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Archive for January, 2011

Facebook: land of the parental creepers, or the digital front porch?    Maybe both.

In the south, there’s nothing like a good glass of sweet ice tea on a hot summer day.   I sometimes think it ought to be on the government’s list of controlled substances.   Back in the day, before there was air conditioning, people would share glasses and share time out on the front porch, enjoying a cool breeze and watching the world stroll by.

You see, before television, the internet, and Facebook, people shared their lives one moment at a time, person to person, face to face.     Here in 2011, things aren’t quite the same.    We work long hours, go to work out after work, run the kids to and fro to and fro, and then we come home, plop down in our recliners, and watch episodes of The Biggest Loser.

But we do something else, as well, here in the age of 2011; we stay connected – digitally connected.    In an era when we don’t see each other quite so often by the whites of our eyes (or the red, when times are just so), we keep up with one another in different ways.

The Facebook: that world-changing invention of the Harvard few.     What was not intended to be used by us 40 somethings has been embraced in unique and significant ways.      Sharing vacations, sharing pictures, sharing stories, jokes, and even digital vegetables (Farmville, anyone?), we trade time and information in ways that redefine the meaning of the word “connected”.

And I have to admit: I like it.     No real surprise there, for those who are my “digital friends”.

So before we close up this entry, let’s share a few suggested “rules of engagement” for our time together on the digital front porch (with a little country drawl thrown in, just for some 3D effect):

– Don’t just sit there; tell us a little ’bout yourself

– Honesty is still the best policy, even from behind a screen and a keyboard…

– Don’t hog the conversation; oftentimes, a good listener is a welcomed guest out here

– Don’t worry about the young-uns racin’ up and down the digital drive out front.     They’ll find the speed bumps, sooner or later, the easy way or the hard way, and payin’ em too much attention will just distract you from your guests in the other rockin’ chairs.    Besides, if you worry about what they’re doin’ too much, somebody might call you old and cranky, and that just wouldn’t do…

….not out here.    Pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass, and tell us what’s on your mind.

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Day dreaming heads in the sand

Day dreaming, gee, but its grand

I’m in love with an ostrich

All the neighbors complain, ya see

But she loves me

Can’t help it if you don’t understand it…

Yes, it’s that famous chase scene song from Scooby Doo featuring The Creeper.   Who can forget him?   He followed those blasted kids around, trying to scare them away from his territory.    But the kids always emerged victorious.

Which brings ua to our topic today.    Facebook; that glorious land of TMI: too much information.    Especially when its coming from those blasted kids…!      

What exactly is Facebook, anyway?     Is it the proverbial “Digital Front Porch” for my generation, sharing with friends of our own age what is going on in our lives: challenges, victories, and defeats?   (more on that topic in a later post)   

Or, is it like wandering into a party to which we were not invited: an electronic techno pop virtual equivalent of our kids playing Dance Dance Revolution until all hours of the night?

Admittedly, our kids found and embraced Facebook before the older generation did.   Setting up a Facebook page for me was simply an exercise suggested by my wife; an effort to get to know our kid’s friends and follow up on what was going on with their lives.   

 But, a funny thing happened on the way to becoming Creepers.     We, or at least I, found that I liked this thing they called “The Facebook”.     A digital front porch, indeed.        And yet, each of our generations is sharing and embracing the Facebook world in a different way.    And, we each are equally adept at embarrassing the other with our posting and viewing patterns.    Need I say more?

I’m conflicted here.    Can you tell?    TMI is just that: stuff I’d probably rather not know.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I’d venture to guess my kids would say the same.    Touche’?  

Maybe I am in love with an ostrich.    Day dreamin; heads in the sand.   Pretty earthy, huh?    But that’s what ostrich’s do best when they get scared: they hide.

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Remember the 10; Remember the one.   Where were you that night?     Oklahoma State fan or not, most of us who were living in Oklahoma can remember where you were, what you were doing, and so many of the other fine details that burn themselves into the flash drive of our memories when events occur like those experienced on that fateful night.

My son Alec, the basketball aficionado that he is, had somehow never heard about the OSU plane crash of 2001 until it was highlighted on ESPN this morning.    As Sherry and I talked with him earlier about what happened that night, about where we each were and what we were doing, I began to recall the broader context of that month and all of 2001 as a whole.

Interconnectedness, that is, to be connected with each other, to connect reciprocally, is a fact of life that we often don’t recognize, whether sharing moments of joy or moments of pain.     Nate Fleming, one of the fine young men who lost his life that night, was a basketball standout at Edmond North High school.     For several years, Alec has played many of his basketball games in the Edmond North gym, and a tribute to Nate resides in the lobby trophy case that we pass every day.    And yet, Alec had somehow never heard the story.    Even though I never met Nate or his family, I intend to share the exhibit and the story with Alec more fully the next time that he may be blessed to play on that court.    Interconnectedness.

2001, the year that was, was filled with many more such instances of tragedy than just the OSU crash.       Before we share some of those events, and the interconnectedness between us highlighted by them, let’s back up to the years of 1968, and 1984.

2001: A Space Odyssey was a film from 1968 by Director Stanley Kubrick.    Sixteen short years later, in 1984 (the subject of another futuristic, and yet incorrect vision by author George Orwell), a freshman composition class at Oklahoma Christian U. was tasked with watching that epic masterpiece, 2001, and writing an essay about the film and its depiction of mankind and the meaning of life.     As a member of that class, I accepted said assignment and completed it with what I believed was some of my best writing to date.    And yet, that paper earned a D minus, the only D I had ever recalled earning on any assignment in my life to date at that time.    Reportedly, the thoughts behind the paper were not bad, but the absence of proofreading was.    A few less misspelled words, and I would have had an A on the paper, and likely an A in the class.    Instead, the class yielded a B, the only “non A” on my final undergraduate transcript.    And yet, had I earned a better grade on that one paper, I likely would not have developed the resolve, the discipline, and the drive to do better, and my overall college transcript GPA would likely not be what it is today.    It was a defining moment in my life, in learning discipline and in setting goals to excel.    Years later, the then retired comp class professor and I were recounting the class and the fact that just one grade defined my academic record so specifically.    The former professor’s reaction:   “Oh, No.   I think I did that with only one other student, with my class being his only B”.     That student’s name was Todd Dobson.    Interconnectedness.

Todd is the son of Max and Ramona Dobson.     As a very young man, he was a bat boy for the Oklahoma Christian baseball team coached by his father Max.    And Max, the coach, recruited my uncle, Max, the pitcher, and began my family’s connection with and love for Oklahoma Christian University.     Years later, 1984 to be exact, a young freshman trying to find his way in his first few days at OC was offered a job working in the athletic program by Max, the coach.      Many of those early years experiences cemented my passion and love for OC, and helped to draw me back to Oklahoma to work in the finance office for our university.      Max still serves the athletic department today, and his son Todd, serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and is the Chairman of the Finance Committee that helps oversee and serve my area of responsiblity.     In some of my earliest days back in Oklahoma, now as an employee, Todd’s mother Ramona was reaching out and making a difference to draw my wife in to build relationships at the Church and begin to feel more at home.     Interconnectedness.

Fast forward to 2001, the real life odyssey, and the month of January.     It started in dramatic fashion.      The first week or two into the year, I was distractedly and playfully going down the stairs at home with my daughter when I stumbled and broke my ankle.      I was sitting in a chair a few days later, on my wife’s birthday of January 20, nursing that broken ankle and watching the televised broadcast of the first presidential inauguration ceremony of George W. Bush.    The phone rang: it was friend and OC administrative assistant Jane, calling to tell me that Ramona Dobson had just passed away the previous evening.      Only months later, President Bush would set the tone for our nation as we learned of and responded to the tragic airplane hijackings and loss of life for our nation on September 11.      Interconnectedness.

Days later, as I sat watching TV in the same living room nursing the same ankle, news broke about the Oklahoma State plane crash.     So, what’s the point I want to make about interconnectedness ?    Simply this: bad things happen to us in this life, and we remember.    Time passes.    Anniversary dates of events come, and they go.     And we remember.     And yet, as the anniversary date media reports are sharing with us today about the lives of Nate Fleming and others of The 10, we are celebrating the good things they did, what they represented, and what their deaths have taught us about life.    As shared by friends and family in the newspaper reports from earlier today, they have faith in their relationships with The Heavenly Father and that, while they are in a better place today, their lives are a testimony for the rest of us.     While only a few hundred, or even a few thousand, may have known and been close to The 10, arguably millions are touched by their testimony, even in death, and the need to live intentionally today, for we have no guarantee of a tomorrow.

Romans 8:18-30 tells us: Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.  For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.  For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.  We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it.   But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)   And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

May I suggest that the preceding centrally highlighted passage, Romans 8:28, is often taken out of context.     While the words are true individually and in their own right, the context is true and necessary to understand as well.    We are not promised a life that is free of pain or loss.    Those things happen.   …for we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering…

So what’s our challenge: our opportunity?     Live with the end in view; live for today, with an eternal purpose in mind.     Perhaps the sentiment, in closing, can best be shared with the lyrical words of two good friends from the musical Wicked:

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.

 Interconnectedness, indeed.

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Yes, I once owned a pair of boots just like these.    Justin lizard skins.    It was the early 80’s and I was living in and going to high school in the deep south, Louisiana, to be specific.   “Urban Cowboy” was all the rage, and even though I’d never seen the movie (and still haven’t, BTW), wearing boots was cool.   Boots, and western shirts, that is.   I also had a western cut shirt, teal in color, with pearl snaps instead of buttons.   It was cool too, even when worn with white canvas blue swoosh Nikes.   

I grew out of that phase.   I tried wearing the boots to the CPA office during “busy season” one winter, and got quite a few laughs and stares.    “Is that Jeff, wearing boots?”     The  boots finally went to a re-sale shop (the only thing I’ve ever sold, at a resale place, BTW) and pulled a decent price.

I bring all this up after overhearing a discussion on the radio about a recent George Strait concert.     It seems that boots and such are still the rage when listening to what is now “old school” country music.    But long after I had shunned the boots and pearl snap shirt in exchange for more preppy and business dress, I developed a liking for Mr. Strait’s music.

You see, there was this girl from the country, and she liked music that had the fiddle sound.    She was cute.    She still is, BTW.    She introduced me to Mr. Strait, Amarillo by Mornin’, and Ocean Front Property.

Twenty somethin’ years later, I still know that girl, even though I don’t have the boots to prove it.    Not only do I know the girl, I love the girl (which is a good thing, BTW, since I married her), and George Strait has a permanent home in my iTunes library.     That girl had a birthday this week, turning 29something.     You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl; I think I’ve heard that somewhere.    I can definitely prove it, given the opportunity to start a conversation on the right “back in the day” topic about life in the west Texas Panhandle.

So, as we prepare to wrap this one up, here’s a little snippet from Mr. Strait’s Ocean Front Property, with a conclusion all my own:

If you leave me, I won’t miss you,
And I won’t ever take you back.
Girl, your mem’ry won’t ever haunt me
‘Cause I don’t love you, and now if you’ll buy that.

I got some ocean front property in Arizona.
From my front porch you can see the sea.
I got some ocean front property in Arizona.
If you’ll buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.

I don’t worship the ground you walk on.
I never have and that’s a fact.
I won’t follow or try to find you
‘Cause I don’t love you, and now if you’ll buy that.

I got some ocean front property in Arizona.
From my front porch you can see the sea.
I got some ocean front property in Arizona.
If you’ll buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.

You see, I do have some “ocean front property”, so to speak.    You can’t see the water from my front porch, but you can see the buildings nearby.   A picture of it follows below.    It’s the closest thing to an “ocean front view” I’ll probably ever own, but it’s still pretty special, just like that girl I told you about.   

Believe it.   Buy it.    Golden Gate, sold separately….

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An opinions editorial recently published in the Wall Street Journal asked “Are we a nation of wusses?”.     Taking the question at face value and asking the question another way, “Have we gotten soft?”, the answer still might be yes.    We often talk at my employer, a university, about “how we never would have cancelled classes ten or twenty years ago”.   But, I challenge the context, and reference the old accountants/investors maxims of Cost/Benefit and Risk/Return.     Is taking the chance really worth the payoff?    And what, exactly, is the payoff?   Staying on schedule?

This is a digital, connected age, evidenced oh so simply by the fact that I’m writing and posting this for any and all to see without ever leaving the confines of the house to see just how slippery the driveway might still be at a later morning hour.    And, I would suggest, there’s the difference maker for us in 2011 as we ponder this question.   Many of our students and professors at the university have had virtual class meetings this morning.   I have already had numerous work conversations, handled documents by email, changed schedules, etc, and have not even had to stray from my houseshoes.

Looking back over the better part of the past 30 years that I have been mobile and working, and living in a climate that gets occasional frozen precipitation, our habits and tendencies have indeed changed.    In this age of reality TV, the local news media goes way overboard.   Media favorite phrases like  “State of Emergency”, “Frozen Tundra”, “We are Keeping You Safe”, and “We’ll Keep You Advised” have become overblown cliché’, even when it’s just a light dusting of snow expected or realized.

But, even just a little ice can raise the risk profile, and is the potential return worth it?   Exactly how far behind will we become?    I acknowledge and appreciate those who truly are called to duty under such circumstances: Police Officers, emergency workers, maintenance and road crews, and other “essential personnel” (another abused term), but for information workers, students, and the like, can’t we catch up tomorrow?

I have personally known dozens of co-workers, friends, relatives, and even celebrities who ventured out to stay on task and paid the price with auto accidents, major surgery inducing injuries, death, and the like.      And, may I suggest, for many if not most, it’s just not worth the risk.    The cost is too high for what is obtained in return.     And, it “forces” many to be confined to time with their families; time they likely would not spend otherwise.  

So, yes, I agree, we may in fact be “a nation of wusses”, but I wholeheartedly support the movement.    In fact, in just a little while, I will be heading into the office to get some work done and “clean up” after a morning of cancelled meetings and inactivity.  

But, in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy one more hour in my houseshoes…

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Failure to move to non adjacent lane for an emergency vehicle: that was my crime.    The layman’s term for it is sometimes referred to as “failure to yield“.

In the immortal words of Hannah Montana, aka Miley Cyrus:

Everybody makes mistakes
Everybody has those days
Everybody knows what, what I’m talkin ’bout
Everybody gets that way

Sometimes I’m in a jam
I’ve gotta make a plan
It might be crazy
I do it anyway

Nobody’s perfect
I gotta work it…Nobody’s perfect
You live and you learn it
And if I mess it up sometimes
Nobody’s perfect

I was fortunate, but also prepared.     I had my proof of insurance card.     I had my lovely wife up front and two of our three beautiful children in the back seat.    What could have painted a better picture for one of Oklahoma’s finest?   I was respectful.    I said “sorry”.   I said “sir”.    I said “thank you”.    And, I had a squeaky clean driving record for him to pull up on the old’ DPS mobile computer…and yet, I still messed up.    It seems that my opinion about the short distance between where he was parked on the shoulder and where I was going to get off the toll road (which I had just paid to drive on, BTW) and his opinion were quite different.    But, he was right, and I was wrong.   The rules are there for a reason, namely, his safety, and mine.    No short distance to my goal excuse or hall pass is good enough.    But, he just issued me a warning, thankfully.

I slowly signaled, pulled away from his souped up Dodge Charger, and took extra time to stop and turn right at the next red light.   “Good, he’s not still following me”, I thought.   I pulled into a gas station to fill the wife’s Honda, and I gave some thought to what had just happened, and what I could learn from it.    I then paid for our gas (and the imbedded state and federal highway taxes, which helped pay for the souped up Dodge Charger, and probably also go to help pay for the toll road (which I had just paid to drive on, BTW).

I then was reminded of a timeless tune sung by The Back Street Boys:

I don’t care who you are
Where you’re from
What you did
As long as you love me

No, it wasn’t the highway patrolman singing to me in my mind.   I’m not that strange.    No, it wasn’t my wife, or even the kids in the back seat.

In all seriousness, I was thinking about Jesus, of all people.    You see, I did not intend to do anything wrong.   I did not intend to put anyone, or anything, at risk.    And yet I did, mostly by just going thru the motions, and getting in a hurry.   

But it doesn’t matter.    I’ve been pardoned, both by the powers that be, on the toll road (which I had just paid to drive on, BTW) or the road of life, which is governed, and protected, by a Higher Power.

John 14:15-17:  “If you love me, obey my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

It’s good to know that I can be forgiven, even for failure to yield.

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Interesting dialogues were overheard amongst The Family on Sunday.     The day began with one between mother and son, and was followed later by one from a preacher in an unfamiliar setting.     There are no coincidences?

Saturday included basketball, like many family Saturdays often do.    My son continues to play the game, 6 or 7 years running, with a great passion.   To say he loves the round ball is to say that a dog loves chewing on a bone.    The game has taken hold of him.     So much so, he recently gave himself a new middle name on Facebook: Lebron.       You see, he’s named after his maternal maiden namesake for his first name, the original 1787 Irish immigrant for his last name, and about 6 generations of paternal family for the middle name, that is, until he declared himself an honorary descendant of the one who took his talents to South Beach.

Maybe this new namesake is a search for good hoops karma, but I don’t think it will make him any taller or jump any higher.    We’ll see what Mother Nature has in store as he gets a little older.    Maybe the new jump training shoes he asked for and received from Santa Clause for Christmas will help where the DNA lets off.

Sunday morning, as the four of us were preparing to leave for worship service, I overheard a snippet of a conversation between mother and son: “of all the families I had to be born into, why couldn’t this one be tall and black?”.     So what’s wrong with being short and white?     It worked for Napoleon (or not)…. but he did not have aspirations to one day play in the NBA.

Fast forward to Sunday night.     The day before our nation and society honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our class from church made an organized visit to the evening worship assembly of a predominately African-American congregation across town.    It was a rewarding and beautiful evening.      We were blessed to worship our LORD together, and to learn more about each other and the cultural differences that are so rich and meaningful to us.

And yet, we were reminded by the preacher’s words from Acts and Romans that we are all part of one family: the family of God.    And his conclusion: “this evening has been coming together long before any of us thought about it; nothing happens by accident; it’s all part of God’s plan”.

So maybe we could say, “some were appointed to be point guards, some power forwards, some 7 foot centers, and others 6th men, coaches, trainers, and fans in the stands, each according to the measure of skill God has given them…”.

Actually, I think Romans 12:6-9 tells us:

 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.  If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well.  If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.   Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

So there we have it.    We all have something unique we are blessed with and called by God to use, and we are all blessed to be a part of His family.

Even if your given middle name is Dean, instead of Lebron….

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