Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve, so just a few words

Last Sunday I listened to a wonderful sermon delivered by Rev. Charles Stanley out of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. I usually try to use words in more of a tongue-in-cheek style but it is Christmas so allow me a few sentences of a more serious matter - the true meaning of Christmas in the life of a Christian.

Christianity gets so much negative press thanks to actions of narrow-minded fools who think their interpretation of the Bible is the way it should be. I was taught growing up that belief in God is not determined by the denomination of the church down the street. It is a willful act that comes about when the soul reaches out for something one feels is missing in their lives. It happened to me when I was young and I am glad for it every day, well, most days. Some days I completely lose focus on the direction I should be headed and veer off into places where I just create more obstacles that keep me from reaching my full potential. But that's okay, at least I'm not smoking crack or cheating people out of their mortgages when I stumble. I usually tip back a few too many Budweisers and cuss.

Everyone stumbles. It is nobody's right to judge me or anybody else when stumbles happen. I sin, you sin, we all sin. The beauty of Christianity is the unconditional love of God that allows us to be forgiven. We are to love all of humanity in the same way God loves us. That is the number one rule the Bible teaches. If we are to love one another unconditionally then why is there so much hate in the world? The true meaning of Christianity rarely gets any press. What would such a positive message do for the world? Promoting "love thy neighbor as thyself" might create less news. That would be network nightmare in today's society. Imagine an evening broadcast full of heartwarming stories about people doing good things for strangers all over the world. We are lucky if we even hear one. Instead we hear about Jerry Falwell and his horrible comments on why 9/11 happened or Pat Robertson getting more headlines for condemning an SNL skit. It's not our right to condemn anyone for anything; rather, it's our duty to try and promote peace and love toward one another. It's difficult, but it's better than hatred, envy, intolerance, and other ill feelings that keep people from getting along with one another.

Then there are all the religious groups that hold their support ransom during the political season. Listening to the news is so frustrating because again, most of the time these zealots do more harm for Christianity than good. Very few public figures of faith touch on the love the Bible promotes and when they do the message often comes across as judgmental or condemning. That is not how it should be. Lessons should be delivered but the delivery is what makes the words count.

Last Sunday Dr. Stanley stated that the Creator of the world came into the world He created and that is why Christmas should be celebrated. I have never heard a more profound statement in any sermon I have ever listened to before. God sent his Son into the world in order to add humanity to the Holy Trinity. How can one preach about a subject like temptation if one has never been tempted? Bringing Jesus into the world was necessary to add validity to lessons available in the Bible.

The Trinity is often the area that loses people. Christianity is completely based on faith. Having faith is hard; maintaining faith can be downright difficult. I chose to do the best I can to hold onto my faith. Sometimes I am asked to answer some very difficult questions when matters of religion come up. I don't have all the answers. I can't even get a job with any ivy-league degree how am I going to answer all the questions people have concerning religious matters? There is no way I can and that is okay with me because I don't need to be able to answer those questions for myself. I wish I could, but I am not there yet. Sometimes the only answer I can give is: I don't know but I have faith that such is true. All I hope to do is try and be a good example of a Christian. A lot of times I am most definitely not, but that's okay. I do have my moments though.

Interpretation has been dividing humanity since the beginning of time. This is why political parties came about in the early days of America. Our Constitution split politicians when there were the strict constructionists versus the broad constructionists trying to interpret laws meant to govern the country. The same happens with the Bible. For way too many years I used to quote the verse in Genesis that states that the Lord has given "all things, even the green herbs" right before I would light up. Maybe a bit of broad constructionism there but it worked for me, until I went to jail. Oh if we could all reach that middle ground.

All I really want to say is Merry Christmas, even to you heathens that will burn in hell...I kid I kid. You heathens have a Merry Christmas too! Also, we should love one another, even the annoying people. I have work to do because it is football Saturday and it is truly difficult for me to love Bob Costas when he moves his lips.

Peace, you all!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A worthy idea, but is America ready?

The more I think about it the more I wonder if banning cell phone use within the confines of an automobile would actually make the roads safer. We have grown so accustomed to being able to instantly address issues that arise. Within minutes we take care of problems, answer questions, change schedules, check the stock market, and complete Scrabble moves. Implementing preventative measures will not teach us the lessons we need. A cell phone ban in cars is a proposal that would do wonders for our society only if people viewed it from the proper angle - whatever it is, it can wait. Truly it can, no matter what situation might come up. I doubt that patience will be the lesson learned from the ban. Our roads will not be any safer unless people remember how it used to be.

Can you imagine driving from Oxford, Maryland to Key West, Florida without a cell phone? I did it many times. From the time I was 16 until I turned 27 or 28 I drove a few heaps of junk up and down the east coast. More than few times I had to sit on the side of the road and wait for a good samaritan or a police officer to swing by and offer some assistance. I cannot recall exactly how many times this happened but I do know that many a quiet moment was had.

There isn't much to do on the sides of I-95, Route 29, and some off-shoot back roads but watch the world go by. The world has plenty to offer if you just sit back and watch it rotate while waiting for a tow truck. I used to be able to exhibit some patience. Watching a pine tree sway in the wind fascinated me. I also know for a fact that if you stay quiet and look close enough you might see an owl sitting in the nook of a tree. It is better to witness some rarity in the natural world than placing a "j" on a triple letter score isn't it?

When was the last time you stopped on the side of the road and asked someone if they needed assistance? I think it has been over 8 or 9 years for me. Every time I see a car broken down on the side of the road I say to myself - 'it's okay, they probably have a cell phone.' I wonder if I have ever been wrong?

Any voicemail or email with the message 'get back to me right away' should just be erased. I've said it and I've heard it and I hate it. It has barely been a week since I sent an "urgent" message to my friend Lesley. Sorry, Lesley, the dog picture with the Packers' helmet could have waited until Saturday. It is the implication of 'or else' that creates unnecessary drama, tension, and work in the life of the sender and recipient. The ability to wait has become a lost art. Just a reminder, the great epic "Ben Hur" was filmed without cell phones. How it was filmed I haven't a clue but it was.

For years problems were solved, even bigger problems than moving movie extras around, without the use of cell phones. Whatever the issue is it can wait until you drive through a work zone on the highway to be addressed. How ugly is it that we aren't willing to ensure the safety of others when directing our attention to non-pressing matters? Then there are the pressing the health of our loved ones.

This can be solved by re-prioritizing what is most important in our lives. Of course economic pressures often do not allow us to do the things we should. I'm sure most people would rather take care of loved ones who are ill but how will bills get paid and food be put on the table if jobs are lost because family came first? There are still some bosses that allow employees to attend to family matters but those stories are rare and I think they mostly take place in Europe...

When my stepfather passed away unexpectedly in 1992 I was living in New York City. That day I went to work then headed over to a friend's house for dinner. At the friend's house I called home to check in about some travel plans and that is when I found out. It was several hours after he died. I had to get home, pack, go to Brooklyn, and meet up with family. By the time everything was taken care of in New York it was too late to get on the road and drive to Fredericksburg. We finally made it to the house late in the afternoon the next day, almost 24 hours later. It was tough not being able to be home right away. Yes it was sad, but everybody did the best they could and you know what, it was all fine. Friends filled in where family could not. People stepped up to fill the voids and attend to what needed to be done. I am so glad I did not have a cell phone going off the whole time I was en route to the destination I need to get to. There was a calm and a peace within the family that was never interrupted by some stupid ringtone.

I just paid my cell phone bill this morning. Verizon got 63 bucks that I need to use for Christmas presents and that isn't even for an Iphone. 63 bucks for a flip phone that I hate to use because it is such a pain to operate. On Tuesday I was driving home from Assateague and sent four text messages from that phone while on Route 50. On three of them I was fine but on one I swerved over onto the shoulder. I'm definitely not as good at texting and driving as I once was. Not one of those texts dealt with a matter of any urgency. What a stupid idea it was to even pull the phone out of the glove box.

Remember when all you had was a landline? I do. It was fun coming home at the end of the day and retrieving messages. People understood that life did not revolve around the call they were making. There was always a day or two grace period to get back in touch. If someone lost their patience and called you a few too many times in one day that person was considered a stalker. Waiting wasn't always easy but it certainly was good exercise...

I think it might be time for me to downgrade even further. Even though I think a landline would be an upgrade from my present cell phone situation. I would definitely get rid of my cell phone if the ban wasn't just for the inside of an automobile but extended to say city limits. And how about on public transportation, on sidewalks, in lines at the grocery store! People might learn how to be considerate, helpful to others, and patient if we just made phone calls within the confines of our own homes. Imagine that, the way it used to be...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Melodrama Demeans Truth

My grandmother once told me that there is no pain like that of losing a child from an unforeseen ailment. If such is the case then I cannot imagine what it must feel like to lose a child to his or her own doing because that child sought escape from the torment of peers. I doubt there are words to define what Tyler Clementi's parents suffer throughout every minute of each and every day. As they faced the press this morning the pain in their face read as big as a billboard in full sunlight and it was extremely unsettling. Then came a few staged scenes in the pre-shot video leading up to a live interview. In a tragic case so full of despair, vileness, and loss, NBC did Jane and Joe Clementi a disservice by airing actions in their home that were obviously staged and directed by someone outside of the family.

There are enough nauseating elements to Tyler Clementi's story without NBC having to create more. Do viewers across the land really need to see the Clementi's leafing through a photo album of Tyler as a young boy in order to increase the drama and get the point across? No, there is enough sadness surrounding the story to stick with the viewer for days. Such actions only cheapen the situation. One clip of an unapologetic Dharun Ravi was enough to take the level of truth in this tragedy to remarkable levels.

Ravi is the roommate who allegedly set up the webcam that filmed Tyler Clementi when he was involved in business that was nobody else's but his own. The fact that Ravi's trial continues after he rejected a plea bargain tells me he truly thinks he is innocent or his lawyer knows of one of those dark little alleys of justice that lead to good chances of having the case thrown out.

Considering all the elements involved in the story, emotional turmoil exists without props and without the direction of some cameraman who just received a Bachelor of Arts in Communications or Film. Such instances are almost as disgusting as the actions of Dharun Ravi. Let the facts tell the story. Tyler Clementi's death and everything associated with his passing does not deserve to be further victimized by melodrama.

Staging emotional triggers should be left to scenes involving the Kardashians and the Teen Moms. I have worked in certain situations and watched some kid holding a camera, under the age of 25, think he knows what is best for the American audience. Sometimes it works and it entertains. Then sometimes consideration for the human element is completely ignored and the result is nauseating. What is the mindset that leads one to think that staging a scene in the tragedy surrounding Tyler Clementi's death is necessary for the piece? Then Ann Curry had to start whispering questions to the mother. Her behavior certainly did not add anything to the piece. She became instantly un-watchable with groundbreaking inquiries such as 'what do you wish you could have done differently.' Jane Clementi has enough of her own demons to face. This morning's broadcast offered many more opportunities to help people facing similar circumstances by covering outlets of assistance rather than re-hashing the past.

Of course the news has been getting away with such nonsense for years. Maybe now is a good time to retire the wanna-be entertainers in favor of journalists who know how to report the truth without melodrama. The more that news leans toward reality television the less amount of truth will be available to the public. Our world is full of enough fiction; we need all the truth we can get. Journalists need not demean the profession they have chosen by turning a news reports into skits. We have enough Alec Baldwins in the world to do the entertaining for us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Maryland's Quiet Winter Wonderland

In summer's wake comes the stillness. The masses have retreated back to their routines, which do not involve driving to the ocean and tying up traffic all along eastbound Route 50. Colder breezes bringing their chill from the north inspire hibernation. Those that can seek refuge in warmer climates to the south. Those that cannot are left to suffer through winter's bullying until spring returns.

In any weather the beach remains. The sand still soaks up whatever sun might pierce through the cloud cover. Waves still break upon this sand. The natural world does not shut down just because the Boardwalk empties out. There is still much left to observe and it is all quite beautiful.

Get in your car; there are no delays at the Bay Bridge. Ocean City has not completely shut down; she has merely changed her attire in favor of a more serene look. You will not be disappointed if you go. The memories created in winter months can have just as much impact as their summer cousins. There are less distractions so these memories will be clearer, more precise, and full of detail. Do not let the doldrums take hold. Summer will come again. Take a drive and drink in all the beauty of winter. Embrace it, if you can, and winter will embrace you back. As long as you have a thick coat that embrace will be surprisingly warm...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making your tummy warm since 1958 but now it's trying to kill you!

Fear the noodle!

Instant noodle soups have gained sudden notoriety, because apparently NPR's Planet Money couldn't find any other news fit to report on, because said delicious treats pose a potential threat to hungry people.

When will the sensationalism stop?

Of course ramen, Cup o' Noodles (the former name), and anything else you add boiling water to poses a potential threat. Swiss Miss better watch her pretty little ass because the wolves are looking for any ol' carcass to throw to a lawsuit-hungry audience.

Most of the injuries that happen with the instant noodle brands happen to children. Anything that hurts a child is awful, it really the styrofoam cup's fault? (Insert Seth Meyer's voice here...Really!?) Do companies really need to revamp their whole system in order to adapt to society's lack of practical knowledge and coordination...Really!?

Throughout my lifetime I have spilled countless ounces of dangerous liquids on kitchen floors, car consoles, and boat decks but have never ever lost a drop of delicious broth from an instant meal. Do I have the coordination of a Cirque Du Soleil performer? I should say not. I was just taught to keep hot liquids on a level surface. While many lessons I learned just kind of vanished into nothingness that basic knowledge of be very careful with stuff that can burn the heck out of you sort of stuck with me. Simple right?

Yes, it is simple. Why does something that seems so simple become news? I have an idea...

Poor parenting. If, as reported some years ago, elementary school children are having oral sex parties then I'm led to believe that some practical lessons aren't being taught in the home. Why are the instant noodle companies being called out and not the parents who didn't properly teach their children how to handle hot liquids? Yes, accidents happen even when a parent is around but if Cup o Noodles burns become newsworthy could there be an underlying issue?

Instant noodles have been around since 1958. I guess the lesson of putting dangerous liquids on a level surface, which was routinely taught in the houses and elementary schools I stepped foot in, has been replaced by App Development for the IPhone and Filmmaking. Your sixth grader is a whiz at his or her Iphone and can edit a 10 minute short film but the poor thing cannot pour burning water into a styrofoam cup without needing a skin graph. Why are children the majority of burn victims in this modern epidemic? If instant noodles are the origin of such newsworthy finger pointing why wasn't this reported before? Did Planet Money approach the story from the best angle? How many more questions can I pose to you, my faithful and loving audience?

For most of my life I have enjoyed watching the news. When CNN and The Weather Channel came along I thought they were two of the greatest inventions ever. When I lived in Charleston, S.C. my buddies and I would spend hours in front of the television watching hurricanes move up the coast and planning our surf outings. 9/11 had me glued to CNN. I thought their reporting on everything that was going on was stellar. Unfortunately, something has happened along the way and no news now means need news.

This summer there wasn't an media outlet that didn't do anything it could to instill impending peril in the lives of millions when covering the earthquake on the East Coast and Hurricane Irene a few days later. Wolf Blitzer and Jim Cantore reached Marty Bass level on the annoyance scale when they focused more on an Escape From New York type strategy rather than getting to the real story that was about to occur in New Jersey and Vermont. The best thing to happen throughout the whole coverage was when the guy in Virginia Beach mooned the camera as the reporter was trying to stir up the doom factor. That naked behind was the best message sent to contemporary journalists and the timing was priceless. YouTube it if you haven't seen it!

Now if I want to be informed I go to the newspaper. Network news seems to have lost a lot of its integrity. As a kid I thought Walter Cronkite was one of the most honest men I had ever laid eyes on yet never met. Peter Jennings dying of lung cancer did more to help me quit smoking than watching the suffering of those closer to me. I used to love hearing both the good and the bad from well-informed professional journalists. I find it very interesting that I, like many others, now turn on Comedy Central if I want to watch good reporting. Hopefully NPR doesn't spiral down the same path as many other news agencies.