Do You See What I See

ONCE UPON A TIME, I had some ping pong skills, and then an optometrist said, “Here, try these bi-focals.”

I guess, technically, I still had the skills, but it helps if you can see the ball. If you’re over 40, you can empathize.

Ping ponging while bi-focaled is hard; heck, stepping off of a curb is an adventure.

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Measuring your skills at things like ping pong, making chili, loud whistling, turkey calling, etc. requires a reference point—something or someone to compare thyself with. For several years in my ping pong career, my reference point was my oldest son, Corey. Early on, I could beat him every time we played (except for when I would “let” him win). And then he turned seven. The table turned, so to speak, and from time to time I got the feeling that he would occasionally let me win.

A vivid memory, and one of the last ping pong games I played: a fairly arrogant fellow (as compared to the norm in my head) come in to a rec center of sorts. Someone came over to me and said,

“That guy over there wants to know who the best player here is.” (They didn’t know Corey was there.) I walked over and said I’m the second-best player here, unless you’re better than me.

He smirked one of those cocky smirks and said let’s find out. He was good. I was better. My life as a human being is more significant for that win that night. Had we played a few more games he would have beaten me—he would have figured out how to return my serve. You see, if you have bi-focals and have a hard time judging the proximity, speed and spin of a ball coming at you, you solve the problem by having a nearly unreturnable serve so that it doesn’t come back over the table at you.

As the sun set on that day, I was still the second best player in the building. I know that because I had two points of reference: Corey, the best player, and this old guy with a Baker Mayfield-like obnoxious arrogance, whom I was better than.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching and hearing the stories about President George H.W. Bush. He is being remembered, and rightly so, as a war hero, and a humble and gracious leader who held his family in high regard.

I can’t help but wonder if his quintesscence isn’t somewhat heightened because of the current presidential point of reference. That’s not to take anything at all away from G.H.W.B.’s contribution to our nation through his service. Rather, I’m thinking that in ping pong and presidenting, maybe comparisons don’t tell the whole story at all. Maybe it’s best to remember each on their own.

In my understanding of the Divine, it IS that way. We are not graded or judged on the curve—compared with or to others; although the modern fundamentalist/evangelicals in their myopic, political worldview would have us believe it is so.

Here try these bi-focals or maybe these rose-colored glasses.

"For now we see through a glass darkly.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Beware The Slough

DON’T GO NEAR THE SLOUGH! That was one of the stern warnings of my childhood. Why it was called “The Slough” I have no idea—maybe it was to make it sound more ominous.

I came of age (the first time) on a street named Quincy in south Tulsa, Oklahoma. Quincy stretched across the city from north to south and paralleled Peoria Street, but it dead-ended just about a quarter of a mile past our house near the banks of the Arkansas River. The Slough was somewhere at the end of the street. I don’t know for certain because as an obedient child, I didn’t go down there. Admittedly, it had more to do with fear than obedience—not unlike much of my religious journey, but that’s for another essay.

What is a slough exactly? The dictionary gives us this:

1.) a swamp
2.) an area of soft, wet land

To my young, wildly imaginative, ever-wondering & wandering, day-dreaming mind, a slough was a steaming, smelly, boiling bog filled with mutant creatures of the reptilian sort, like that Creature From The Black Lagoon.

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There were a couple of houses at the far end of the street near the slough. I imagined that toothless men lived there with their sharp-toothed dogs and their snaggletoothed womenfolk. They probably brewed moonshine and their eyes had no pupils. The only thing they seemed to be able to read was the old testament in the King James version.

To this day, when I hear braggadocious talk and chants of swamp-draining, I picture The Slough, and the slough-dwellers, and while they would be all-in for the metaphorical swamp-draining, they wouldn’t want anyone messing with their actual swamp.

That dictionary that I mentioned a few sentences back also explains that a slough is:

3.) a situation characterized by lack of progress or activity.
4.) a mental state of deep sadness and no hope

As I live through my second coming-of-age, I have to admit I’m far more afraid of slough #4 than I ever was of The Slough At The End Of Quincy Street.

At The Table

TRYING NOT TO SOUND TOO… pitiful, sour-grape-ish, sore-loser-ish…

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, pilgrim. We’ll have the blessing to sit at a couple of different Thanksgiving feasts over that weekend.

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I am hoping everyone has safe travels.

I hope everyone has something good to eat.

I hope everyone has someone to be with.

I hope everyone around our table knows how much I love them and how thankful I am to be in their tribe.

I hope Ginger brings coleslaw. I hope to have a piece of pecan pie. I hope I don’t hurt someone’s feelings by not eating their sweet potato dish (even though it is covered with some marshmallow looking something). I hope they’ll understand that I don't like Jell-O that has stuff suspended in it. I like them, I like that they cared enough to bring something to the table, it’s just the idea of putting stuff in Jell-O. It’s like putting turkey organs in the dressing or the gravy. It’s just not necessary.

Another thing I hope won’t be at our Thanksgiving table: politics—red ones or blue ones, first ammendment or second, donkeys or elephants. I’m done. As I said at the top, I’m trying not to sound too… pitiful, sour-grapish, sore-loserish… I’m just done.

Not too far into our new marriage, we were at the Thanksgiving table at my Amazing Missus’ parent’s house. The food at that table was always wonderful and abundant. (Except for some strange tradition of putting oysters in the dressing.) [Apparently, I have an aversion to people putting stuff in other stuff that God never intended to go together.]

Anyway, we’re all seated, the blessing was said, and before we knew it, the conversation turned to A.I. This was the mid-70s and we were talking about A.I.?

Let me clarify: this was not conversation about the merits, threats, or potentials of Artifical Intelligence. This was a graphic dialog about Artificial Insemination. You see, I literally married the “farmer’s daughter”. The family had a long, successful history in the dairy farming business. As a city-boy of sorts, I don’t guess I had given much thought to the reproductive arts down on the farm.

A few seconds into the discussion, my Amazing-Mother-In-Law said, “That’s enough of that!” She spoke with a humble authority that everyone heard without any confusion or uncertainty. And, just like that; the conversation changed.

Oh how I hope that if politics comes up in discussion, someone with the moral certainty and authority, the clear-headedness, and the clear-heartedness of my late Amazing-Mother-In-Law will say, “That’s enough of that!”

Tattoo Time

ALTHOUGH THE BIBLE SAYS, ”You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you,” I have thought about it.

The Bible also says that if you have a rebellious son, you can take him to the city gate and the elders will stone him to death. Thankfully my parents had grace and patience, or they couldn’t find any elders at the city gate.

My decision regarding tattoos is not a moral dilemma. It has more to do with pain avoidance and artistic scrutiny. I don’t like pain, and to this point I haven’t been able to come up with an image I want inked into my epidermis. UNTIL NOW!

Before we get to that, let’s talk about one initial idea that didn’t make the cut.

If I ask, “Who was the first female in the Bible?” you would say: _____ _____ _____

Yes, of course; EVE.

But wait, what about that woman in Genesis 1:27?


Gen. 1:26 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them

reflecting our nature

So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,

the birds in the air, the cattle,

And, yes, Earth itself,

and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”

Gen. 1:27 God created human beings;

he created them godlike,

Reflecting God’s nature.

He created them male and female.

Gen. 1:28 God blessed them:

“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!

Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,

for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”


Yea! That one! The one made from the same clay as Adam. Not Eve, who didn’t come along until later, in chapter two.

Early Hebrew mysticism called her Lilith. She shows up again in Isaiah (34:14), known as a “night-demon”.

Now that is the stuff of a great tattoo. I don’t know what a night-demon looks like, but I can imagine. Add an inscription, “Don’t Mess With Lilith!” and you have an awesome narrative. Of course, it makes no sense for me to have that tattoo and I’m guessing it would mean a lot of needle jabs (if that’s what the tattooist does). But, it would have been awesome for someone like Frasier Crane.

For my tattoo, I’m thinking of a utilitarian message. Something that can be useful and minimalist. The inspriation came one day when I was trying to read the expiration date on a jar of pickles and thought that’s what I need for a tattoo—a “Best By” date.

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Why the summer of 69? Is that when I peaked? Have I grown stale, sour, even rancid since that time? That was the summer after I graduated from high school. I may not have been at my prime, but I felt like I was—world by the tail and all that.

But to feel like you’ve peaked at 18 is a bit moribund even for a guy like me that tends to create little private mental worlds. And it ignores the fact that life has been very sweet and full since that time.

So, maybe this arbitrary best-by date isn’t the summer after my 18th birthday in 1969 but rather the summer after my 69th; not that I’m expecting to quit or check out at that time, but just an acknowledgment that by around then I will probably retire from the working world and transition to the next chapter and then set a Not-Bad-For-An-Old-Dude date.

A SERIOUS PS: The scriptures I have quoted in this post are from a translation called The Message by Eugene Peterson who passed away today, October 22, 2018. Rest in peace Eugene. You will be missed.

 Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson