve extraordinay things. The Zig Ziglar representative, a fellow who was maybe the best speaker of the day but whose name escapes me, made me laugh with his well-timed jokes...and think about what it is I am doing and where I am headed.

But the words that landed the most heavily on my glass jaw came from super-duper salesman Brian Tracy. First, he warned about living your life on a place called "Someday Isle." You know, "Someday, I'll take a stab at that business idea I have that would revolutionize the so-and-so industry." Or, "Someday, I'll work harder, dedicate myself more, figure this thing out." Not today, of course. I'm tired. The boss is beating me down. The kids won't shut up...and neither will the wife.

Tracy went on to ask for a show of hands from the people who were self-employed in the crowd. Maybe one-fourth raised their hands. He proceeded to tell the rest of the crowd to get their hands up, too. The truth is we are ALL self-employed. No matter where you ply your wares, you are an independent contractor selling your services to the highest bidder. You aren't in business for some major department store or pharmaceutical company or grocery chain. You are in business for yourself. You work for your future, your family, your retirement, your dreams, your goals.

That...struck a chord with me. If you look at your job that way, it can't help but change your approach, can it? It is...empowering, but it also places the responsibility for yourself squarely on your own shoulders. At least, that is how I see it.

So...yeah, I'm still jaded, but motivated. And that's OK, right?