Talking About Boring Old Glory Days

Amtrak recently called to inform me that the last leg of planned a round trip to California will NOT be in business class. I’ll be refunded the difference between what I’ve already paid and the price of a coach seat for that trip, which is scheduled for August. That’s OK with me. The train from Chicago to Michigan has pretty wide coach seats anyway. My trip will be for participation in a 50th high school reunion. Sometime in the 1990s I read Robert Fulgum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. One of his essays included the suggestion that one should attend at least one of our high school reunions. He made a good case. Living far from California during the 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, and 40th reunions, I’ve attended none. This will probably be my last chance.

“Springsteen Therapy” (not recognized by the American Psychological Association) has helped me to negotiate the change of life that I’m in. The more CDs I borrow from the library and copy onto my computer and the more YouTube playlists I listen to, the more I appreciate the breadth of the man’s compositional skills. One song I’ve heard in both places has been “Glory Days”, which tells stories of people about 10 or 20 years out of high school running into each other and having nothing else to talk about than their “boring old glory days.”  As I prepare for the trip to California, I need to get ready for that possibility, partly because my high school days were fairly inglorious. I may find myself tonguetied.

There is an alternative. I regularly get together with a group of guys, many of whom are older than myself. I can’t say whether it’s because of the character of the group or why, but we manage to talk neither of “glory days” nor “aches and pains.” Maybe the reunion will include an “aches and pains” corner.

What will there be to talk about?  Maybe I should just slowly sip on my beer and listen,  saying “ooh and aah” as I listen to others’ stories about their own and their children’s accomplishments and look at pictures of grandkids. Probably that would be the best thing I could contribute to the gathering.  

As for “what are you doing now?”, I’d better figure something out.  “Blogger” probably won’t carry much of a cachet.

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan

We only Live to Serve

The local school board has a sudden vacancy for the remainder of a term, stretching until the end of 2020.  There have been ads in the paper asking for interested people to submit applications by April 12. On the 15th interviews will be conducted and an appointment will be made.  I walked over to the school district office today and turned in a letter of interest. I said to the receptionist that I’m hoping they have a bushel basket full of same. I only live to serve, but maybe I’m not so eager to do so.

Part of what the board wants to know is if the person whom they eventually appoint will be interested in running for a full 6-years term during the general election in 2020. I don’t know if they want someone interested in running, or someone NOT interested in running. I am NOT interested in elective office.

In 2001, thinking to “raise my profile in the community”, I volunteered to serve on the board of Kaohsiung American School. In 2002 I was appointed board chair. It was the unhappiest year of my life. So WHY would I volunteer for THIS thing? I’ve no interest this time in a heightened profile. In the end, I hope that the letter of interest I submitted is only one of a million they’ve received or that they find something else about me that is disqualifying.  Maybe I should’ve mentioned my pro-union sentiments.

Keystone Cops

Winter was not kind to our car, a 2008 Honda. Or maybe, “the way I drive” is not kind to our car. The nylon liners inside the front fenders have deteriorated. I replaced the one on the right using zip ties instead of expensive twist fasteners. Under the front end and on the left side I did similar “maintenance and modification” where bits had disappeared over the years. But “tightening here” seems to have resulted in “making things worse over there.” A few weeks ago something appearing to be a plastic box with tubes coming out if it came loose near the front left corner. It started to rub against the wheel when the car was in reverse. Since I don’t reverse a lot, I tied it kind of back in place with some Taiwanese “red string” and have gone merrily on my way.  Today, Char had a Keystone Cops moment.

Did you ever watch the Cops?  Keystone was a silent film studio in Los Angeles in the early 20th century. Learning my hometown as a kid in the 50s and 60s, I sometimes recognized locations from the short Keystone Cops episodes that were shown on TV between the cartoons of which I watched far too many. In one that I recall but cannot find on YouTube, the Cops in their Model T Ford were chasing a miscreant through the streets. They hit a bump, a pothole, or a streetcar track, and their engine fell out. Today in Holland something came loose as Char exited our driveway, reversing through a pothole where it meets the street.When she shifted into “Drive” she heard dragging noises from under the car. I heard a knock on the door, and went out barefoot to gather up a pile of broken plastic from under the car and behind it in the street.  It wasn’t the engine, so I sent her on her way. We’ll need to have the car looked at soon.

I’m glad that 21st century cops aren’t the buffoons portrayed by the Keystones early in the 20th. Sometimes I feel like cars haven’t changed much.

Walking on the Wild Side

Lou Reed’s 1972 Album “Transformer” included the song, Walk on the Wild Side. The title was a line used by cross-dressing men who relocated to New York City and supported themselves as prostitutes. “Take a walk on the wild side” was what they would say to potential customers. In his song, Reed introduced some friends from his own cross-dressing prostitute life. From whenever it was that meaning of the line was brought to my attention, I was careful not to use it. I didn’t want to be misunderstood. Back in New York, potential customers of street-walking sex-workers were already walking on a wild side. The invitation from the male prostitutes was to walk on an even wilder one.

 

Every endeavor has its wild side. Though we may think of persons in some occupations as dour or boring, that’s more likely a function of their personality than of their profession. Accountants may do creative things with numbers, agricultural engineers with drainage systems, and assessors with valuations.  (Those are just a few occupations that begin with “A”. There are 25 more letters and thousands more occupations.) Taking a “walk on the wild side” comes to mean, “adding risk”.

 

Twenty years ago, the organization that employed me changed the way that employees’ pensions would be managed. I attended an informational session at which a representative of a large New York bank that was about to take over everyone’s accounts tried to put us all at ease. She was very friendly and competent, but totally lost the portion of the audience who were near retirement when she casually dropped the word “risk” into a sentence. You’d think she was a man dressed up as a woman asking us to “take a walk on the wild side.”

 

Every endeavor has a wild side, and it has a “safe” side. (Admittedly, the idea of being a cross-dressing street walker in New York City in 1972 gives me pause. I can’t see the safe side of that one.) We can operate in ways that keep us “on the safe side” even if we’re test pilots, fire fighters or airport security screeners. It’s not hard to imagine a politician amending even a tired out stump speech for a different audience in order to “stay on the safe side.” Sometimes college students choosing courses for an upcoming term avoiding certain departments or instructors in order to keep “on the safe side” and protect their potential grade point averages. One can even conceive of young men and women enlisting to serve as U.S. Marines showing bravado in front of their non-enlisting friends, and choosing the safest of the occupational areas available to them when they sign papers with a recruiter.

 

Neither the safe nor the wild side is sinful. The safe side carries the risk of being bored. I admire George H. W. Bush, who died in November of 2018. Even with various  shortcomings that became evident during the four years that he served as the President of the United States, he showed himself to be one who walked on the wild side. He took a lot of risks as he became and then served as president. After he retired he celebrated his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays by going skydiving.

 

Walk on the wild side. Indeed. See Ya’ there.

Metaphors For Life On Committees

Pacific Island Surfers

The Polynesians who developed the sport and art of surfing (riding waves) learned that in order to catch a wave one had to look into the distance and observe how the sea was running, then position oneself and ones surfing board, paddling it in order to create momentum in order to be moving when the swell reached one. To do otherwise was to risk missing the wave or being crushed by it when it broke in a place where the surfer was unprepared to be met by it.

So, for committee life: Look to what is coming and start moving to meet it before it arrives.

Japanese Womens Volleyball Team

When a team plays volleyball, all members of the team must be aware of the position of the ball, of each other, and of the members of the opposing time at all times during play. Though one or another member may be designated the team captain, during play all are equal. They even rotate between serves so that all members play all positions.

Were they to await the captains command on who was to receive and return the ball each time it came over the net, they would not be a team at all, and the game would be lost.

That being said, if any member of the team calls, mine (or its equivalent in Japanese) when a ball comes over the net, other members defer to that call and adjust themselves to receive the setup from that member or, anticipating that she will put the ball back over to the opposing side, prepare for its return.

So, for committee life:Watch out for everyone and everything. Dont wait for the captains command. Be able to play in all positions.

Minibus Taxi Drivers in South Africa

The minibus taxi is probably the cheapest and most dangerous way to travel from place to place in South Africa. These vehicles, overloaded and under-maintained, are often driven at high speed on narrow roads in bad conditions, resulting in frequent accidents and many traffic deaths. One who drives such a conveyance must look ahead, not only to the back of the vehicle most closely in front of ones own, but through the back window, interior and front window of the car or other minibus taxi in front to the road conditions several vehicles ahead. In that way one can apply ones own vehicles worn-out brakes in time to slow or stop when things get congested.

So, for committee life: Watch out for possible negative things ahead. Dont wait for the one immediately ahead of me to tell me what is happening if it is possible to see farther along.

The Magi who Saw The Star

They weren’t looking for the newborn king of the Jews, they were just looking at the stars, and based on what they saw and how they interpreted their sightings, acting accordingly. When they, in the east, beheld a new star, they came seeking the One whom they had decided had been born to be the king, the one whom the stars appearance had announced.

So, for committee life: Keep eyes open for everything that is out there. Some of it may mean something.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

The musicians and groups that were my favorites in my teens and early twenties have long since been eclipsed by others more recent, with the exception of Judy Collins. Thankfully, she’s still touring, she’ll be in Petoskey on June 8th. But I don’t have to go even that far to see her. Through the magic of the internet and Youtube I can call up almost everything she ever preformed on camera or recorded in a studio. From the time I first fell in love with her voice and stagecraft I assumed whatever she sang to be a “Judy Collins” song. I later learned that besides her own stuff she performed a lot written by others, including a lot of Leonard Cohen’s poetry. The combination of Cohen’s language and Collins’ voice can pierce to the depths of my soul. Though these words are Cohen’s, they live in me in Collins’ voice:

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

We hear something like the voice of that “pretty woman leaning in her darkened door” in Moses’ request to see the face of God. It comes at the end of a story of bargaining. Moses asked for this, and it was granted. He asked for that, and got that, too. But when he asked for the face, he didn’t get it. It’s kind of like if a person writing a doctoral dissertation. First she wants to please her committee and get the degree. Then she wants to produce something useful to science. Beyond that, few doctoral dissertations lead to patent-ready ideas that yield vast wealth…, not that people don’t hope.

Cohen’s poem also mentions a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch, admonishing that we not ask for so much. The beggar represents caution. He’s like a parent saying to a child, “You have the freedom to eat any of the good food in this house, and you can go anywhere in it, but you can’t go out the gate into the street because you’ll get run over by an SUV.”

Moses asked to see “the dazzling light of God’s presence”. The simple Hebrew word in the text is Kabod. The response was not what he wanted to hear. It uses the Hebrew word Achri. Much less than dazzling light and far from face. It denotes a different end. Achri is used elsewhere in Hebrew to denote the rear end of a cow.

The principle articulated by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (others who were once teenage favorites) in You Can’t Always Get What you Want might apply. Whoever or whatever entity we face, whether we ask for more, or don’t ask for so much, one thing is certain, we’re going to get what we get. But don’t let that stop you. Dream. Ask. Like Moses in the story you might hear, “OK”. You might even hear that more than once. And you might hear “no” or “not that, but this.” Receive what you get, even if that’s only a glimpse of a cow’s ass. Let that be enough as you continue to ask for more.

 

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

 

Differing Idioms

My computing needs are rather modest: some communication; some word processing; some presentation-making; and some web search capacity.  I didn’t need the newest most powerful machine to do my work at Tainan Theological College.  When I arrived in 2004 a hand-me-down previously used by the Secretary to the college president and then by a clerk in the general affairs office was dragged out of a storage closet for me.

Through the years I moved up the feeding chain. The computer that I used from 2014 to 2017 had been in the office of an adjunct professor of history (with a Ph.D.) before it moved to me upon her departure. Among the things on the hard disk were several files related to the school’s history, and lots of old photographs. At the beginning of the new school year in September, it began doing strange things, and it gave up the ghost on the 21st.  I told the school’s Information Technology guy, who promised to drop by on Friday morning.  Before he arrived, I  turned on the switch. 

Arriving at my door, he glanced at the screen, noticed that something was happening, and announced that there was no problem. I told him that the same thing had happened for over an hour the previous afternoon, so he actually touched the keyboard and tried a few things. He then announced that the hard disk had evidently failed, and unplugged all the wires.  He asked if I wanted the data that were stored in the disk, of if I was willing to just let it all go.  I asked for data recovery, and with a big smile he carried the whole box out the door. 

Early in September I conversed with the school archives’ research assistant during a dinner. I mentioned the historical files and she promised to bring up a thumb drive to transfer them to her office. She never followed up.  At an out-of-town on the 23rd I was seated directly in front of her. During a break I mentioned the computer failure and possible loss of her files. She was surprised that two weeks had elapsed between our conversations, responding only, “time flies.” An hour later she tapped me on the shoulder. She had phoned the Information Technology guy. She relayed the information that “we must pray about that computer.” This did not make me feel confident.

On the 27th I phoned to ask after my computer. I was not told anything about having to pray. In fact, I was told that the experts to whom he had delivered the hard disk had already restored most of the data, and that all should be well by the afternoon. I surmised that he spoke to the woman from the archives in HER spiritual idiom, and to me in MINE.  Either that, or between Saturday morning and Monday morning the Holy Spirit intervened in and interfered with my hard disk in such a way that by Monday further prayer was not required.

 

Literature of the Wounded

Literature of the Wounded

 

“Literature of the wounded” emerged in China in the late 1970s, after the death of Mao Dze-dong. It described the sufferings of communist party staff and non-party intellectuals during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 76. The new literature attacked official hypocrisy and corruption. A more current European and American version might be found in the #metoo and #churchtoo comments and warnings issued by women who have been sexually abused in political, business, entertainment and church organizations around the world.

Being male, I stand on thin ice if I speak promises of healing and uplift to to women, men or anyone else who has been abused. Any assurances I might give, no matter how many Bible verses I pile on them, ring hollow. The claim that “the wicked will be cast to the ground” can be seen as the most resonant line in Psalm 147. And we’ve begun to see that happen some entertainers and pastors.

Hoping for their downfall only goes part way. We need to join the many women, men and children whose hearts have been broken, whose psyches have been wounded and whose bodies have been trodden underfoot. Preachers sometimes say that after he ascended, “Christ has no hands but yours.” If that’s so, then reach out your hands to those who suffer, listen without explaining, and offer a hand of uplift. And if it’s not so, reach out, listen and lift anyway. After all, whether it be with Christ’s hands or with our merely human ones, the work is in front of us.

 

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

It’ll Show on your Face

It’ll Show on Your Face

In South Africa under the Apartheid system, football was primarily followed by black people, and rugby almost exclusively by white people. A story is told, of Nelson Mandela. After getting out of prison he attended a rugby match between a team from England and the South African national team. He noticed that white South Africans were cheering for the national team, and black South Africans were cheering for England. After he became the president he made a point of being present and visible at rugby matches. He urged ALL South Africans to support the national team. He became a prime example of one who wanted, from the depths of his heart, to overcome racist separation.

I was once the translator at an event where a former president of Taiwan was to speak. Before he entered the hall everyone was locked out so that security guards could check the venue for threats. I had thought that I could go in by a side door to the translator’s booth, but a guard stopped me. He was very polite, but very firm. It showed on his face.

People go to church for different reasons, not all of which are “good.” When I was 23 or 24 years old I attended both Wednesday and Sunday evening events at a church 40 miles from the university where I studied. It wasn’t even the church that I attended on Sunday mornings. I went because I was interested in a woman there (alack and alas, she was NOT interested in me). The person I wanted to get close to at that church wasn’t Jesus. My motives probably showed in my body language. Nonetheless, the people welcomed me and made me very much at home. What was on my heart was romantic and sexual (probably obvious on my face and in my body language). What was on THEIR hearts was relational and Christian.

What’s on YOUR heart? If it’s mostly what your cultural identity, social class, educational attainment and self-interest have written there, it’ll show. Whether you want to show it or not, eventually, even if you try to keep it hidden, it will come out. In March of 2018 the government and ruling party of a large imperial nation in Asia changed their constitution to enable their current president can stay on for as long as he likes. Pictures of the man voting for himself were in the news. Supporters in his party made speeches to honor the event. One picture revealed a member of a group of supporters rolling her eyes as she listened to another supporter go “over the top” in words of praise for the “once president, now president-for-life”.

If we want to be “prima-facie” honest, we need to work on our hearts.

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Cranes and Creation

Cranes and Creation

There’s a kind of long-legged bird called a crane. That’s the same word as is used for the piece of construction equipment that lifts heavy things up high. In the 1980s someone suggested that the national bird of Singapore should be the “Yellow Construction Crane”, because so many buildings were going up there. Sometimes new things are made, not by building up from the ground, but by doing new stuff with something old. If most of a building is replaced, it might be called “reconstruction”. If several things are being “fixed” (rather than replaced), it can be called, “rehabilitation.”

Rehabilitation is also used regarding human bodies and lives. People who have had heart surgery or knee replacement follow up with months of rehabilitation therapy. People who have been addicted to alcohol or narcotics may go through months of residential rehabilitation programs to figure out why they have become dependent on their “drugs of choice” and how to correct those conditions in order to remain sober and drug free afterwards.

One of the most common rehabilitation programs for persons who have become addicts comes with the word “Anonymous” in its title: Alcoholics Anonymous; Narcotics Anonymous; Overeaters Anonymous. etc. Sometimes these are called “12 step” because of the method used. It was devised, or “created” sometime around 1940, in an age of greater religious faith than we live in today. Five of the original 12 steps mentioned “God” or “A power greater than ourselves.” In more recent decades, as people without a belief in God have become more and more involved in the movement, mentions of God have been “edited back”. Because the aim of the movement is to free people from addictions, and not to do a lot of God talk, I think that God, as I understand God, probably doesn’t mind the change so long as people are being set free and lives are being rehabilitated.

Rehabilitating a building takes more than putting a fresh coat of paint onto a wall that really needs to be torn down and replaced. New creation is work! 12 step programs take time and life-long commitment. Groups are always open to people who fail and start over again. When we seek to be new creations in our emotional, physical and social lives, we KNOW that we’re going to have to work. It’s not a matter of “I started exercising three weeks ago, but I’m still overweight.” Exercise is mostly for the sake health and strength anyway. If it’s going to have a weight-loss result, that will take time and life-long commitment.

And, there may be debts to repay. A person who has borrowed to fund an addiction before rehabilitation cannot say, “Yes, I once borrowed money from you but now the old things are past and gone, so I owe you nothing.” This especially applies to anyone who might want to claim exemption from being punished for sexual harassment or maltreatment because “that happened before I knew Jesus.” Being forgiven of sin against heaven and being pardoned for crimes against society and persons are different things. Being a new creation begins with trust the in creator and a commitment to work with heaven as we’re changed. It’s more than even a yellow construction crane can offer.

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.