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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Nobody Expects the Science Inquisition



This episode of James Burke's "The Day the Universe Change" is particularly fascinating and well worth watching. Science snobs always hate this bit. Burke's description of the structure of scientific progress is straight out of Thomas Kuhn's seminal work "The Structure of Scientific Revolution" and Burke is dead on. It upsets those who adhere to the modern cult of sciencism to think that their religion would actually hang on to bad ideas and false theories, but it does. I mean how many college professors are comfortable standing up in front of their classes and telling them to pitch out the $200 book (written by the professor) that they all were forced to buy for his class last year is all wrong. What Ph.D, wants to tell his grad students that some basic concept he forced them to memorize last year wasn't true at all this year? That's why science advances in plateaus and then big jumps. It's a lot of trouble to change out the textbooks.

I love Burke's idea that computer technology could make elitist centralized governments obsolete. The spectre of a human-utopia yields in this fantasy to a machine-utopia. Both optimistically assume that humans or machines can make things perfect, without the pesky need for God or for his work on changing the human heart. This episode dates back 3 decades or more from the beginning of the personal computer revolution before the Internet rose to it's current power. Burke had little idea just how much the existence of a machine-based free market of ideas would rattle the great halls of human power, whether for good or evil.

Of course politicians hold politics in the same reverence that scientists and science fans hold science and with the same naivete. A person's belief system greatly influences how he sees the world and what he believes to be true can lead him to do some pretty appalling things. Burke was right. If you are not comfortable with what he said in the episode about science, then you probably aren't a scientist, but a person who treats science as a religion. I expressed this, as I thought, reasonable opinion in the comment section of the video and immediately got romped on and called "vapid" an "idiot" and a "troll"

One expects this sort of reaction from science true believers when you challenge their religious devotion to the idea of the purity of science. Thomas Kuhn ruffled plenty of science fan feathers half a century ago, when, in his book, he pointed out the Achilles heel of science - the human factor. This factor tends to be ignored by science fanboys with the same intensity that Catholics ignore pedophilia amongst the priesthood. Anything that violates your religious belief (and make no mistake about it, sciencism is a religious) is rejected with disdain. Science personality Neil deGrasse Tyson does this sort of thing a lot. His predecessor Carl Sagan at least left a little room for things science doesn't know - in my opinion making him a more honest practitioner of science than deGrasse.

If you've ever hung around scientists and are at all free from the grip of overwhelming science adoration, you will be disturbed to find that scientists can be as prissy, self-centered a gang of egotists as the college of cardinals or attendees at an international congress on climate change. It is ironic that the religion of science, which purports to be so objective, is so prejudiced against opinions which differ from the accepted canon of science. Truly objective science allows for data from all sources. It doesn't puff itself up and push away any idea which challenges it's own opinion. The truth is that whether it's the practitioners of some narrow religious dogma or the "I believe in science" true believer who believes that science is the only pure way, either group deliberately wears blinders to anything upsetting. It's a form of cowardice.

I have found that there also exists a group of folk in the world who are scientists, theologians, philosophers, farmers, philosophers, and teachers who are not afraid of knowledge or of the experience of others which may challenge their own preconceived ideas. Such folks are the most wonderful examples of Homo-Sapiens I've ever known. Whether it's science, theology, psychology or philosophy, there are individuals within each intellectual pursuit who tend to ossify around a set of core beliefs. They shout down anyone who challenges their belief.  

The best of those who practice these intellectual disciplines realize that whether it be the physical, spiritual, mental, or intellectual world, there are mysteries yet to discover. Anyone who decides their particular belief system and their core collection of beliefs is the only unchallengeable one, is missing the incredible intellectual crossover benefits one gets from examining data from other sources than the ones familiar to you. Newton established ground-breaking physics principles that held to be the standard for centuries until folk like Einstein noticed some holes in them. Newton wrote books on theology too. Einstein famously said that he did not believe God played dice with the universe. C.S. Lewis drew upon science in his great works on Christian apologetics. Freeman Dyson once said that it looked like the universe knew we were coming. The best of scientists, theologians, philosophers and psychologists tend to have the broadest minds.

Neither science, nor theology, nor psychology, nor philosophy is at it's best when it sits back on its haunches and confidently proclaims, "I am all there is that is worth consideration." This is a terribly narrow view for science especially, which relies so heavily on informed speculation to support its theories; theories which, by the way, have a disturbing habit of being over-turned every half century or so. Every advance of science, every great discovery, every miraculous advance in technology happens because someone dares consider an idea that the rest of the herd at first thinks is a load of claptrap and then fastens it into a web of knowledge that has been woven by generations of previous scientists who also dared to think independently.

It is disturbing to see how rigidly narrow so many Americans have become around the "I believe only in science" faith. We are, after all, the descendants of a culture which embraced physical science, medicine, philosophy and theology with such unbridled enthusiasm that we changed the world forever. It would be a shame if we abandoned that heritage to embrace an entirely too limited faith in science that rejects any other opinion or idea that challenges the narrow views of its adherents.

In the old days, they used to burn people with different opinions at the stake, imprison them, chop off their heads, banish them or whip them. It starts with calling anyone whose opinion challenges the status quo a "Troll".  I like James Burke. I don't agree with everything he believes (he's pretty sure global warming is on the way), but he does make one think, which practice is the thing that drives the increase of human knowledge.

Just one man's opinion,

Tom King © 2017

Monday, January 09, 2017

Grandpa Saint Arnold and the Bottomless Beer Mug

One of my sainted ancestors has
his very own stained glass window.
I've been working on my family tree in my down time lately and discovered that if you shake your tree very hard, there's no telling what may fall out. If you get into the records of the nobility, it gets really weird. My wife and I share several ancestors - some Frankish kings, some barons and earls, and even a couple of saints. Apparently, one of both mine and my wife's shared ancestors managed to get himself canonized as a Saint, largely because he led an outfit during the First Crusade and exterminated a lot of pagans, Jews and Muslims. Wow! Pope Urban certainly had different ideas about what made one saintly than I do!

Another of my saintly ancestors was Saint Arnulf of Metz or Saint Arnuiph depending on who is spelling it. He supposedly dislike violence in the court where he was adviser to King Theodosius II and threw his bishop's ring into the water. Later his servant caught a fish and when he was cleaning it to prepare for Arnulf's supper, he found the ring inside the fish. The "miracle" he performed supposedly after his death and the one that earned him sainthood would have pleased his McClure descendants mightily....

THE MIRACLE OF THE BOTTOMLESS BEER MUG:

St Arnold nee Arnulf
It was July 642 and very hot when the parishioners of Metz went to Remiremont to recover the remains of their former bishop (Arnulf). They had little to drink and the terrain was inhospitable. At the point when the exhausted procession was about to leave Champigneulles, one of the parishioners, Duc Notto, prayed “By his powerful intercession the Blessed Arnold will bring us what we lack.” Immediately the small remnant of beer at the bottom of a pot multiplied in such amounts that the pilgrims' thirst was quenched and they had enough to enjoy the next evening when they arrived in Metz.  -Wikipedia: Arnulf of Metz


So apparently the pope decided that if Christ could turn water into wine, Arnulf's "miraculous bottomless beer mug" should earn him a place among the saints. I know many of my Irish ancestors would have agreed. The Germans certainly did. There is a brewery in Houston named after him and he has his own Feast Day on July 18.

Edward I Longshanks
The Cranky King of England
Turns out my family also has several Western Roman emperors up the old family tree, and, to my shame, Edward I "Longshanks" is my great great + grandpappy. You may remember him as the villainous King of England in the movie "Braveheart." We Kings are also related to Clovis I, the first king of the Franks and to Marcus Arelius the Roman general. We're also related to Charles Martel who turned back the Islamic invasion of Europe at the Battle of Tours, October 10, 732.

And don't get me going on the Vikings. There's a whole string of Erics, Olafs, Ragnars and folks with the sobriquet, "The Bold", "The Valiant", and "The Brave". There are also a disturbing number of "The Simples".
And I haven't even got started on the Irish side of the family yet.

Genealogy apparently shakes out the good fruit along with the rotten apples. The nobility kept good records of their family trees. Lots of limbs just disappear into the darkness of the unrecorded peasantry, of course. The nobility did scatter a lot of extraneous seed about, though. A lot of the mothers were unwed mistresses apparently. In several cases the old family tree grows together among its upper branches. One gal had the same Grandmother on both sides of her family. It's kind of fascinating. I'm still adding from my own research and have caught onto several little brand new branches of my family tree in doing so.

It's really an interesting sport.

Charles "The Hammer" Martel - The Scourge
of Islam (we call him Grandpa Chuck).
In digging up the McClure side of my family tree (my Dad's formidable mother's people) I hooked into someone who did a lot of research and shared my great great great grandfather. Through him I got hooked up with some Scots nobility that the McClures went back to through several unwed mothers. It's incredible who you bump into if you're related to the European nobility. They kept quite meticulous family records in order to maintain their position in the nobility and can go back an astonishing way. And many of my progenitors, like Charles Martel, Louis II and others turned out to be historically interesting figures.

I've found records on my wife's side that go back beyond 1520 BC. She has one line that hooked onto a Levite family that claims connections that to go back to Ruth and Boaz and Ruth's side gets into some serious biblical genealogy and goes back all the way to Adam and Eve and you can't go much farther back than that.

My own kin ten to be rather more prosaic by and large and heavily charged with peasant genes. That said, our bloodline does include some very naughty fellows. We have some Swedish kings including a King Olaf (not the snowman from the Disney flick), several dozen princes or so, and a scattering of Earls and barons and baronesses, and, believe it or not, one really unsavory count who bore the cheery nickname of Vlad the Impaler.

Behold, my great, great, great,........etc. Grandpa!
Grandpa Vlad (the Impaler)

That's right I am the great great great+ grandson of Count Dracula. It would certainly explain my problematic relationship with garlic (which it took a long time for me to come to appreciate) and silver (which I cannot seem to collect in any quantity) and my tendency to stay up late at night. I like to make pointy things out of wood though. Go figure!

If you're interested in digging up some of your own ancestors, forgo the shovels please and go visit the Mormons at familysearch.org. It's free and as you start to enter your family members into your tree, the software will suggest possible matches from other family trees that other researchers have placed on the website and if the birthdates and stuff match, you will suddenly have all sorts of new ancestors to explore.  How much fun is that? Who knows you too could be related to Boris the Bloody, Ragnar the Vicious or, perhaps, Vlad the Impaler might be great grandpa to both of us. If he is, I recommend lots of sunscreen when you go outdoors. I've seen the movies.....

© 2017 by Tom King



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

First Post-Christmas Meal?

Time to let somebody else do the dishes...
By the time Christmas is over and the tryptophan coma has worn off, people tend to come staggering out of their homes in order to shop, return presents, go to a movie or simply to see other people besides their relatives. As a service to America's curious minds, I've got a little survey hear to see where people go after Christmas to chase the taste of pumpkin, cranberry sauce and stuffing from their palate.

This year, Miss Sheila and I went Chinese, because there was a food court near the theater. Her birthday is the day after Christmas and it's a little soon for cake, so that's her birthday dinner. We thought about Olive Garden, but that place is getting more expensive by the day and for the past 8 years it's been an Obama Christmas, gradually turning into the Grinchy Christmas the Who's down in Whoville had. And we did enjoy the carols 'round the tree because we're just that sort of stubborn folk. And "Hacksaw Ridge" was kind of an antidote to all the Christmas movies we watched.

So what did you guys do for the big crawl-out-from-under-the-wrapping-paper trip to eat out because you couldn't handle another turkey sandwich?  This survey will take perhaps 30 seconds and greatly add to our store of useless human knowledge. I will post the results as they become available.

Posterity thanks you....


Create your own user feedback survey
© 2016 by Tom King

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Blood on the Chimes - A Christmas Story

Sheila's Christmas Clock Repair Job


We have this beautiful Howard Miller Mantle Clock that stopped working several years ago. Clock repair guys are expensive, but unsticking the mainspring was an intimidating job. Christmas was tight this year so I decided to fix the clock for Sheila's Christmas present. I researched it online and found more information than there was last time I tried to fix it. Before the web pages I found all said, "Don't do it yourself. The mainspring can get loose and break your finger!" I took it apart and spent an hour contemplating the innards of the thing. Apparently it should be oiled every 2 years. It had been about 14 years, so I was overdue. 

Carefully, I inserted the winding key, held it tight and flipped the safety ratchet. Not so bad so far. I let it down a couple of notches and let the ratchet catch. So I let it down a couple more. So far so good. Then about the third round my ADD kicked in, I got impatient and dropped it a couple of extra notches in one go. There was a loud "brrrrrrrpt" noise and suddenly the mainspring was unwound. My index finger was bleeding in four places and I lost a piece of my thumbnail when the winding key went freewheeling.

So far so good. No kidding. I really did say that. As someone who always manages to shed blood to the gods of mechanical repair every time he fixes something, I expect that sort of thing to happen. At least I still had a finger, however swollen it might be and we still do have some band-aids in the medicine cabinet, so, okay. I figured I might just whip this thing after all. Learned about oiling clocks and what oil not to use (which is, of course, the only kind of oil I had).

But I managed to get the thing back together and reinstalled one of the gears and tried it out. The chimes only rang half the sequence each time, so I had to rotate the minute hand in 15 minute increments and let the chimes ring. Then I adjusted the gear that turned the shaft that operated the chime hammers till I finally got it where it would play the whole chime and ring the hours. It took about 6 hours total. The chimes aren't entirely consistent and I don't know why, but it will chime most of the time and as the oil seeps into the pivots it ought to get better. Not sure where the problem is, but hey. I'll take another run at it after I buy a clock oiling and cleaning kit and do it right.
For now it chimes. I have to jiggle the chime selector every third or fourth circuit of the clockface, but for Christmas I figure I can manage it. Sheila really likes the chimes.

So Merry Christmas. The bread has cooled and is ready to be bagged and put away. Got to go. Have a lovely holiday.

© 2016 by Tom King

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What Charity Really Means


Language changes over time. When you look up the word "charity" you get definitions like aid, welfare, relief, handouts, largess, alms, philanthropy, nonprofit organization and money given to those in need. Sadly we've lost probably the most important meaning of the world. It's listed under "archaic".  It means love of humankind, typically in a Christian context as in this usage from the King James Bible (I Corinthians 13)

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. "

Newer translations of the Bible substitute the word "love" for charity. Unfortunately, the old meaning should have stuck with us instead of morphing into something that means something shameful as in "We don't need no charity!"

That's sad. If you go by the archaic meaning of the word, you're basically saying, "We don't need no love!"  People give so-called "charity" for a couple of reasons. One group does give charity in order to feel less guilt and may, in fact, look down on those who accept it. But that group is terribly small. I worked for 40 years in the nonprofit sector raising money for and managing charities that helped pre-schoolers, students, abused and mentally ill children, people with disabilities, seniors, and low-income families. Nine out of ten of those working with me in those "charities" did so because they absolutely loved helping people. Their work was their joy and the people they helped, they loved.

After all that, God then taught me to be on the other end of all that love. I cannot tell you all of the people who have helped us pass through the some really rough patches. When it felt like the forces of evil were arrayed against us, there were suddenly angels when we needed them. Thank you to all of our friends who do angel work on the side and have blessed us.

Learning to accept the love of others is sometimes hard. Our pride so often stands in the way. We want to be self-sufficient. We think we don't need no charity.

But we do. If we are unable to accept gifts given in love, can we truly be the complete and loving people God wants us to be. Christmas is a great time to teach our kids about the joy of giving in love as well as accepting what is lovingly given. 


© 2016 by Tom King

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Traditions Have To Start Somewhere



It looks better at night...

Traditions don't seem to last long in my life. About as soon as one is established, something massively traumatic happens to disrupt it. First it was my brother shot to death the day after Christmas that put a damper on the holidays for several years. Ironically, the night before he died we'd talked about continuing some family traditions with our own families when we grew up. Next it was Christmases with my Grandparents after family members asked me not to visit her anymore because it upset the old woman too much. I look a lot like my Dad and he was murdered by my stepmom a few years before and she had a stroke or something and got it into her head that my wife was Dad's wife. Anyway - no more King family holidays after that. It would have been difficult given that my beloved grandmother threatened to stab my beloved wife in the heart if she ever came to her house again.

Then we moved to East Texas on a wing and a prayer after the place I worked was closed down by the state for something we didn't do. We'd been holding Christmas celebrations at our house there in my hometown of Keene, Texas. Everybody came - my mom and stepdad and assorted brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews on both side. When we left Keene, we lost our ability to do that. So, we restored a run down old house and gathered our mostly grown kids around and started a new set of traditions, building upon some of the old ones. We began making a new Christmas ornament every year that memorialized some important thing that happened that year.

They were very nice Christmases for many years after that. Then my son, Micah died and the joy felt like it was sucked out of Christmas. My wife became disabled and life became "interesting" as the Chinese put it when they want to curse someone. But we did our best to bounce back after that first Christmas without Micah. And we did.

So now we're virtual shut-ins and our eldest son is in a very bad situation, his mother grieves for him and for our lost boy. We have no family around anymore and to tell you the truth we didn't even have a Christmas tree anymore. I hung some lights on the porch so the neighbors wouldn't think we were Jehovah's Witnesses or something, but it wasn't much. I bought us a new TV one year, but most years were kind of thin.

Christmas stuff stayed boxed up for a few years. It came out briefly until illness and financial disaster led to another drastic move, leaving our kids far behind. The situation with the family members we moved to help didn't last for long and we found ourselves literally homeless just before Christmas. Meanwhile, my son back in Texas rolled my truck into a house destroying both and taking our Christmas decoration collection with it. We lost all our tangible Christmas memories in that accident and were not able to recover them.

This was just before Christmas 2012 after we became no longer
homeless people and were rescued by two wonderful Christians - the Havrillas

A year after we moved into the carriage house (above), we decided to exorcise the humbug spirit from the place and to begin working up some new traditions of our own - just the two of us. God seems to have the same idea. Some friends from the local church we can't attend because we can't afford to keep a car, have two precious little ones that call us Grammy and Poppy. They come to visit us and give me rides to town to the pharmacy and Walmart. We've adopted their babies as it seems unlikely our own kids are going to reproduce significantly. We have a grandson that doesn't bear our name and whom we've never seen before and our youngest seems determined to not have kids of her own. She already has a houseful of everybody else's kids, so I suppose that's enough. We're very proud of her and her husband's work with young people.

Last Christmas, determined to reestablish some sort of Christmas tradition for us, I bought a little tabletop Christmas tree and some ornaments at Walmart - just the right size to set on top of my desk (see above photo). Last year, my adopted granddaughter, Eliana (I call her Jellybean) went shopping for the tree with me and helped me pick out the decorations. When we got home, she helped me decorate the tree and we set it up on top of the desk in a place of honor. I did not know I was establishing a new tradition.

This year I had delayed putting up the tree for some reason. I still miss Daisy, who sympathized with me on Christmas. It could have been the Christmas cookies, but I like to think Daisy had some empathy going there. Whatever the reason, the time never seemed just right for putting up the tree. Sometimes I think angels whisper in our ears, for one afternoon I felt a strong impulse that I should put up the tree. So I climbed down the stairs of our garage apartment to the garage below and fetched up the tree and the box o' decorations. I'd just laid them out on the kitchen table preparing to trim our little tree when I heard footsteps on the stairs.

It was our friend April and with her she brought Jellybean and her little brother Liam who has just gotten his sea legs under him. Jellybean saw the little Christmas tree on the table when she walked through the door. She made a beeline for a chair and climbed up to help. So for the second year in a row, me and Jellybean trimmed our tree. I kept misting up (I'm a big old tub of mush about stuff like that), but we finally got the decorations properly placed and set the tree on top of my desk.

It's not a big new Christmas tradition, but I will take it. Thank you God for reminding me that traditions have to start somewhere and kids are the best allies when you want to start one. So, merry Christmas to all (even if you don't like Christmas). Christmas is after all a celebration of the hope that came to humankind one cold night in Bethlehem long ago. And God bless us everyone, as a fictional but believably irrepressible Christmas child once said, and, to quote an actual angel, "Peace on Earth good will to all men," (and not just to the ones who voted the way you thought they should in November).

Just thought I should throw that in for those who are still in mourning this Christmas season.

"So, Ho, ho, ho! And Merry Christmas!"  As for the New Year, we'll wait and see how well my beard grows back out. In the meantime, it's still the season of hope.

© 2016 by Tom King



Friday, December 16, 2016

Handyman

IT WORKS! Our Maytag dryer began to scream at Sheila when she turned it on. I pulled her apart (the dryer, not the wife) and found a jammed dryer belt tension roller. Apparently they pick up bits of dust, lint, oil and some unidentified sticky substance over time and the roller has to be cleaned or replaced. I pulled the sticky roller off the shaft, cleaned the inside of the roller with a Q-tip and quick spritz of WD-40 (God bless NASA for that stuff) and then washed the outside of the shaft and rubbedf oil on it. 

Then I pushed the roller back down onto the shaft. It rotates nice and smoothly now and the dryer no longer screams when you turn it on. (I'm sorry, all you 15 year old males - you may now go take a cold shower). I only had to consult Youtube a couple of times on how to remove the top, and open up the front to get the belt off (seriously guys, go take a cold shower).

You learn a lot about home appliance repair when all your life you pray before you decide what jobs to take. I'm not saying God doesn't pay well, but I think when they talk about God giving you abundance, perhaps it may be an abundance of skills that he gives you in some cases, or maybe an abundance of children or an abundance of work to do. I'm pretty sure He wasn't strictly talking about an abundance of cash necessarily.

Hey, I can fix dryers and sometimes washers if nothing complex is going on. It's a skill that comes in handy a lot and saves a lot of money. It's a skill I learned because God chose not to make me rich.

Thanks, God. I'll take it!

 © 2016 by Tom King

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Vaya Con Dios, Sam Miller

Samuel Marvin Miller
my mentor as I remember him
An old friend and mentor is retiring from the ministry. A pastor friend from my Lone Star Camp staff days told me this morning that Sam Miller was hanging up his gigantic flashlight and riding off into the sunset. I am certain he will be missed.

I haven't seen Sam in a very long time. His wife Carol is a Facebook friend so I know a little bit about what they've been up to. There is an assortment of very fortunate kids and grandkids these two have produced and Sam's popped up in all sorts of places in the West and Southwest in photographs with that easy, lop-sided grin on his face that I remember from when he was my camp director.  I'd been a camper at Lone Star Camp, deep in the piney woods of East Texas for several years during the 60s under Elder Burns, a legendary director, who trained Sam and others and taught a generation of Texas Adventist kids how to refrain from drowning themselves while playing near the lake. So long as one of Elder Burns' waterfront staff remained on the job, we never had so much as a single opportunity to resuscitate a camper. We had a few sneak off and scare us so that we dragged the swimming area, but no one drowned during camp.

In 1971, I became a baptized Adventist and my best friend, Mark Miller, Sam's little brother, helped me get a job at Lone Star. It was late in the season so none of the scholarship positions were left. So, I worked that summer for $10 a week as a trash hauler, wood chopper, hole digger and bathroom scrubber. Sam Miller was our camp director for the summer. He was still in college and just married. Elder Kilgore, the conference youth director was out at camp with his family off and on shuttling between camp and the conference office. Sam had the day to day management and he'd learned his craft well under Elder Burns.

I learned a lot watching Sam's leadership techniques. Years later as a youth leader, I borrowed his style when working with kids. Camp staff were mostly young single people and we operated in a hormone-charged atmosphere. Sam recognized the inevitability of youthful romance and also the dangers. We'd all gather down at the boat dock of an evening to play guitar and smooch in various corners of the dock. About eleven or so, we'd here footsteps on the stairs leading up to the dock. Now Sam didn't always make sounds coming up the stairs. He could sneak up on you like a panther on a rabbit if he wanted to. The footsteps were a warning. Then, Sam's lanky figure would stroll out onto the dock and pause for a moment, looking up at the golden summer moon. The "long moment" gave staff members, coupled up on the dock, time to disentangle de-osculate and get their hands out where he could see them. Then you'd hear a click and it would suddenly become daylignt.

Sam carried around a flashlight that looked like a car headlight attached to the top of a car battery. It turned night into day. The dock would empty like roaches skittering out of the kitchen when you turn the light on at night. Some more enterprising couples moved to other places around the camp to do their canoodling, but they reckoned without the fact that Sam had been a young staffer too and had a thoroughgoing knowledge of where all the best canoodling spots around camp were. Couples would be out on the swimming dock or one of the diving towers or drifting along in a canoe and all of a sudden the night would be turn to day and Sam would be standing there looking up at the moon.

"Time to go in," he'd say in his slow laconic Texas drawl. And that was it. No chewing people out. No recriminations. No discussion of the danger your behavior posed to your soul. Just, "Time to go..." And there were no serious indiscretions that I know of. Sam's little brother and I did get in trouble a couple of times for running around camp at all hours of the night, but Sam just told us to basically cut it out and we sorta did. We at least managed to go places where he didn't have to worry about our hormones getting us into too much trouble. He slowed us down a little and we managed not to damage ourselves or violate any of the local native women.


My first couple of years on staff, I watched how Sam managed groups of kids and staff in his laid back style. I took my first life-saving class with Sam, where we swam laps carrying heavy objects (and once while filled with hornet poison, but that's another story). I was one of those people with significant negative buoyancy (I sink), so Sam used me as a practice dummy because you had to really swim hard to keep afloat.

The big thing I learned from Sam was to keep a sense of humor.  Sam always seemed to get the joke that the rest of us had failed to detect. He once wrote me a letter of recommendation that read in part, "Tom marches to the beat of a different drummer."  What a lovely way of saying I was kind of a weird kid. I almost took offense. You know how serious a 19 year old can get about himself. But then I decided Sam was right and embraced my weirditude and it seemed to work for me. I'm still a little weird, but, thanks to Sam, I get the joke and I quit taking things so seriously a long time ago.

I learned these lessons from Sam:
  1. Never take youthful angst too seriously and don't let them suck you into it.
  2. Discipline gently. A soft word works better than a hard stick.
  3. Respect the people who work for you and the kids you work with.
  4. Give kids time to obey. They want to make you happy, they just have that initial instinctive resistance to overcome and if you give them time, they'll come around.
  5. Don't push too hard. Managing kids is like trying to roll a giant blob of Jello around. If you push to hard in one spot, the whole thing will come apart.
  6. Let 'em know you are coming. It preserves the illusion for them that they actually have the ability to govern themselves.
  7. Issue no empty praise. Don't praise the person, praise the deed. Don't say "You are a great canoer!" It doesn't help them learn. Instead say, "Your J-stroke is coming along nicely. I can see how straight the canoe tracks for you now. Very good!"
  8. The best way to get a kid to cooperate with you is to tell them what they are doing that pleases you and then stand back and give them time to do it.
  9. Carry the tools you need with you. Don't use a hatchet when an ax is called for.
  10. If you're going to carry a flashlight, make it a humongous one, but don't turn it on till absolutely necessary. Too much light can damage your night vision.

So, vaya con Dios, my old teacher. I do believe you managed to achieve the goal of every follower of Christ throughout history. You made the world a better place for your having passed through it.

© 2016 by Tom King