The Time I Shot a Bird

When I was 10 years old I got a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. It looked just like the Winchester rifle, The Gun that Won the West” which I had seen on the saddles of all the cowboy heroes in all the westerns kids like me loved.

(That the Indians only had bows and arrows in the beginning and that “winning” the western territories of North American meant killing the people who already lived there, seems to have not been a part of my elementary education)

What a thrill. There were little cardboard tubes of BB’s, tiny shotgun pellets, which you poured into the rifle to be ready for rapid-firing. It had lever-action cocking, you had to pump it for each shot, just like Tom Mix or Buffalo Bill had to do with their Winchesters when they whipped them out of the saddle holsters with the leather thongs. Once you learned the technique you could lock and load with the best of them.

So with a big smile on my face I went outside to, well, shoot my new rifle. The first targets were Coke bottles or tin cans but the ultimate target to “shoot for” was a bird. Now, if you are hunter, you are thinking “Yeah, so?” but maybe you had a parent who also shot animals for sport. As for me, I don’t think I my father had even held a weapon since his days as a member of Florida National Guard back in the 20’s and even then only for formations and parades. So when it came to “hunting” I was on my own and that is the good news and the bad news all in one.

The point of this story is that I had a hunter career of only a few hours. When I finally had the chance to sight my rifle on a blue jay and pull the trigger, I killed it and immediately burst into tears. I don’t what I thought, in fact I didn’t think, I just aimed and fired. It just seemed like a good idea at time. I ran in the house crying to my mother who I am sure had sympathy but was silently wondering about mental stability.

I have had many friends and pleasant acquaintances over the years who were hunters and fishing folk. I never told them they were wrong. It’s also not like I don’t kill creatures. I spend a lot of effort this time of the year trying to rid our kitchen counters of big black ants. My daughter and I killed a mouse with the traditional deadly snap trap. I even had the terribly sad task of holding our beautiful seventeen year old cat, Punkin, as the vet administered the lethal injections for obvious humanitarian reasons. However, a hunter I am not nor will be. Self punishment, such as marathons, maybe, but killing animals for the fun of it, no thank you.

Once a few years ago, as he neared the end of his life, we sat with Bill Coffin in his living room in Strafford, Vermont while he watched yellow finches at the bird feeder outside his window. Here is what he said: “Nature is much more interesting when you realize you are about to return to it”. I think of that each time I fill my bird feeder just out the kitchen window where the blue jays, possibly exacting revenge for their ancestor I assassinated in Florida in 1949, eat everything before the sparrow can get there.

Huh! On a journey to return to nature? What a concept.

A few vital minutes in the morning

“Jane and I have always professed different philosophies about language: she will use meditation while I use prayer for the same set of words.”
-Mark Belletini in the Forward to Jane Ranney Rzepka’s FROM ZIP LINES TO HOSAPHONES

As soon as my Macbook comes alive every morning and I sign into my Gmail, I read three daily posts.

Most of the time, the first one is Today’s Gift, a subscription from Hazelden, the famous treatment center based in Center City, Minnesota but now with locations around the country. These are excerpts from a variety of 12 Step daily meditation books.

Then I usually go to the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional, meditations written by a very down-to-earth and wise group of United Church of Christ ministers.

Finally (I should say “for now”) I open up the Daily Compass, readings submitted by Quest for Meaning, the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist Association.

Sounds like a major task, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. I would guess that even with pauses to think about what I just read, it may use up 10 minutes of what time I would probably just waste playing Bubble Witch Saga on Facebook anyhow. That little bit of time could be compared with brushing my teeth or showering, things I need to do to maintain my body. These emails are in fact things I need to do to maintain my soul.

This is not all that meritorious. I am not in the least trying act holier than thou. What I am saying should be pretty obvious: there are certain exercises that I must do or things deteriorate. I hope this mental or spiritual activity each day helps keep me emotionally balanced, maybe even make a little progress.

What are these readings anyhow? Are they religious, maybe propaganda or just more of the flood of Internet postings? Are they meditations, words of guidance, centering readings or….? They help me so what difference does it make? I don’t care what they are called if I find the needed nourishment.

Counting to 10 (No, really…)

In the last couple of weeks I have received some communications that I reacted to with more anger than I remember having in a long time. This is not good, being mad feels terrible.

It is also dangerous to the soul. Thus, the motto found on some church basement walls: “HALT: Never get too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired”, which cautions I often ignore.  The hungry part is there because who can eat while storming around screaming and threatening whoever I think caused it. Then, that kind of behavior is definitely anti-social and lonely. Finally, tiring, leaving me ragged and dragging. Sorta makes the case for putting up the poster in a prominent  place for meeting goers to see.

Words of advice in these situation is often “Count to 10.” However, if you want that to work remember to go very slowly or maybe better, “shampoo, rinse and repeat” ’cause the first time through probably won’t do the trick. It doesn’t for me anyhow.

When I finally get there I remember a couple of important things: 1) Inconsiderate people do mean and hateful things to others on a regular basis and 2) I don’t have to sacrifice that much emotional energy raging against their idiocy.

Oh yeah, I should mention, from their perspective they think they are justified. So doing battle with them is even more foolish.

Simple But Not Easy

A Flying Oval Office

In the days before our present high tech means of transportation, whistle stops were how US Presidential candidates reached the potential voters. One of the famous news photos was of  Harry S. Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with a banner headline stating “Dewey Defeats Truman” and was taken on the rear platform of a train, Wednesday, November 3, 1948, at the St. Louis Union Station. Contrast that mode of communication with the May 1, 2012 television speech to the nation which President Obama broadcast live from a US military base in Afghanistan.

What used to be person-to-person and fairly straightforward has become a blinding confusing of sound and images. We are inundated by candidates debates along with every form of electronic advertising imaginable. If any one got any real clarity from such furor, it would be a miracle. The flow of information, authentic or false, via the Internet, cable TV, global positioning satellites, cell towers and even video billboards on the side bulletins in big cities continue to make communication more and more complicated.

What does it mean for the human spirit that the information flow is non-stop, that “Everybody’s talking’ at me. (and) I don’t hear a word they’re saying”? It means I hear, well,  “only the echoes of my mind”.

That isn’t enough to nurture our spirits. We need to open ourselves to others’ voices so we can find our own. We need to  hear their story so that ours makes sense to us. Filtering out just the right words and exchanging those thoughts honestly with one another is simple but not easy at all. It is, however, well worth the task.


Caring is not that complicated

“I miss you, my kind and gentle brother. Peace be with you. Micah 6:8”

These few words popped up on my Facebook wall one day last week and gave me pause.

They came from a somewhat unexpected source, a colleague that I was just beginning to know when I left our mutual workplace. We had shared many moments of humor just for the fun of it but also as a coping mechanism. I always respected his professionalism and saw in his work that he really cared about his clients.

So really, it should not have surprised me that he made contact this way some weeks after we had parted. This is an example of who he is.  Regardless, it made feel very good and cared for by a friend that I also cared for.

Which begs the question, why do we make such a big deal out of reaching out. Sure, flowers or gift certificates or invitations to coffee, clearly say “I care about you”, but consider the many almost too simple ways that one can give another person support and love.

The point is, we have the capacity to give someone a boost. Having been on the receiving end makes me want to do more of that. 

Thank you, friend.


How hard can being a boss really be?

8 Signs of an Extraordinary Boss

While driving  around in my Senior Advocate duties for my congregation, I heard a couple of radio comedians talking about “not having a boss” and what that meant for a creative person. Then they talked about program directors always second guessing the on air personality. Most of us however, can’t really get away with not having a boss but wouldn’t we all be more creative were the so-called bosses more human?

Writing for, Geoffrey James recently discussed this very thing. In this article, 8 Signs of an Extraordinary Boss, James makes simple but essential points about managing others. For example, these five were personally closest to home:

  • A company is a community, not a machine.
  • Management is service, not control.
  • My employees are my peers, not my children.
  • Motivation comes from vision, not from fear
  • Work should be fun, not mere toil

Now if you are a boss or if you are wondering why the misery of working for one, you will want to read the article. He is getting at something that would make a huge difference for companies. Simply put, it sounds just like the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  As the paragraphs above hint, you can’t be the traditional task master and expect for things to work most efficiently.

When I begin writing these posts a couple of years ago, I had quite a bit of this information handy on this topic but about 99% was from the downside. I am sad to say that over the last year I have collected more negative anecdotes than a good month of Dilbert cartoons.

What if each supervisor or manager decided, starting this coming Monday, to simply treat each person with whom they come in contact like a valuable, competent, colleague instead of an underling? I wager that it would take very few days of the work week to change the whole aggravating culture that is so common in the workplace.

James contrasts what he calls the “average boss” vs the “extraordinary boss” Where do you appear in that scenario?

Oh yeah, and isn’t really time to banish the word “boss”? That would be start.

Slaughterhouse Five & “So it goes”

Slaughterhouse Five

Kindle can be inspiring especially for those of us carrying around our devices. It hadn’t been my recent searching on Amazon I might not be rereading Kurt Vonnegut 

Kindle can be inspiring, as the ad says,  especially for those of us who always have our devices near by.

For example, if it hadn’t been for a recent Amazon Store search, I might not be rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five  and would not remember too much about Billy Pilgrim and Tralfamadore.

So what, one might ask? After conceding that Vonnegut was one of greatest writers of all time, the answer is that I tend to forget that war has been glorified ad infinitum. This novel portrays, how ever obliquely, the cruel firebombing of Dresden at the end of World War Two  and each time I pick it up, Vonnegut startles me with a moving existentialism. The absurdity of war could not be clearer.

However, to this very day, the government of the United States, in spite all wisdom to the contrary, perpetuates the malignant theory that war  has any other actual purpose than the slaughter of human beings.

Thus, I recommend  Vonnegut’s haunting little phrase when a death or deaths happen, “So it goes”, be written on our hearts. Maybe that way we would not forget that, even if none of us escape it, our government should not be the perpetrator of death.

War, huh, yeah. What is it good for. Absolutely nothing