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Monday, May 30, 2011

On Being Musically Cool

I wish!  The miracle of Photoshop places me in
very cool bluegrass company
 Let's face it, I'm musically uncool. I'm the guy the snarky comics make fun of on Comedy Central. I listen to Enya, Irish music and Bluegrass.  I have bought children's albums after all my kids were grown up. I play banjo - outside, when everyone is out shopping.

There is some music I don't appreciate. There's a character named Beefus on the Banjo Hangout website (where I'm a long-standing member), who plays an electric banjo in some sort of really bizarre grunge style. Beefus is, as the inimitable Robert Earl Keen so eloquently put it, "taking bluegrass where bluegrass has never gone before."

I don't much think Beefus cares whether the rest of us go with him or not.. Frankly, there's not enough peyote in New Mexico to get me to follow the boy (not that I don't appreciate his joie de vivre ).

People tend to marginalize bluegrass music, despite evidence of widespread appreciation for the music - just check out how many bluegrass festivals take place in this country every year. One would think, if one believed the recording industry, that bluegrass music is a marginal musical genre like polka music and klezmer. But, I believe that an appreciation of bluegrass is under-reported by those who secretly like it, but do not wish to be made fun of by their cool friends. The music of Yanni, Enya and Kenny G suffers the same problem.

Thank goodness we can buy and download Mp3's from the Internet in the privacy of our own homes. Bluegrass is sort of like musical porn. Everybody's got some, but no one wants to admit it except those who don't care what anyone thinks.

Me, I've decided to publicly display my collection of bluegrass, Irish and folk music alongside my animated children's film collection. (Admit it, you watched "How to Train Your Dragon" without any children in the room and you laughed). Einstein believed space was curved. So, my strategy is to become so completely uncool that I lap round the universe and become cool again.

So far I'm still pretty uncool as far as my kids are concerned. I think it's farther 'round the universe than I originally thought.

Tom King
(c) 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ridiculing Christians for Fun and Profit

So what did I do to you?
by Tom King (c) 2011

An Open Letter to My Non-Believer Friends:

I've never quite understood why non-Christians feel the need to ridicule Christians with such vehemence. I suppose if you have been abused by a Christian in the name of his religion, then okay. I understand your anger a little bit.  If your excuse is simply that Christians are stupid and you find that offensive, then you're no better than those who ridicule people with Down's Syndrome or the disabled. I don't get it. As a believer, I've never seen the need to write posts that ridicule atheists. I might disagree with you, argue politely with you, but in the end you guys have every right to believe what you want to believe.  I kind of wonder how secure some of you are in that belief system, when you seem to need to attack the beliefs of others to reaffirm your own.

I examined atheism, agnosticism, Eastern mysticism and a wide range of belief systems and philosophies before coming to my conviction that Christianity made sense. Did you do the same or is yours an emotional conviction? I'm not being snarky here. You really seem to have some deep seated anger at Christians. You can't have known many genuine ones.

Like any belief system, there are those who are principled followers and those who are phonys. Take environmentalists, for instance. There are those who truly believe we should care for the planet we live on (I count myself as one) and those who make a tidy profit by spouting the rhetoric because they can make money doing it. The same thing happens with Christianity. There's a long history of politicians and entitled "nobles" using Christianity for their own purposes. This doesn't make the Christian belief system evil any more than the fundamental principles of environmentalism are evil because corporations manipulate fears of global warming in order to corner markets on those twirly glourescent light bulbs.

I worked for a tiger refuge that was seeking to use modern genetic science to recover lost species of tiger. It was a wonderful idea, bringing back extinct species whose genetic traits are still left in hybrids found in zoos and private collections. Some people called them junk tigers and were very critical of the refuge for even thinking about such a thing. When I looked into what was going on, I discovered that it was pretty much all about who would get the big foundation and government grants. The ideological purity, in the end, was about funding the different faction's projects.

Are there people who simply care about preserving the tigers? Yes. Are there others exploiting the conflict for profit. You bet. All human beings choose whether to live by their principles or to serve their own needs. I've worked in nonprofits, educational institutions and as a community organizer for more than 30 years. I'm a conservative (some of my liberal colleagues think I should spontaneously combust). I've started 5 nonprofit organizations (and they don't call them that for nothing). I've worked hard to help change unfair government practices so that old people, people with disabilities and low income families in my community have better access to transportation so they can better support themselves. I've pulled together coalitions of people from all sorts of philosophical backgrounds. I was proud to be a part of that.

I've never seen ridicule of someone else's beliefs do any good for a community, state or nation. I do have frank and open discussions with people from all sorts of philosophical backgrounds. We learn from each other that way. Most of all we learn to respect each other. My own belief is that every man has a God-shaped hole in them and that wherever we start from we're all looking to find that missing part of us. Your journey is different from mine.

Your criticism of Christianity has some merit. Like all philosophies, it can have people and institutions who claim to be honest adherants, but use believers for their own purposes. Don't confuse politicians with believers.

Christians truly do believe we should treat others the way we want to be treated. That one powerful philosophy has changed the world in profound ways. Over time that belief system has overcome the old ways. We've gone from the idea that strength is right to the idea that strength should serve the right. In many ways, our current culture, which embraces the idea that we should help and defend the poor and downtrodden, is a direct result of centuries of teaching out children the golden rule. Ironically, this sea change in culture, fueled by fundamental Christian beliefs about "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you" is the reason you folk of the atheist persuasion have the right to NOT believe in God and to vocally promote that belief without fearing for your life. Christians, in large part, gave that freedom to you. There are some folks out there who get a little self-righteous and do the same type of thing you just did in this article and belittle folks who don't share their beliefs. They are wrong to do so.

I hope you'll reconsider your attitude toward Christianity as a whole. We're pretty nice people whether you share our beliefs or not. We really do believe in the golden Rule. Diversity has to work both ways. If there is a place for non-Christian philosophies, then there must also be a place for Christians, whether or not we're the majority opinion. You can believe we're all naieve and stupid and wasting our lives on a false idea, if you want. You have that right. We can, in exactly the same way, believe that there are people who will not go to heaven because they choose not to and are wasting their lives on false beliefs. It cuts both ways. At the very least we can agree to disagree and respect each other's right to do so. It certainly doesn't hurt me for you to believe what you believe and it doesn't hurt you for me to believe in God.

So, how about we put down the poison pens, okay? That goes for you who call yourself Christians too!

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Friday, May 20, 2011

What's a Friend - A Man's View

 I saw this post the other day on Facebook asking what was the definition of a true friend.  It was, of course, posted by a woman.  Lots of women answered.

  • A true friend is one who sticks by you (or has your back) through thick and thin.
  • A friend is someone who will listen to you talk about your feelings and relationships without being judgmental
  • A friend will listen to your life story and share hers with you.
  • A friend anticipates your needs, knows when you need a cup of tea or a piece of chocolate cake without your asking
Well, all of those only apply to "girl" friends. Guy friends are nothing like that. A guy friend will pitch you out of the bass boat if you start talking about relationships and the closest he'll get to anticipating your needs is if he offers you a cold one while he's fishing in the cooler anyway. He might offer you some of his chips, but for him, chocolate is merely a snack food that you keep handy in case your girl friend starts getting cranky and not a religious experience. Guy friends are different.
  • They are people you fish with and eat fatty foods while watching football with.  
  • They play softball on your church league team and wear the stupid shirt, even though they might not have the wind to get around the bases, if they did miraculously hit a home run.
  • They give you a lift to the auto parts place and then stick around to help you fix your truck. 
  • They listen to you tell improbable stories and tell some whoppers right back at you.  
  • They lend you tools, then stand around and watch you do all the work. 
  • They sympathize with you when you're in trouble with your "Girl" friend for not listening to her go on and on about relationships, feelings and people who have done her wrong. 
  • Guy friends are uncomfortable shopping together, but will go with your if you're going to a sporting goods place, bait shop or hardware store.  They hit the store like the Marines taking a beachhead - all business!  
  • A Guy friend won't make you talk about your feelings, but will help you barbecue enough food to feed a small army. 
  • A Guy friend will sit on the back porch in silence with you for two hours with nothing but a cold drink and a bug zapper for entertainment and call it "good times" when he thinks back on it.
Women will never EVER understand that, though some have learned to appreciate the beauty of the thing.

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Sunday, May 15, 2011

When Your Confidence Is Shattered - A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them

Call it PTSD, call it trauma, call it depression or whatever you will, nothing lowers the boom on guys like something that shatters your confidence. Job loss can do it; loss of a loved one you believe you should have been able to protect; financial disaste;, the horrors of war; disability - anything that represents an overwhelming defeat for a man can trigger such a crisis.
Sometimes when your confidence has been shattered, getting back up on your horse seems more like scaling Mt. Everest.  At those times, you find that lots of people who have never been through what you've been through all line up at your door to tell you to pull yourselves up by the bootstraps.

Yeah? Well what if you've lost your bootstraps? If you don't have bootstraps anymore how do you pull yourself up by them? What's a man do then?

Women who love you will want to get inside your head and find out what's really going on. Therapsists want you to talk it out. Femininsts want you to get in touch with your feminine side because, supposedly men are less in touch with their emotions that women are.

A recent study found that men are more likely to cry over a song on the radio than women?  Men have always had powerful emotions. Sure we stuff 'em sometimes. We know how scary it is to see a man break down and cry his heart out. If you've ever seen your father cry, you know what I mean. As men, we know how unsettling that is and we try not to let others see us when we lose it emotionally.  So, don't assume that because men don't display emotions, that it means they don't have them.

A crushed spirit is difficult to mend. It's tough to find the bootstraps to pull on at times like these, particularly for men.  We often resist help. We put up walls. We isolate ourselves. The way back can be long and hard. Sometimes it's a matter of finding someone to help you stitch your bootstraps back on or at the very least, figuring out a way to do it yourself. They say time heals, but that's not strictly true.

It is not time that heals, but how we put time to use. Sometimes it's a struggle of inches. Sometimes you come roaring back, charge over the hill and damn the guns. Whatever works, it's your struggle and yours alone. A man stands alone most times, even when he stands shoulder to shoulder with friends; even when he is being held upright by his loved ones because he cannot stand on his one. Every man must reach down inside of himself at those moments and find the strength that God has given him to rise again and be a man.

My wife, one night while we were watching the movie, "The Odd Couple" suddenly said, "I just love men." Surprised, I asked her why. She tried to explain, but all she could come up with was, "Women would never do that for each other." I think what she found appealing in men is that even though we're often aloof, sometimes exhasperating and usually uncommunicative, we always rise to the occasion in a crisis.  Men stubbornly struggle on even when the odds don't look good. Men, by and large, are fiercely loyal to their friends, their families and to those they feel a duty to protect.

A man who has been knocked down, who has had his inner fires beat down to ashes, if you ask him what he's doing to cope, is likely to tell you something vague like, "I'm working on it." It's because he knows that in the end, he works out his own salvation. It is a thing between himself and his God and ultimately no one else can rebuild that fire for him. His true friends understand this and do not press. All that his friends and loved ones can do for him is sit beside him in companionable silence while he strikes flint against steel again and again and again until the spark catches and the flame relights. When he can again contribute, he will rejoin the circle. Till then, best to be patient and give him time.

Men are, after all, surprisingly solitary creatures when you get right down to it.

Tom King - Tyler, TX (2011)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mom Dresses Like a Ragpicker!!

by Tom King (c) 2011

I have been privileged to know three great mothers in my time. One was, of course, my own Mom. One of my earliest memories of her was of her standing over an ironing board after work, earning a few extra bucks by ironing shirts for businessmen when she ought to have been resting from working all day as a seamstress. I don't think she knew that I knew what she was doing, but I did. I knew she didn't make enough from her other job to pay the bills. And she was doing this while trying to keep her hyperactive son from breaking his own or his sister's neck, plugging himself into his electric train set or crashing through the front window while running around the living room in his undershirt and underwear trying to imitate the basketball players he'd seen on the neighbor's TV. 

I also remember times later on, when she would play baseball in the backyard with my brother, sister and I and a contingent of neighbor kids, patiently throwing pitch after pitch till we finally learned how to swing a bat and connect with the ball. I remember her terrible grief over losing two of us, her joy over our small triumphs in school and in life. Mom didn't hem me in too much. She could be tough, but we learned just how far we could push her before death and destruction would come  raining down on our heads. I was a hyper kid. I lived in the tops of trees, swung from ropes, rolled down hills in barrels and tires. Mom seemed to understand that I needed to get that all out of my system or bust. I learned patience, unconditional love and how to give a child some breathing room from Mom.

My grandmother was the second powerful mother in my life. A tough woman of stern Scots ancestry, she sometimes affected a tough, unforgiving demeanor. She could be critical. She loved gossip. But there was in her a soft mushy interior that few people saw. Grandpa saw it and loved her for it. At a time when I was a skinny kid making $5 a week selling newspapers and peddling more than 45 miles every one of those weeks in all kinds of miserable weather delivering papers, she used to feed me longhorn cheese and tomato sandwiches with a bottle of cold Dr. Pepper on Sundays when I dropped by after finishing my paper route collections. She knew I had to be hungry and suspected I probably hadn't eaten breakfast. There were Thanksgivings, Christmases and Sabbaths when I sat at her table and ate till I couldn't walk and she stood there smiling all the while at me, her heart gladdened that I had enjoyed that little snack she'd made for me.

An older gentleman told me a story a couple of years ago about her. It seems he had worked on the college dairy while attending Southwestern Junior College back in the early 50s when my grandmother was working at the college cafeteria. The dairy boys mostly lived in the village and what they made paid their tuition, but it left little money for food and certainly not a cafeteria meal ticket.  He told me he'd never forget Ms. King. In the evening they'd come by Old North Hall where the Kitchen was on the ground floor and she would smuggle leftovers (and some not-so-leftovers) out the back window to the dairy boys. No one ever said a thing about it. Even if they knew, my grandmother was such a good cook they wouldn't have wanted to risk losing her. She expressed a mother's love with pots and pans and potatoes. From her I learned that love can be expressed with more tangible things than words - like longhorn cheese and tomato sandwiches.

The third mother I have been most influenced by is my own Sweet Baboo. I watched her dote over our babies as they grew up. She protected them as fiercely as a she-bear protects her cubs. She was another mom who expressed love with kitchen utensils. My kids grew up eating like princes and princesses though they always thought it was normal for every meal to taste that good. They never lacked for anything if Sheila could get it. I used to send her to the store to buy herself clothes or shoes or something, when even I had begun to notice that her outfits were starting to get a bit battered. She'd inevitably come back from the store with stuff for the kids or for me and tell me she really didn't need the shoes or jeans or dress or whatever it was I'd given her money for. I sometimes had to just buy stuff for her and burn the receipts so she couldn't take 'em back. If there were 4 pieces of cake left on the plate for the five of us, she'd dish them out to the rest of us and tell us she'd already eaten her piece earlier. Now, Sheila is a stern stickler for the truth and she aboslutely hates lying.  She'd rather die than tell a lie, except for when it came to sharing our often limited resources.  If the woman thought one of us needed something more than she did (and most of the time she had no trouble finding something that one of us needed more), she would tell a whopper in a New York minute!  I always said God kept us poor, when my kids were coming up, to keep them from being spoiled completely rotten. My darling would have given them anything in the world if she'd had it. It was probably good that we didn't have it all the time.  From the mother of my children, I learned unselfishness.

It's funny how we complain about our moms when we are kids. Then we grow up and have kids of our own and there come's that day when we're standing in the store looking down at the holes in our own shoes and realize our kids need new socks or underwear or something and we put back the shoebox we've been holding. Suddenly, we remember scenes from our own childhood and realize our moms lied to us too. We realize in a flood why it was that Mom sometimes looked a little threadbare and tired and maybe didn't dress in the height of fashion.  In that moment, it all becomes clear to you what she was up to all that time, while she was cramping our adolescent lifestyles and making us wear new shoes to school and fussing over our hair and worrying about who we were dating or whether we were dating or what's going on at school. She was distracting us, so we wouldn't notice what all she, herself, was giving up for us. While we were complaining that she looked like a ragpicker, she was selling blood to buy our school books.

Mom's are such lovely creatures - I think the fairest of all God's creation. Today's a good day to tell the Mom (or Moms) in your life how much they mean to you.  Do it now. Don't just sit there trying to pretend you aren't misting up a little. Compose yourself, wipe your eyes and then go call your Mom. Better yet, take her out to lunch and buy her a new pair of shoes or a blouse or an expensive handbag. Just don't buy her a gift card or you're liable to find yourself with a new pair of Dockers and your Mom standing there grinning from ear to ear cause she's pulled a fast one on you..

Like I said, they are lovely creatures, Moms. Fairest in the land.

Tom King - Neglectful son

Sunday, May 01, 2011

On Sheep and Wolves

(c) public domain

 Is it necessary to become wolves
in order for sheep to defend
themselves from predators?

My friend, Duane, sent me this interesting quotation.

"A society of sheep must
in time beget a
government of wolves
and it is useless for the
sheep to pass resolutions
in favour of vegetarianism
whilst the wolf remains
of a different opinion."

Dean William R. Inge

While a probable truism for the world as it is, assuming man is on his own in the vasty universe, there is one factor that will, prevent this principle from playing out as an inevitability. Yes, it is likely true that the wolves will inevitably dominate if they are the top of the food chain in a world controlled by evolutionary forces alone, but.....

We humble sheep do, after all, have a Shepherd to protect us from the wolves!

It's a flaw in Christians that we carry with us from the old life of sin that we have this sneaking suspicion that God's intervention on our behalf is somehow inadequate and that He somehow needs our help if the flock is to be maintained properly.  We somehow carry with us this nagging need to "help out the shepherd" even though He has made it quite clear that our safety and our eventual salvation is something we cannot accomplish by our own merits or efforts. The Shepherd cautions us that our own hard work will not save us. Our future depends on our faith in Him.  He says be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves. At no time are we instructed, however, to become like serpents, or wolves for that matter in order to help save ourselves.

What about when wolves seek to destroy us as they have so often in the past? My study of history shows that governments may come and governments may go, but the faithful remain. There is a reason that when God does send angels to intervene for us, the first thing they always say is "Fear not!"

In these trying times, I would counsel all my brothers and sisters in the faith to fear not. Study, pray and do the work God puts before you. Let the Shepherd protect the flock. It would not be a good idea to become wolves simply because we are afraid of them. We have a far greater protector; one stronger than any enemy the wolves can send against us.

Tom King - Tyler, TX