Friday, September 21, 2018

Ford vs Kavanaugh

I am a guy. I have been a guy for a while. I think it started in utero, but it could have also started with the Big Bang some eons back. Who knows when such things start, how, or why. All I know is: I'm a guy.

I do not live in women's skin. I don't know what it would have been like to have been a girl in high school in the 1960s (when I went to HS), nor in the 1980s (when Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh) attended, nor in our current millenium. How could I know? All I know is I am a guy.

I was a cop in Spokane in the 1970s. As a patrolman, I took rape reports and to the best of my recollection, they were all of the "stranger" variety - the stranger who mugged and/or raped girls or women. My primary task was taking the initial reports and, due to the nature of the crime, those were followed up by detectives who did the lion's share of investigating those cases.

In nearly five years on the department, I do not recall ever having taken a report of any sexual assaults between acquaintances or high schoolers. I did break up the occasional backseat love-fest out by Joe Albi Stadium on a Friday night. I do recall searching for a naked lad who'd been chased out of his girl-friend's house when her dad came home for lunch one day. But I never got called on a "report of an assault" involving youth, drugs, booze, or parties.

Does that mean they didn't occur? Of course not. I have no doubt they happened, but I also understand the reluctance a young woman would have in making the report. Being at a party with boys and booze would not look good to family. Questions of what she was doing, what was she wearing, how much had she been drinking, what "signals" was she sending, etc. ad nauseum would easily stand in the way of her making a report.

"Boys will be boys" also stands as a sickening rationale for the beastly behavior of boys. I know that young men, especially when in a group (or "pack") will often do things they would never do alone, especially when fueled or emboldened by booze (which conveniently dismantles inhibitions quite nicely). All it takes for them to "get away with it" is to threaten their victim with telling the school wild tales and lies - which (tragically) people tend to believe far more than the truth. Even the victims will believe it. Easier to believe they deserved what they got than to believe they deserved far better behavior from their peers (whatever age and gender).

Dr. Ford has apparently made a good life for herself and gotten over the assault about as well as one can get over the abuse of trust and of their body. Kavanaugh has also done quite well. Many women have come gushing to his defense, and his wife has even gone out and given newsmen/women cupcakes during this terrible ordeal the world is putting her poor hubby through. Dr. Ford has had to hire security, endure death threats, and leave her home, while #45 (the pussy grabber in chief) sings the praises of his SCOTUS nominee and slams the temerity of Dr. Ford to share what happened so many years ago (and add all this crap to her PTSD).

As a cop in Spokane, I have no doubt I would have been sensitive to any young lady reporting an acquaintanceship-rape, and yet I also know I would have had all those other questions in the back of my mind - blaming her for what she got, even if I didn't want to, mean to, or intend to. Why?

All I know is: I'm a guy.

That's not an excuse. It is just a statement of fact. I will add, however, that I have learned a lot more about women, assaults, and the #MeToo movement. I have made efforts to grow up, to be kinder, to be more thoughtful, less arrogant, and less abusive. I'm not there yet, of course. I'm still a guy. I'm still human - not as God designed or intended, but as happened after the Fall in the Garden.

I have no doubt that Dr. Ford was assaulted as a high school girl, and that among her assailants was Kavanaugh. His quick denial of doing anything wrong before he even knew who was making what accusations speaks volumes. Informed of an accusation, people immediately want to know who said what. The child who pipes up, "I didn't do it," before hearing any details is always, always, always guilty. Kavanaugh has lied during several of his confirmation hearings (now, as well as last decade), and I believe he is lying now. Kavanaugh has riffed off the Las Vegas ad campaign: "What happen(s) at (his school) stays at (his school)." His high school buddy has written books alluding to their antics in high school. Kavanaugh lies and has no place serving on the Supreme Court and, in my opinion, should be impeached for lying under oath during his hearings when he was made a federal judge.

I do know there are and have been false accusations made against men from time to time. Men are not the world's only liars. But I have no reason to believe this situation is one of those. Everything Dr. Ford has spoken of reeks of the gawd-awful truth that she was in high school, and attended a party where there was drinking and swimming and where one of the two young men she knew drunkenly tried to rape her while the other watched and possibly tried to help his buddy and not her. That event is seared in her memory only as traumatic events can be.

I stand with Dr. Ford. Why? Because I'm not a guy. I'm a man, a child of God, and we men have been called to love justice, do mercy, and to walk humbly with God. It's time for us to grow up, take responsibility for our attitudes and actions, make amends as best we can (with amendment of life) and giving all people - but especially women - their due (respect, dignity, and genuine listening).

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Life is Full of Disappointments

He brought me out into an open place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19

Life is full of disappointments.

I was enjoying a few moments of peace and quiet on our deck, reclining on what purports to be a zero gravity lounger. While it is quite comfortable, I’m afraid my body has always been able to detect the existence of gravity and, in fact, would no doubt attract space clutter at twice the speed it normally does on earth – but that’s beside the point.

I was lying there on the lounge and spied a marvelous spider web shining off in the distance across the yard. I was amazed I could see something so light and wispy from so far away, and then realized that perhaps it wasn’t as fragile as I’d thought – that perhaps it had been created by some gigantic mutant Shelob – that perhaps the reason I could see it was because the spider WANTED me to see it, WANTED me to come explore it, check it out and … SNAP! That would be the end of your dearly-beloved-now-departed columnist.

Well, my fear of spiders goes back a long way, and so I wasn’t going to fall for that, but I had decided to go check it out and was impressed with what I had found.

The fact is it was a common, ordinary garden variety spider who had been quite busy in our – yes, you guessed it – garden. I don’t think she would have rated a 10 in the Miss Spider Beauty Pageant, but still, she was of a freckled variety, and the web stretched from the roof of the house down to the shrubs below, and across the pathway to another shrub entirely. It was quite a feat of engineering and most intriguing.

I decided against disturbing the little beastie, even though the abode had closed off an entire pathway. Instead, I decided to leave it until morning and capture some brilliant shots with my camera. With any luck, the web would glisten with dew in the morning sunlight and I could come away with photos of prize-winning caliber for National Geographic or something.

The next morning, while it was still dark, I got up and, as is my custom, got the coffee going and while the nectar of life dripped slowly into the carafe from which I would draw the life-sustaining go-go juice, I got out my camera, set the dials, and mounted it on a tripod for a photo-shoot with the aforementioned sure-to-win-a-trophy arachnid. 

I stepped out onto the deck as the sun made its ascent, breaking over the trees to the east. I crept up to the spider’s lair and … nothing! She was gone. The web was gone. A single strand of webbing hung from the soffit, waving good-bye in the faint morning breeze.

Life is full of disappointments. My dreams of a Pulitzer – dashed. My dreams of a cover shot for the National Geographic – slashed. However …

My coffee was ready, so I gathered up my equipment and drank away my disappointments.

Life happens. Maybe a bat swooped in during the night and made off with my little spider friend. Maybe he or she found someone else with whom to pal around or make baby spiders with. Maybe she found the neighborhood too active with paparazzi – who wants to live where there’s no sense of privacy?

So, I abandoned my quest for the perfect picture.

I wonder why I didn’t get all my stuff together and take some photographs when I had the daylight and the shot the day before? Why did I think the future would be better than the present?

Perhaps life is full of disappointments when we try to live in either past or future, and not in the now. I’d made a decision based upon a dream. I could have taken a picture when I first saw the web and its fascinating occupant/architect, but I didn’t. Shall I regret that choice? Or is it wiser to reflect on what I did (and why), and decide to seize the moment next time I have it?

There may or may not be a next time, but there is always a now, and that’s where I think God would have us live here in this, our valley.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9/11: An Essay

9/11 was a terrible day. My wife woke me up to tell me we (America) were under attack. Like many, I got up, turned on the telly, and watched as the broadcast cut back and forth from live feeds to replays. I was disoriented as I never knew which was which (live or replay).
Every year on 9/11, those clips are played over and over ad nauseum, and social media feeds are filled with American Flags, the Twin Towers, the Statue of Liberty, and all that and I, for one, am tired of it all. So tired.
For 17 years we have re-lived the tale. Nearly 3,000 died. True. Also true? Not all who died were Americans. About 10% (300 +/-) were from other countries. Since then, how many men and women have given their lives overseas in a “response” that shows no signs of ever ending?
Each year, 30,000 people (in this country alone) die from gun-related violence. More than half are suicides, some are accidents, and the rest homicides. That figure includes first responders, men, women, children, transgender (and all the other parts of the alphabet), people of color, white people, legals and illegals, rich and poor, sick and healthy, the smart and the stupids.
What have we done as a result? Hunkered down and wrapped ourselves in a flag, making of it our golden calf. We close our eyes to the violence around us and see an enemy (that consists largely in our collective minds) moving in the shadows, while ignoring the enemy that is destroying us from within - Fear and Hate.
We point fingers, preferring to fix blame than to fix problems. We build walls that divide rather than mending relationships, addressing grievances, correcting injustices, or developing courage through love and sacrifice.
Shortly after 9/11, the commitment was made to rebuild the Twin Towers one way or another. An early design or Meme was created where a tower would be built looking like a fist raised in defiance, with a single finger raised in an even higher “Fuck You” to the terrorists. Well, while the sentiment could be understood in the anger and anguish of 9/11, it has been transformed by our current administration - the logical consequence of a nation moored to fear and hate - where the Fuck You Finger has been shown to any and all who dare frustrate the Tard-in-Chief and all his handlers and enablers.
The smoke from the Twin Towers hung over New York like a pall over a casket. That smoke has dissipated, but the pall remains and shall remain until the people of this nation rise from their slumber and cast off the miscreants who have slithered into their various offices and work to replace them with men and women who can place national-interest above self-interest, and international justice above Fear, Hate, and vengeance.
My take from 9/11? It is time for America to grow up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

On a Clear Day, You Can't See Anything!

Blessed are those whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way … Psalm 84

My wife and I had the pleasure of getting away for a week to enjoy a bit of vacation. As everyone knows, vacations are ever so restful and relaxing, so I suspect we might have done it wrong. We came home all tired and tuckered out and I am hoping we don’t have to do that again for a while.

As our readers may recall, we decided to head west and spend some time on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. We left home with our little RV (making our maiden voyage with it). We drove to Coupeville on Whidbey Island and caught the ferry to Port Townsend. The ferry didn’t hit an iceberg and sink, so one maiden voyage will miss the history books. That’s a good thing.

As soon as we got to Port Townsend we made our way past Port Angeles along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to our destination – a little RV park near Snug Harbor. They only had back-in spots for trailers, so Barb and I got to practice our communication skills. The maneuver was less than routine as I had virtually no experience backing trailers, and our little road had a small cliff running alongside it, making wrong turns quite hazardous. We actually got settled quite nicely, and neither of us checked search engines for divorce lawyers, so by the end of day one, all was good. We were happy campers (literally).

The next morning we took an excursion to Neah Bay and, after enjoying a fine lunch at the Warmhouse Restaurant, ventured off to find Cape Flattery and the northwestern most corner of the “Lower 48” (states). We managed to find a parking space and hiked the mile or so downhill to an overlook. The view was magnificent, in theory. In reality, the coast was quite foggy and the sky so cloudy that I wasn’t able to capture any memorable photographs.

But the hike was invigorating, the forest was lush, and we did manage to see some wildlife along the trail. True, our wildlife encounter was with a couple of slugs (each ranging about a half-foot in length). As tempted as I was to capture their image for posterity, the aforementioned temptation was overpowered by the one-two punch of sloth and indifference, so we satisfied ourselves with watching creatures slower than us for a few minutes before moving on with our trek back up the hill to our vehicle.

The next day we drove up to Hurricane Ridge to see the magnificent Olympic Mountains. Sadly, the air was so smoky from all the fires up and down the west coast there was nothing to actually see. I tried a number of different filters on my camera to see if any of them would clear away the haze so that I could get some decent photographs but, again, I was thwarted in my efforts. It was enough to make the trip and enjoy our time away however, and we did manage to see a young deer or elk on the slopes just below the visitor center. It was close enough we knew it wasn’t a slug, but far enough away we couldn’t positively identify its make or model. Never-the-less, it was a more pleasant sight than the terrestrial gastropods we had seen the day before, so the day was not lost.

All in all, although the smoke and weather were less than ideal, I found myself enjoying the outing anyway. I took a fair number of photographs while we perambulated some of the peninsula’s many trails. None of the photos was of prize-winning caliber. Although I know the camera was set to take color pictures, they mostly came out in various shades of gray, whether due to the smoke or the fog, it didn’t seem to matter. Even colored clothing came out in shades of gray, so that was an interesting observation.

I could go on and on about our holiday, but suffice it to say we did more than what is reported here. I don’t want this column to become a home-movie-in-print (as exciting as that prospect might sound), so I will close it out with one last observation:

We had fun, and that’s what vacations are for in this, God’s valley.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Wash Your Hands, for Heaven's Sake!

Some years ago I was asked to take services for a small church out in the sticks. I led the service, preached, and served communion. After the service, people thanked me for coming; thanked me for my sermon; thanked me for being there; invited me to stick around for coffee. They did all the right things; they said all the right things.

But there was this one woman who came, looked me in the eye, and said, “You didn’t wash your hands after the peace! You didn’t use the sanitizer!” And like Moses heading home to Mt. Sinai, she turned and left. (I had done the ablutions, but that wasn't enough for her). She left, so I couldn't apologize, and we couldn't have a conversation - because I really did appreciate her concern!

In this day and age of aids, zika virus, flesh-eating bacteria and all the rest, we’re learning to take sanitation and hygiene more seriously, aren’t we? We need to!

It’s actually hard not to be clean, when you think about it. We’ve got hot and cold running water in our homes and shops. Our laundry soap tells us we can wash our clothes in cold water, and while there might be science behind that claim, my gut tells me clothes need to be washed in hot water to be really clean.

I KNOW the water isn’t hot enough to kill germs, and clean clothes isn’t about killing germs (but removing dirt and stains), and yet my gut tells me – use the hot water (or at least warm), because warm water feels better when I wash my hands. Hot water feels better when I wash dishes. Sanitizer may work scientifically, but I hate the feel of it! Give me soap and water any day!

In the gospel, Jesus has his critics. Folks have come from Jerusalem to check him out. They haven’t come to talk about the cripple he restored to wholeness. They’re not there to talk about the little girl who’s life he’s saved, or the woman who’s 12 years of miserable bleeding he stopped, or the demons he has cast out of synagogue or the guy down by the graveyard. They’re not there to talk about his feeding 5,000 men over here, or feeding 4,000 over there, or helping the blind to see or the deaf to hear.

No, they’ve come to see what kind of teacher he is (must have been Labor Day – right before school is set to start).

They see his disciples – his students – eating without first washing their hands, and they’re shocked!

(Mark even makes an aside and says, “No one does clean like the Jewish people; they wash their hands before every meal; they wash their pots and pans; and they even wash their fruits and vegetables when they bring them home from market!”)

But we do a dis-service to the story if we think they’re just talking about hygiene here.

These are the People of God. It’s not about washing fruits and vegetables, pots and pans, or face and hands.

Water is precious. Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, had a town well. It was not unusual for the well to go dry in the summertime, and folks would have to go into the hills, find a spring, and carry home their water each day – not just for cooking and drinking, but for their ablutions, as well.

Water is precious. Water is heavy (pint/pound). Water is scarce.

“But this is who we are,” say the Jewish leaders. “Washing our hands, we remember God brought us across the sea to freedom. Washing our faces, we remember God gave us to drink from the rock in the desert. Washing our fruits and vegetables, we remember God brought us across the Jordan into the Land of Promise.”

Water reminds us we are God’s people – separate, and holy. We’re not talking about hygiene. We’re not talking about best practices. We’re not talking about good habits to get into. We’re talking about our identity as the People of God.

Now, it’s interesting. Jesus doesn’t apologize for being a bad teacher. He doesn’t rationalize his actions – although it look like that’s what he’s doing. Mark (or a redactor) says, “Yea, we don’t have to follow these man-made rules. We’re free to eat what we want.”

But Jesus isn’t rationalizing his behavior or making excuses for his disciples (who really were slobs).

I wonder if, deep down inside, Jesus wasn’t just a little bit embarrassed by his disciples. They didn’t seem to be very good at following the rules – picking grain on the Sabbath, eating meals without washing their hands. They walked with him and talked with him but they never seemed to “get it” – whatever he was talking about.

But instead of excusing their behavior, or dealing with it right then and there, Jesus went in a different direction.

“What you can see is important, but it seems what goes in is LESS important than what comes out.”

Now, our lesson skips a bunch of verses (and I hate it when they do that), but Jesus goes on to talk about – well, let’s call it what it is – manure!

Has anyone here ever stepped in doggie-do, or a big ol’ cow-pie out in the middle of a pasture?
Jesus looked around. This was sheep land. This was goat land. This was the land of ox-teams who plowed the fields. Jesus and his disciples went everywhere on foot. Undoubtedly, they were all-too-familiar with landmines along the way.

“Oh John!” “Oh Judas!” “Oh Peter!”

Jesus says, “You know, it’s not what goes in that’s the problem. It’s what comes out; THAT’s the problem!”

The same way, Torah goes in and tells us we are God’s people; good people; loving people; holy people. All that good stuff comes in, but what comes out?

“All those wonderful sins come out of us. They stink to high heaven. We don’t know how. We don’t know why. We wish it wasn’t true, but it is.”

Have you ever gotten a whiff of something and blamed it on the dog or the cat, or one of the other people in the room?

Not that I ever do that, but don’t you find yourself trying to pass off responsibility to someone else. If there’s 2 people in the room, you go, “Was that you?” People will try to look innocent, won’t they?

Jesus says, “That’s the human condition. The problem isn’t that we’re human. The problem isn’t that we’re fallible. It’s that we try to pretend we’re innocent when we’re not – that we’re better than those around us.”

In our collect for day, we pray for God to graft in our hearts love of his Name. What is God’s name? YHWH – I am who I am.

We ask God to increase in us TRUE RELIGION.

I get a kick out of people who say, “I’m not a religious person; I’m a spiritual person” as if that makes them superior. That’s as silly as saying “I go to church, so I’m better than you” or “I pray in the woods so I’m better than you.”

The root of the word spiritual is “spiritu” wind – breath – life. In Hebrew it is Ruah; in Greek it is Pneuma. If you are alive; if you draw breath, you are a spiritual being. You’re not superior to anyone or anything.

The root of the word religion is “liga” – connection. In music, when you see a smile or a frown over some notes, it is called a “ligature” – it means the songwriter wants those notes connected as a unit. True religion is that which connects us with God AND with one another.

Jesus says to the folks from Jerusalem, “Washing is important, but if you don’t see the connection between the act and God, then there’s a problem. If it divides us into ‘we and they,’ or ‘us and them,’ or ‘in and out,’ then there’s a problem.”

As Helen has said often, “Life is complicated.”

We ask God to bring us together – not to remove us from the world, not to wrap us up in bubble-wrap to keep us safe, but to bring us together so that, together, we can see the wonderful things God is doing in our midst, identify them, tell one another about them (and share them with the world around us – our friends and neighbors and family members and maybe even our enemies), and find ways to build one another up, rather than tearing one another down.

Instead of pointing out faults like the professionals from Jerusalem, our task is to share our vulnerabilities with one another; to confess our faults, identify our weaknesses and failings, and to look one another in the eye, not to say, “Oh look, a speck!” but rather, “Oh goodness, I’ve got this log stuck in my face, but I can’t see it to pull it out. Would you help me?”

That’s the point of the Gospel. “Graft in our hearts a love of your name (which is I AM ALL THAT THERE IS), increase in us TRUE CONNECTIONS, nourish us with GOOD STUFF, and let only SWEET THINGS pour out of our lives (and our mouth); on those occasions we find ourselves really ‘stepping in it,’ help us to laugh, clean up, and move on, and for heaven’s sake, help us remember to wash our hands, in Jesus’ Name.”


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Vacating Life

We did not all come over on the same ship, but we were all in the same boat.  – Bernard M. Baruch

It is something of an oxymoron to confess that while I have been retired about a year now, my wife and I haven’t really taken time off to enjoy a vacation.

Unless you are desperate for some sleep, I don’t need to bore you with the details of what we’ve been up to this past year, but suffice it to say it has involved moving to our new house, settling in, and doing everything we could and can to make it into a home. I am pleased to report that while it is still a work in progress, we seem to have moved forward far enough to risk taking some time away to simply enjoy days that, in the short term, won’t involve mowing lawns, weeding gardens, unpacking boxes, or vacuuming floors.

Our plan is to head over to the Olympic Peninsula to visit some beaches and historic sites, do some hiking to see some of the waterfalls for which the Olympics are noted (assuming the rivers and creeks haven’t all dried up; they are reputedly most impressive in early summer), and otherwise relaxing in the shade of old growth forests.

Vacations aren’t something I do well, however.

I suppose some of my reluctance to enjoy summer holidays stems from my youth, where vacations meant piling into the back of the family sedan, four kids smooshed into a space designed for three, driving for several days straight from our home in Seattle to visit relatives out near Chicago, and having little to do upon arriving except to sit in the sweltering heat of summer while the adults sat in the shade shooting the breeze and enjoying their adult beverages.

Not all vacations were hot and boring, though. I remember a trip the family took one time to a nearby lake when I was just a wee lad of seven or eight. We stayed in a small travel trailer, which I presume was a rental as we didn’t own one. My dad bought my brother and me a kid’s fishing rod, which had about five feet of string attached. I presume it had a kid-friendly hook, but don’t recall for sure. It didn’t matter as I knew, even at that tender age, that I would never catch fish a foot or so from shore – and didn’t. On a positive note, it wasn’t hot. On the flip side, it was boring.

Another time our family took a trip to the very same Olympic National Forest we will soon be visiting. We were a family of four at the time, and it was summer (I’m sure it was before I was in school yet – the memories are very faint). My dad, ever the soldier, set up the tent in quick and efficient fashion and even went to the trouble of digging out a small drainage trench around it “just in case.” Well, that night it poured. To be more accurate, a tsunami came down from the darkened sky and nearly washed us away into the River Hoh (or whatever creek we had camped beside). The next morning we poured the campsite back into our rusted ’49 Plymouth and drove home. I’ll be honest; I don’t remember much fun happening on that trip, either.

These incidents, though, do bring to mind the one thing I enjoy doing more than pretty much anything else. I love to complain! I am never so happy as when I’ve got something to criticize. I resonate with Saint Paul who says at one place in one of his early columns, “Oh, who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Now there’s a saint after my own heart!

The answer, of course, is one who took the ultimate trip from paradise, set up his tent in our world, and went to the grave that we might live. Keeping that in mind, I find it helpful to pause from my carping and to be simply thankful. When I let go and let God, so to speak, life becomes much more bearable – even vacation-life!

Furthermore, not everyone gets to go on vacation, and with any luck, I’ll have more stories to share with you when I get back here in this, God’s valley. Until then, I’m outa here!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Things to Do Whilst Your Summer Sails Along

I am running away, but I prefer to call it a strategic retreat – Tennessee Williams

I was scanning the internet the other day. Sometimes this activity is known as killing time, although, to be honest, time has been killing me for years. If you don’t believe me, come on over and take a look. So I found myself tumbling through some random spots online and found a gif (a brief moving picture or clip that runs for about 1 or 2 seconds). It was the picture of a sailboat where the sail was adjusted for the wind, and as the canvass swung from one side to the other, it caught and tossed a sailor into the sea.

That’s all there was to the image, and I found myself briefly wondering, hoping (and presuming) the sailor was retrieved by his fellow yachtsmen. Beyond that, though, I found it quite comical and entertaining – not unlike some Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin bit.

As we head into the dog days of summer, it occurs to me that some folks may be struggling with bouts of boredom and looking for ways to stay busy. As a service to my readers, then, I thought I would provide you with my top ten list of things to do when the mosquitos are biting and the fish aren’t – and you’re looking for some sort of reprieve from those flaccid days of summer. In no particular order, here goes:

Coming in at #10, go inside, close the drapes and blinds, select a decade, and binge watch your favorite TV show. Bonanza will probably take you almost to Halloween!

At #9, do a search on Tumblr, select a topic of interest, and follow the Links, Likes, and Followings until you get back to where you started – or Christmas (whichever comes first).

At #8, hop in the car or truck and see how far into the mountains you can get. Then hop out and see how long it takes for anyone to notice you’re missing. Remember, your local Search and Rescue team needs practice, so this would be a genuine community service. And for all those times your better half has asked you to Get Lost, you can show them how much you really DO listen!

At #7, when telemarketers call, ask them to hang on; then go water your lawn, wash your dishes, plan a deck party, or run to the store and do some grocery shopping. Warning: Do this only with your landline. Charges may apply against your cellular plan, so check with your attorney first.

At #6, sit down and address your Christmas cards. Begin your annual Christmas letter, starting each paragraph with a succeeding letter of the alphabet. Your friends and family will LOVE it!

Coming in at #5, close your windows, turn off your lights, climb into bed with flannel sheets and turn on your electric blanket and pretend it is winter. You may not get much rest, but you’ll quickly drop a few pounds and fit into those clothes you’ve been storing since 1977.

At #4, head over to your favorite community service organization and ask them how you can (gasp) be of service. Offer them the gift of your time, talent, or treasure (whichever works best for them). Make a commitment and stick with it.

At #3, take a stroll downtown, block the sidewalk and talk with visitors and friends. Grab a soft drink or water, look at traffic on the main drag through town, take a deep breath, and remember that’s what folks in big cities deal with all year long. Exhale, and offer God a note of thanks.

At #2, call a friend or family member you haven’t seen or talked to in a long time, and catch up. Note: Hang up on the telemarketer first.

And finally, coming in at #1: Go outside and when the first star appears, don’t make a wish. Just be thankful, and enjoy the view, for you’re closer to heaven than you can possibly know.

There you are. Enjoy these waning days of summer, don’t play with fire and, for heaven’s sake, watch out for pranksters in this, God’s valley.