Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Coming of Age

Three and a half years ago I saw her in that drive way tucked unassumingly in the shade underneath a sprawling maple tree. The first time I drove past I just took a glance as I inched slowly to inspect her. It was love at first sight and I knew I would be back. The second time I stopped and took her for a test drive. I knew just then I would return for a third and final time when I could drive away with the previous owners in my rear view mirror. The third time I did just that and not myself or my car had any idea of the adventure that we were to embark on.

I had looked for a car every weekend that summer. My father and I went to practically every dealership in the greater Lakes Region, before I finally made my choice. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, although I knew that whatever car I bought, it had to match my ambition if nothing else.

The day I bought my used, black Audi A4 was a proud day for me. I handed over a $16,000 check to a man that I knew nothing about, other than that I wanted his car and that his records seemed meticulous enough to deem him trustworthy. It was a big commitment for me as big as anything I had signed my name for. I had never owned anything worth so much before. My previous car was a 1991 Saab Hatchback which while reliable had over 200,000 miles and was falling a part. I knew that whatever car that I bought I had to bring it with me to Texas across country and I couldn’t take the chance of it breaking down like the time I was stuck in the middle of a 4 lane tunnel on I-93 in Boston my senior year.

My Audi became an extension of me. I convinced myself that it was my reward for all of the work that I had put into getting my degree and commission and in a sense owning it made me feel as if I had made it in some small way. As I drove her off the lot that first time, my hands trembled as I felt the power of that mighty engine. For the rest of that summer I parked her far away from others when I made trips to the store, and inspected for scratches every time that I reentered. I took every precaution that I could. Before the rising gas prices I only put Supreme in. While in Texas she was professionally washed and detailed once a month, no questions asked. As the years past, so too did my treatment of her.

Almost four years later, I look back at the places my car and I have been. She has traveled across country and back again. Once adorned with the “Live Free or Die,” slogan, she now represents the “Aloha State.” While I still take her in every 3,000 miles to get an oil change or see to it that she is being serviced whenever something doesn’t seem right, I am no where near as scrupulous on car washes or interior detailing. Like me she has gotten older. Her paint no longer glimmers as brightly when the sun hits her. The scratches on the bumper are a result of my carelessness and the spilled liquid on the carpet happened without my knowledge. Since 2005, I have doubled the amount of miles on her from 35,000 to 70,000. The mechanics tell me that when I hit 100,000 we’ll have to replace the timing belt. I often wonder how many more years we’ll be together.

As the owner I almost feel guilty about the 52 mile commute that I put her through to get to work or that I bring her to Midas now instead of the Audi dealership to cut down on cost. It’s just that as the years have past and my car has gotten older so too have I. Together we have aged and each time I am about to open her door I have questions like; How many more miles do I have left on those tires, should I put more air in them? In a way, my car has made me think about my own life and how I too am growing older and am not the naïve teenager who once thought more about appearances than substance.

For me, growing older isn’t that drastic of a change. It might mean that I need a little more sleep if I want to stay out later or that I must stretch longer before working out. Most of all, it has given me an appreciation for everything in life that I never thought about before. Each experience that I have, I owe it to maturity. Aging does not upset me, rather it gives me the perspective that Earl Warren once had when he remarked, “never regret getting older, it is a privilege denied to so many.”

My car represents more than the lifestyle that I once wanted to portray to others who saw me driving around town. Now, it is a reminder of who I was back then; the optimistic college graduate who felt he knew everything. And now, heading into 2009 it takes on a different meaning. It’s no longer the flashy car that my friends once envied, as the newer models have out shined it. It is now just an ordinary car that has many miles and has been many places. As much as I would like a newer model, I wouldn’t trade the places I have been with her for anything.
This summer, I will embark on a new adventure as the Air Force is set to move me to another destination. I don’t know where I will be yet nor what I will see, but I know that wherever I go, my car will be ready to take me there.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Emails with Dad "Part II"





I don’t know how my parents managed to pay for my college. I know that my academic and ROTC scholarships helped but they certainly did not pay for all four years. When I began applying to schools, no college was off limits. My father told me that price was not an issue and that if I liked a school, he’d find a way to pay for it. This was a far cry from how he went to college. He paid for his own way, working during the school year to support himself. The lone support that he got was a $7 check each week from my grandfather. He and my dad were self made men. I on the other hand am a product of their efforts.

One day my dad called up to see what I was doing. I answered on my cell phone and told him that I was golfing. He replied “Oh that must be nice (in a jokingly sarcastic voice) I just got out of work and now I’m going to teach so that we can make your tuition payment.” And that was my dad. He and my mom bent over backwards for me so that I could go to school and meanwhile I was off doing things like golfing!

There’s something about manual labor that my father has always loved. His desk job doesn’t give him nearly as much satisfaction as building a porch or working in the garden. It was through him that I began to appreciate labor jobs like construction and landscaping.

My first feeble attempt at construction was a tough adjustment. I learned really fast that a strong work ethic made up for lack of experience and skill. The lone piece of advice my dad gave me before I left that first day of summer employment was “whatever you do, don’t just sit around, always do something.” He should know, many on the crew I was going to be working with were guys that my dad had worked with when he was in construction. To this day he has often told me that those were his favorite times working any job. He loved building and working with his hands. He enjoyed being outside and making a hard earned but honest dollar. But for the lack of pay, he would have almost certainly stayed.

Being “Jim’s kid,” gave me instant credibility with some of the guys. Despite the fact that I was all of 140 pounds soaking wet, they all knew the reputation my dad had back when he was working with them. Immediately, I knew that I had to prove myself. My dad dropped me off that first day without waiting around. It wasn’t that he was in a hurry, I think he wanted me to find my own way.

“Do you have a license kid?” asked the foreman who identified me as the new kid from the brand new Wal-Mart boots I had on (non-steel toe mind you). “Yes sir,” I replied. “Ok, then take that truck right there, none of these bozos have licenses, we’re going to Durham.” And that was my orientation. In a matter of a morning I had grown up a little more. We started driving at 6am and no sooner after I pulled out of the company parking lot did two of my co-workers start chugging Budweisers in the back seat. I glanced at them in shock through the rear view as if I were in some bad nightmare. “Keep going kid, this is what these clowns do, your Dad knows how it is.”

Once we reached the site I listened attentively for my orders. In theory my job would be simple; take the 8 and 12 foot forms from the pile and drop them where the guys building the foundation asked for them. Once the concrete was poured in between the two slabs of steel, I was to help tear it down and start over again. The job sounded easy. I was looking forward to getting started.

I definitely underestimated the heat. By lunch time, I was dragging and the rest of the crew was going strong if not stronger. I don’t know if it was their super human strength or beer buzz but whatever they were doing, they were showing me up. Some of the guys who were well over forty, carried two at a time as if they were pillows, all the while puffing on a cigarrette. I couldn’t believe how hard these guys worked.

Each day felt like two or three combined. As I got to know the guys, I began to get a real appreciation for the people who executed the blue prints of everyday life. I wondered if those “white collared workers,” ever got to see the people that I had the great opportunity to work with. I knew my dad had been on the other side. When I came home from work he would ask me all about my day as if I had been to some paradise that he wasn’t able to go to. He had been there though and he recalled certain tasks as if he had just been out there with us. I think his time doing construction gave him a sense of ruggedness that is so lacking in men these days, but also a strong sense of self.

Work was tough but I could hack it. After a long day, I just wanted to take a shower and crawl into my bed. I couldn’t see how people made careers out of construction. I worked just short of a month before I opted for less strenuous summer employment. The decision was part of my choosing and part influence from my boss.

“Stay in school kid, you don’t want to be doing this for your entire life. Most of these knuckleheads like my nephew over there have never graduated high school and now look at them. Just stay in school, we don’t know anything else, this is all we know.” I remember that mini lecture so clearly as if it were a favorite on my Ipod played constantly. My boss had drawn a line between me and the rest of the crew and that line was education. He continued too, “Seriously kid go work at Shaw’s. You don’t need to be out here. They just built it and it’s inside! What don’t you kids get about working inside. If it’s hot…you’re inside! If it’s snowing…you’re inside. Christ, if it’s raining…” And like that I told my dad after some arguing that I was quitting and applying to the grocery store.

I was disappointed in myself that I gave up. And even though I was going somewhere, I still felt as if I had run away from something else. I look back at that summer in high school and wish that I had the mental toughness of my dad. There were two things that I was never allowed to do in sports. One was cry and the other quit. Granted this wasn’t the athletic field, I often applied his lessons to whatever I was doing.

The following year I vowed to prove to myself that I could handle doing manual labor for an entire summer. This time I would be working for a family friend’s landscaping company. I had known Jonathon for a long time and knew how much he looked up to my father. It was a no brainer that with that connection my foot was in the door. Like the year prior, my dad dropped me off at Jon’s shop but this time waited for Jon. “Hey, you don’t take it easy on him you hear? Make him earn every penny. And son you work hard for Jon.” He smiled the whole time as Jon gave a chuckle as he drove off. Still, he meant every word.

The several summers that I worked landscaping through college for both John and later for Kevin, were some of the best times I’ve ever had working. While my other friends were getting tan pulling lazy lifeguard duty on the beach or scooping ice cream, I was getting dirty and having a blast. I learned a little bit of everything and drove around in those trucks from site to site with my head up high. I enjoyed walking into the hardware store knowing the exact tools and orders that I needed. At times, I even felt bad for people like my dad who were stuck in an office all day.

John and Kevin came from hardworking families. My dad respected the hell out of both of them. He knew their dad’s really well and told me amazing stories of how hard they worked. I knew exactly what he was talking about. I became a firm believer that hard work was a code written into someone’s DNA and was passed on. I saw John and Kevin busting their tails just as my dad told me they would. Lately, I’ve come to a conclusion that they simply don’t make men like they used to. I used to write that phrase off as cliché but the more I think at how all three of those guys (John, Kevin and my dad included)working, the stronger I invest in that motto.

I’m no stranger to work. My dad started me at a young age while I was still in junior high. Each summer I had a job, sometimes two or more. Many of my jobs were different too. I was learning ‘what I didn’t want to do when I got older.‘ I worked at an arcade, construction, landscaping, grocery store, convenience store, sold kitchen supplies, prep cooked and everything in between. My dad always took my pay check and put it into a savings fund that only he could access. I never really thought too much of it. I just worked hard.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Quarter-Life Crisis

Geographically I live in the middle of no where. And occasionally my recognition of this fact reminds me of how I view my place in society. This isolated island in the vast expanse that is halfway between the free world and the third world is practically a microcosm for how I see myself as well; trapped.

Back in High School I recall writing where I thought I’d be in ten years, or what we called in our Yearbook, “Our Prophesy. “ Some of the students made light of the project and injected their comical spin to it. I on the other hand took it seriously and seven years later see that I am farther from those goals today than I was when I wrote them.

I Joshua Carroll will have graduated Law School, started my family and served God as well.

I remember those lines as if I had looked at my yearbook yesterday. Out of fairness to my younger self, I can no more pretend that I didn’t know what I wanted back in High School than I can say that I know where I’m headed now. To be honest, I haven’t a clue. One year from now my orders will be up and I haven’t given much thought to where I will be going or what I will be doing. I’ve put it off and procrastinated with the hope that everything will just work itself out in the end. And so far, I shouldn’t really complain.

I consider this dilemma as my quarter-life crisis. At twenty-five I never thought I’d be so restless to change my situation. I try to put into consideration some of the things that I’ve done and come to the conclusion that I haven’t done much at all. I have settled more than I have sought adventure. I’ve played it safe when I could have taken chances. I’ve stayed the same when I could have grown and I’ve taken credit for things that were beyond my control. All of these choices have contributed to my false sense of accomplishment and should rightly be scratched from my record. For I have lived a simple, easy, secure and privileged life. If it were not for my parents and the lucky breaks that I have received along the way, none of what I have would have been possible.

I regret not having to have faced adversity. I envy the people who have struggled for what they have just as I look up to the “self-made men.” I couldn’t be more of a polar opposite. I have been given the keys to the same doors that have locked out so many from the social conversation. Those that believe in a grand outcome that is all orchestrated by a higher power would call this “God’s plan.” If that is the case, then I’m certain that hundreds of millions of people in this world think that God’s plan sucks. How can I logically believe that I deserve what I have and that it is because it was God’s will, when more deserving, more devout followers struggle to put food on the table, die from diseases, war and natural disasters?

A big part of me wishes that I could just start over, not necessarily rewind back to 2001 but to just give up everything so that I could attempt to find out what the phrase “earning a living” really means. Until then I will continue to be thankful for what I have been given and the opportunities that are around me. I just hope that I’m not talking about these same problems at fifty.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Out of the Closet

Most people are aware of the don’t ask don’t tell policy that pertains to homosexuals as implemented through the direction of then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell during the Clinton Administration. What they are unaware of is that this policy has also been applied de facto to Democrats whenever a political discussion arises among the ranks.

For three years now I have stood silent on politics, unwilling to express my personal views while on duty. Just as the gay men and women who have served by me, I have disguised myself so that I blend in with everyone around me. As a member of a very small minority of Democrats serving in the military, I have refused to give my opinions out of fear that I may be exposed as a traitor. With Democrats being so taboo, my affiliation with the party feels less like a badge of honor and more like a scarlet letter.

Since I have entered the service I have indeed felt out of place. I am often surrounded by more conservative Republicans then I would ordinarily share company with in my private time. Although I can attest to their patriotism and friendship, I can no more support their political views then I can turn my back on my own party. And for that reason I have decided to come out of the closet.

Being called a liberal doesn’t bother me. In the media us “liberals,” are portrayed as careless, financially irresponsible and obscene hippies who don’t want to protect our borders. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, I view a true liberal as someone who cares for people, things and beliefs above themselves and accepts a higher calling that extends beyond that of financial gain. And while I prefer the term “progressive” I’m more than willing to put myself out there and accept that label.

Now more then ever I know that I can no longer sit on the sidelines while my fellow service members attack the very beliefs and candidates that I support. Many people’s views are the way they are because very rarely do they ever hear or entertain a counter argument. It’s time for me to stop hiding my true colors (blue) and let everyone around me know that there’s no need to be ashamed of being an Obama supporter. Sure, he’s a left wing, liberal, minority Democrat…and then again, so am I.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Mile in My Shoes

“Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been.“ This was the lesson taught to Forrest Gump by his Mother who wisely saw fit to parent through the use of metaphors such as her ever-popular “Box of chocolates .” In her shoe theory though, the suggestion need not be over analyzed. We can like the Forest Gump quote suggests tell a lot about people if we just look down every once and a while.

On any given day I am bound to put on several types of shoes. My combat boots for instance are a constant reminder of my obligations to my country and the gratitude that I have for the American taxpayers who provide for my healthy lifestyle. As soon as I get out of work though I throw on my running shoes and race around town on a sunset run. No longer do I stand out from the civilian population but instead zip past it as I stride towards my destination.

After a run, I’ll jump in the shower to give my feet a momentary break between footwear and then slip on some island-style flip flops to lounge around in. On the weekends I’ll wear sandals, go barefoot, put my athletic cleats to good use and even clean up with a nice pair of shoes for a dinner date.

The point is that there is a little piece of me in every one of those shoes that I put on and a slightly different persona that goes along with them. Now those who really know me can vouched for the fact that I have a tendency to exhibit split-personality like symptoms, although this is not what I’m getting at. Rather, just because one sees me wearing combat boots one day, should not necessarily assume that I might not be at a peace rally the next. Just as it is wrong to judge a book by its cover, it’s also just as erroneous to judge someone by the shoes on their feet. One might conclude a person’s hobby that way, but still may never know what else they might be into as well.

Allow me to explain a few of my shoes:

Those of you that have seen the competitive side of me have been privy to the Deion-like swagger that I maintain when I’m on the playing field. Along with my cleats comes a more confident, albeit borderline cocky jock with the trash talking to match. The two are inseparable, you just can’t have one without the other.

Call it the island fever, assimilation or the atmosphere, because when I have my flip flops on I take on the laid back, aloha attitude of the locals. While I’ll readily admit to wear a watch, I rarely check it when my flip flops are on, mostly because I know that when it’s time to go home, the sun will go down.

My demeanor gets a little more serious with my combat boots on. As I walk out the door and into my car, I am no longer the care-free civilian chilling on the beach, or ego driven jock. I am property of the US government, sent to serve the very people who have paid for everything that I own.

As I began writing this piece, I thought it’d be interesting to count how many shoes I own and to grasp their function. Unlike my girlfriend whose walk in closet houses four times my collection, her footwear while important has many redundant purposes…high heels come to mind.

My list.

Golf Shoes (Nike), Flip flops (Reef), shower sandals, dress shoes (military/civilian), club shoes (Diesel), Combat boots (tan/black), running shoes (Nikex2)Football cleats (Nike), Crocs (Payless), Tennis shoes (Adidas), utility shoes (Puma), basketball shoes (And 1) and even dancing shoes!

Fifteen shoes total, all with a different purpose, all of which cater to whatever mood or activity that I feel up to at the moment.

In a sense attempting to "walk a mile in my shoes," is a misnomer. Before I would invite anyone to that challenge, I'd have to browse through my collection and choose which pair for them to try on.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fight or Flight

It was 3:30 in the morning when a group of friends and I stood at a street corner after a night of drinking. Across the street from us were two hostile men shouting expletives at us for no apparent reason. After standing idle to just take in the one main word that they kept referring to us as, I prepared for the worst. I looked to my left and saw that two of the people in my group had gone forward, ignoring the fighting words that were being shouted from across the way. To my right was my friend (a former golden gloves boxer nonetheless) who had evidently received the same feeling in his gut.

What ensued was a slow motion like dream state that seemed hazy in retrospect. I dodged the first several haymakers and allowed my instincts and adrenaline to take down the man in front of me. In an instant he was on the ground while the other two vanished from my periphery.

My hand was pushed on his head as I shoved his skull into the sidewalk. I then took my knee and drove it into his back as to stabilize him so that I could collect my thoughts and plan my next move. For the next minute I maintained pressure while he attempted to flair his arms wildly, hoping to connect with a lucky blow. What I did next, is not what a street fighter would be expected to do. In fact, as the one who had an undeniable upper hand, I showed a side of me that much like the way the fight developed in the first place was unplanned.

I fled.

As I look back at the short exchange that encompasses my lone street fight record, I can’t say that I acted as rough and tough as I would have wanted. Instead I was overcome by an urge to show mercy to the man who wished to fight me.

I raced across the street without looking back, knowing that my ultimate goal was to get home and forget about what had just happened. In the back of my mind, I knew my friend was alright. In fact, my real concern was the poor guy who lacked the judgment and picked a fight with him in the first place. I gave him a quick text just to verify and passed out in my bed.

Over the course of the next afternoon, I played out the events in my head as I remembered them. And while I felt cowardly for taking off and not finishing what I had started, I also felt as though I had ultimately taken the harder way out.

I learned that I had the guts to stick up to these men who challenged our manhood while I stood beside my friend. More importantly though, I learned that there is not the “killer instinct,” of hatred deep inside me that I imagined would come out in the right time and place. I suppose, I owe my parents for my upbringing, my family morals and instilling in me the notion of peace even during the most hectic of moments.

Sometimes we don’t know where we stand on an issue or what we believe until we are confronted with it face to face. As for fighting, I had seen it numerous times on TV, video games and several times as a spectator. Just when I had the opportunity to beat this guy up for being the meathead that he had acted like, something inexplicable took over and made me flee. Whatever the cause of this change in behavior may be, I knew after the next day, that I had no business being there in the first place.

In the middle of the brawl, I just didn’t have it in me. I had no ill feelings towards this guy nor did I want to pummel him and teach him a lesson. If anything, I felt sorry that he had taken his emotions out on me and that he was the one who winded up face first on the sidewalk and embarrassed.

It took the events of a post-Saturday night out with friends and a fight to make me realize that fighting is not in my nature. At least, as far as hurting another human on this earth. Deep down, I often wonder if I really am the pacifist who once attended a peace rally on my college campus and whether I can more easily accept war because I am farther down the kill chain than the grunt with his rifle pointed at an insurgent.

This is not to say that I won’t put up a fight. I’m more than willing to take on the side of good when the cause is just and the threat is real. And with that, I still have similar feelings like singer Tony Bennett who has characterized war as “the worst of human behavior, neither constructive nor intelligent.”

The following morning after the fight, I watched the last lecture by Dr. Randy Pausch on youtube about “achieving his childhood dreams.” I watched in awe as I listened to a man who set out and attained everything that he had ever wanted. Through his lecture, I turned that lens on myself and conversely saw a boy who wasn’t chasing his dreams and instead perhaps running away from them, like he had done the previous night.

I encourage you to spend the best 1 hour and 16 minutes of your week and listen to his lecture. If you’re like me, you will laugh, cheer and undoubtedly cry several times before it’s over. After it’s all said and done, hopefully you will look inside of yourself and ask whether you are where you always wanted to be. If not, I hope you will take the opportunity and advantage of the life that you have been blessed with and fight for every bit of that dream.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


One would not expect to see the second richest man in the world to be doing business in Nebraska. And contrary to that assumption, that is exactly the place where 77 year old Warren Edward Buffet calls home. Tucked away in a modest office covered wall to wall in imitation wood paneling is a man who dedicates as much commitment towards the marketplace as he does equality.

It was in that same, humble and unassuming office that Mr. Buffet invited Senator Obama to in order to exchange views on tax policy and inheritance.

The first point of contention that Mr. Buffet made the newly elected Senator aware of was his indifference to the tax structure. He estimated that in 2006, he only paid 19% of his income ($48.1 million) in total federal taxes, while his employees paid 33% of theirs despite making far less money. According to him, “it just makes sense that those of us who’ve benefited most from the market should pay a bigger share.” He was particularly concerned with his receptionist who was taxed almost twice his rate.

He then pointed out how he discouraged getting rid of an estate tax and the tacit aristocracy that would go along with it. Buffet remarked, “When you get rid of the estate tax, you’re basically handing over command of the country’s resources to people who didn’t earn it. It’s like choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the children of all the winners at the 2000 games.”

While Buffet may rebuke the passing down of inheritance to those who have not earned it, there are thousands of families who are where they are today not solely based on individual achievement but more due to the trust funds that they started with. In essence, this behavior has spilled its way into universities where “legacy children,” are given more unnecessary advantages and even athletic competition where those who can “pay to play,” become far better off than the children who can’t afford to have the best equipment or travel on AAU teams.

The starting line has become more and more disimilar in America. There are some who get the head start and others who wind up in the back without getting the opportunity to even compete with everyone else. Entitlement has become a way of life for the rich elite and it all starts with a last name.

This false sense of entitlement is best illustrated on MTV’s hit TV show “Sweet Sixteen,” where birthday boys and girls are given extravagant parties on their parent’s dime all the while acting far superior to the rest of their classmates. At sixteen years old, they would have you think that they had earned their places in society.

And yet, outside of the reality TV realm, there stands a world filled with grown up versions of these sweet sixteen brats who feel that by the mere fate of birth, that they hold more stake in the American dream than the founding father’s who created its vision and the millions of immigrants who saw it through. The thousands who wait outside our borders are denied entry because these selfish individuals would rather feed themselves than pay the gift of Democracy forward for future generations of Americans. And still, they are the same people who will have you believe that spreading Democracy overseas in far away lands such as Iraq/Afghanistan is beneficial just as long as it is 'NIMBY.'

Some may call Warren Buffet an enigma by the way he has been able to profit with a unique investing strategy while maintaining a high degree of financial integrity. His views are not always shared by those of similar economic portfolios and perhaps that is what sets him apart from his peers. Mr. Buffet’s net worth is $62 billion and his children will receive less than %1 of that amount when he passes on. His attitudes about his fortune can best be summed up by his description of US capitalism.

“I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner.

“But I was lucky enough to be born in a time and place where society values my talent and gave me a good education to develop that talent and set up the laws and financial system to let me do what I love doing—and make a lot of money doing it. The least I can do is help pay for all that.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My .02 Cents

I couldn’t have picked a more ironic title if I tried. As fate would have it, .02 cents was the exact amount that the cashier at the Food Pantry overlooked as she rang up my lactose free milk at $4.92 + tax, totaling $5.02 (the tax and price of milk in this instance is another blog altogether). Part of me saw her act as sincere as she handed me back the additional dollar and just accepted the $5 bill. The more analytical and cautious side of me resented her act of kindness and wanted to discourage the practice. Not only did I worry that she might be in trouble for not keeping a balanced register at the end of the night by forgetting to pony up the .02 cents but I also cringed at the idea that she along with millions were de-emphasizing the value of our currency.

I’ll concede the absolute fact that .02 or any denomination under the not-so-precious nickel doesn’t get you much these days by itself. Gone are the days of penny arcades and candy. But since when did money become so insignificant that we completely act as if the most plentiful of tender does not exist? With all of the concern of the economy spiraling downward, it’s sort of refreshing to know that at least my cashier isn’t too concerned about “pinching pennies.”

I get my frugalness from my parents. My entire childhood went virtually without name brands. Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew were non-existent in my house. The household names in the Carroll refrigerator were Twist-up, Mountain Lightning, Dr. Thunder and my favorite of generic labels, “Cola.” And these were just the names of soft drinks that we purchased, I would go into detail about the rest of the items on our grocery list, except I’d just be prefacing every item with “Shaw’s.” And after the many years that my family cut coupons, denied me the .25 cent gumball at the store and ignored the pop marketing ads on TV, I can reasonably say that I don’t believe I missed out on anything spectacular.

In the grand scheme of our checkbooks, I suppose one cent isn’t that important. As humans we tend to be drawn to neat patterns and whole numbers. Whether we’re tipping the waiter at the restaurant or doing groceries, we inevitably round. But when we round for the worst, the aggregate can add up. When gas was $2.50 a gallon we weren’t alarmed. It spiked to $2.80 and still we didn’t seem to be up in arms. $2.82, 2.84. 2.86, 2.88, 2.90, 2.92 and the prices kept soaring to the national average of $4.00 that we see today. Tomorrow it might be $4.02 but how much angrier could we get? We’re just talking pennies right? Pennies that is, that added up and over the course of a year have us wondering what brought about such high gas prices?

Let us for a minute forget about supply and demand, speculation, the wars in the Middle east and just look at things from purely an economic standpoint where everybody from the supplier, manufacturer and gas companies at the pump out of reaction to higher prices all added .02 to their prices all along the chain until it ultimately got passed down to us the consumers. .02 cents multiplied many times over results in unhappy customers and high gas prices. This type of consumer behavior goes beyond butterfly effect theory. It equates to simply mathematics. When millions of people treat each cent as a “throw-away,” over many more millions of purchases, we can rightly assume that money is not being exchanged and in fact taken out of the marketplace.

Maybe one of the reasons why our pennies don’t do anything for us anymore, is because we simply don’t let them. We throw them into a used coffee can, never to redeem them or throw them into a well with a wish. In my 25 years of existence, I have never seen those pennies miraculously turn into dollars. All I ever see is poor people down on their luck and with a penny less. If we only acted as if every penny was valuable then maybe we would value more that was around us. In ten years who knows if inflation will be bad and if we treat the dollar the same as the penny? The way we so nonchalantly spend our money without paying the slightest attention to detail for every cent accounted for, there’s no wonder that governmental spending abuse happens and slips under our nose beyond our knowledge. It might be a stretch to assume that all of our economic woes revert back to a single copper coin but who says it ends there?

I just wish we’d look around and see that some people in this world live off less than a $1 a day. To them, a single penny means a lot to them and adds up in the course of their lifetime. Who are we to just throw it away along with the remainder of our dinner that we don’t want to bother to make leftovers out of.

When it comes to savings and economic advice, I’ll revert back to an old but classic quote. “A penny saved, is a penny earned.”

And these are my .02 cents.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Call Me Josh

There’s always been much to do about titles. Some people enjoy the labels as it gives them some kind of social standing in the world. Over the years, I too have held various titles, none of which I enjoy and all of which make me feel uneasy. I’ve been called Mr., Cadet, Lieutenant, Sir and maybe even a few less appropriate nicknames from my friends. At the end of the day and sometimes right smack in the middle, I just enjoy hearing my actual name with nothing before or after. It might not be sexy, glamorous or give me anything to boost my ego but that’s just fine by me.

My Father used to tell me that the reason why he never told strangers his profession is because he didn’t want them to think that he was somehow putting himself above them. He never got too caught up in what people called him, probably because he has never seen himself other than a regular guy with a job. Whenever he’s called some form of attorney in public, I can see his embarrassment. I know that it’s not because he is ashamed of his profession but because I know as a simple man, he just prefers people to call him “Jim.”

Some families purposefully name their children by titles. In professional sports there’s “Champ” Bailey, “Peerless” Price, “Lawyer” Malloy, Rey (King in Spanish) Sanchez and the list goes on. Perhaps their parents wanted them to be judged and their logic was that if they had a grand title for a name to begin with then they might live with more self confidence and achieve distinction on their own someday. While some may call it chauvinistic and aggrandizing, I’m sure it’s better than the “boy, son or kid,” label that is placed on some minorities by those very people with the fancy titles.

I think we put too much emphasis on titles. We have gotten away from achievement and have based our culture around believing that a title defines who people are and is the pinnacle of success. I’m not suggesting that we should not pay respect of reverence to certain individuals whose life’s accomplishments ought to be respected. I just think that if we looked at one another less as the positions that we hold and more as mortal beings, then maybe we would learn to see each other more as equals.

Two of the most important people in the world go by titles (Pope Benedict and President Bush). Their titles alone almost insinuate that their decisions and actions are above everybody else and that they are infallible in every way. Perhaps if we just looked at them as Joseph and George respectively, then we wouldn’t have such unreasonable expectations and we could accept their mistakes more easily. Granted they hold offices of grand responsibility, but I think we get too caught up in Pope and President that we wrongfully assume that they are working every second of every day or that they are as we envision their title, "perfect."

After all, let's face it, the greatest and most humble man once walked this earth without a title. He didn’t got by Dr, General, President or Reverend. His name was Jesus and that was good enough for him.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Like a Champion

The first section of the newspaper that Earl Warren opened up to in the morning was the Sports. For it was there that he could read all about mankind’s triumphs opposed to the front page which simply highlighted mankind’s failures. Oddly enough, in today’s newspapers it is a tough task to find any “good news,” from either front or back.

Contemporary athletes are under the microscope of the public eye. Little escapes the constant criticisms from fans and media alike. A dropped pass, a missed shot or strike out are always subject to the ubiquitous Monday morning quarterbacks that thrive on the should have/could have/would have/philosophy. Perhaps a better appreciation of today’s modern athlete would be in order if for once, some of the so-called experts’ got out from behind their desks, tried on a pair of sneakers and found themselves in the very arena that President Theodore Roosevelt felt so alive in:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

President Roosevelt was every bit a failure as he was a champion. As a child he was sickly and teased. It took him almost 20 years to find his niche as a biologist, writer, statesman, soldier and his most fond title of “cowboy.” None of those titles that he so rightfully earned were from the grandstands however. Rather, they were from the front lines in Cuba, the picket lines from the coal strikes and even across party lines as a politician.

I’ve always marveled at professional athletes. I’ve stalked them during batting practice at Fenway in order to get their autographs and collected their cards while attempting to memorize every statistic on the back. As I got older and started to train and understand the level of competition that was around me, I began to appreciate just how much work and dedication goes in before those seven figure checks get cashed. Few of us will ever get a look inside the gym where these high caliber athletes train and aside from the occasional reality show (for which I’m sure there is) the final product on Superbowl Sunday or the World Series might be as good as it gets. And for that I’m grateful.

I don’t get the opportunity to go in and see where you work and how well you do. I don’t stand over your shoulder at a desk making sure that every word that you typed was grammatically correct. I wonder how great of a feeling that might be for say Ken Griffey Jr if he followed one of his harshest critics to work. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody should expect athletes to be either. We expect them to make every shot, sure. But how many of those tough shots do we take in our own life?

This August we’ll have the privilege to watch such competition from some of the finest professional athletes from around the world. For over Four years athletes like Michael Phelps and Tyson Gay have trained year round to represent the US and for that shot at gold. I think they are worthy of our attention.

Two weeks after I left work early and stayed up late to watch every minute of the NBA Finals, I checked the mail to see that my Dad had sent me a bumper sticker of the Boston Celtics and the word “Champion,” in big bold letters. On it he attached a post-it that read “Always carry yourself like a Champion.”

I thought what a model to follow.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back Spray

In surfing there’s no worse feeling than the back spray off a wave that has just passed. The refreshing mist that trails a wave and falls on those who watched it go by only adds insult to the surfer who misjudged its magnitude in the first place. More often than not, I have found myself on the other side of some of these amazing waves, asking myself whether the surfers who caught these waves judged correctly or just took a chance and got lucky.

Each time that I feel the back spray coming off the peak of the wave, I am but constantly reminded of many of life’s waves that I too did not paddle for when they came my way. Sometimes I did not make those leaps of faiths out of foresight and others because of fear. No matter what the various reasons or excuses that I may have conjured up, I have felt the weight of the decisions that I have made fall heavier on my shoulders.

There’s a point when you fully commit to a wave when you realize that there’s no turning back. As the wave rises and lifts you up, there is nobody that can help you except the preparation, skill and faith within you. In a sense there is a freedom of the unknown and exhilaration in not knowing whether you are going to ride it to the end or if you are going to wipe out entirely. As sure as I know that I am a mediocre surfer at best, I can say without question that I’d much rather wipe out than not try at all.

At 25, I can see many similarities between surfing and life. Sometimes when I am out there competing for waves and fighting my way for position, I can sense that cut throat competition that I wished to escape in the first place. Other times, I’ll look around and find that it’s only me paddling in the wide open waters. Both extremes comfort me. I can neither accept one or the other at all times just as I cannot have both simultaneously. I must choose my own path and look inward for what it is that I wish to achieve.

I often wonder about my missed opportunities when I see surfers riding a wave that I should have been on. There’s a certain kind of envy that goes along with watching a wave break towards the shore.

I can’t help but be jealous of my former classmates from High School and College whose accomplishments I also see from a distance. I hear that some are starting families, finishing up graduate school or putting a down payment on a new home. Part of me is taken back to that passive observer sitting on his board, watching the waves go by with other people on them.

Three years have passed since I have been in the military and I often wonder whether I made the right choice to join the service. I think of some of the personal and career sacrifices that I have made because of this lofty vision to follow the footsteps of great leaders. As I look back to that naïve 22 year old who raised his right hand, I wonder how much of that young man I have sacrificed at the expense of my own individual goals. I wonder how much of my principles I have compromised due to my own ambitions.

It'd be realtively easy to play the blame game and second guess every decision that I have made. As much as sometimes I'd just assume give up my place in the water, I know that there will always be more waves to come. When it comes down to it, I must take control of my own wave and ride it to the best of my ability. When the ride is over, I’ll make sure to stay on my board and paddle out like hell for the next one.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scent of a Wallflower

He was ten minutes late as the verse to the second hymn was being sung by a sea of worshipers. He found his way through the groups of families in their Sunday‘s best and stood beside another insecure man, in myself. I initially smelled him as he made his way into my aisle and knew that our similarities ended there.

After the song was over our pastor asked us to extend a “good morning,” greeting to our neighbors. But before I was even able to turn to the man standing next to me, I noticed that his head was dropped as if to save other’s the trouble of having to acknowledge his existence. I deliberately waited patiently, hoping that he would look up and after a matter of seconds he hesitantly accepted my hand.

It was nothing less than an awkward moment shared by two social introverts. After we shook hands, he took off his faded, mesh red trucker hat to reveal his long combed hair and it was obvious that this was his way of making an effort for his appearance at church. Little did he know, that the church nor its members would make no such accommodations for him.

I sat uneasy at times as I watched the small children around us stare in his direction and whisper to their parents like he was a sideshow at a circus. I began to feel a strange aura around us as if he were unwelcome. I was embarrassed for him.

He was the kind of guy that people pass on the sidewalk without stopping to say hello. For one, he most likely walked with his head parallel to the pavement and two, his body odor is such that people ignore him because of his scent. In fact, he probably had gone his entire life without saying as much as a sentence to anyone in a given week. Yet on this beautiful Sunday morning, this man attracted more glances than anyone in the congregation. Amidst all of the singing, praying and hoopla that was going on, my neighbor became something that he probably never asked for; the center of attention.

I started to think about God’s message and the sole purpose of Christians like myself and the reason why we even attended places like church. And alas, just as the offerings were being passed to the man next to me who had no money to give, I saw the disconnect. For many in that church it was enough for them to listen to the preacher’s sermon, give their tithings and check off their good deed of having attended. These people were on their way to self-centered happiness with not a care in the world.

The prerequisites became clear as I scanned the room only to see the common attire of pressed aloha shirts, pagers clipped onto the belts and fancy strollers. Church all of a sudden seemed more like a members-only club than a setting for prayer. I began to wonder, “since when did Christians become a strictly middle to upper class social group?” I questioned what our mission was as a church and who we were called to serve if people like the guest who sat beside me was treated like the outsider I’m sure he felt like.

I noticed more unfriendly piercing stares from all directions and wondered if the quiet man to my left did the same. I scoffed at the idea that church had become something less about our neighbors and more about oneself.

Later in the service as people joined hands, I once again offered my hand to the man to my left. I held it there in plain site, hoping that he would reach out and grab it. Again he reluctantly gave in as if it were only the second time someone had ever offered. (To prove my theory, the lady beside him did not hold hers out). And so, we stood together, the homeless man and I. Neither of us sang but we stood shoulder to shoulder, praising our Creator, with humility, bashfulness but as equals.

I try to imagine how hard it must have been for that man to walk into a church filled with hundreds of people from a different walk of life and on opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. While I felt that in a basic sense I could relate to his reticence, I don’t quite know where he came up with the courage to walk into a place filled with people who would just assume pretend that he wasn’t there.

I sometimes don’t know how to respond to people like my neighbor in church or how to act around them. I don’t know whether to ignore them like the rest of society and let them live a life of absolute privacy and isolation or to embrace them and show them even the most basic forms of courtesy. While I keep trying to figure that one out in each encounter that I have, I know that at the very least we can show them some dignity. And so what if that doesn’t mean rolling out the red carpet or handing them a stack of money. Maybe all dignity has to be is holding a strangers hand at church…no matter what they look like, where they came from or how they smell.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Called to Bunt

Clichés have a way of penetrating our language and as a result, our culture as well. If you do a quick search through your MP3, DVD collection or book shelf, you will be bound to find hundreds of labels that are nothing more than clichés.

The Gripe:

Before I started my blog, I knew that in order for people to read it, I had to have a title that was catchy, meaningful and original. Well, two out of three wasn’t bad. As it turned out, “writing the wrongs,” was not as unique of a header as I had first thought. As you can imagine, I was thoroughly disappointed. After entering the name of my blog into a search engine, I was saddened to see that my idea of the perfect name to my first ever blog had been abused to the point that the phrase had been rendered useless, tamed and forgettable.

It was because of moments like this, that I have always tried to avoid clichés, like the plague.

Sayings have a way of becoming the next pop culture buzz slang. However, rather than sulk about my misfortune and idea gone aloof, I decided to change the title altogether to a name less overused in everyday speak and more substantive.

My Solution:

In essence, I traded my cliché for a metaphor which could very well turn into tomorrow’s cliché. I first came across the idea “Called to Bunt” while reading, “All Too Human,” by former Clinton staffer George Stephanopoulos, when he recalled a passage that then Governor Mario Cuomo had passed to him from Ken Burn’s book on baseball: “I love the idea of the bunt. I love the idea of sacrifice. Even the word is good. Give yourself up for the good of the whole.”

The excerpt reminded me both of my parents who embody the very concept of this act as well as a purpose that I have been meant to serve.

If there was ever a better line that a fan of baseball and humanity like me could emulate or relate to, I don’t think I’ve yet found it. The thought of “bunting,” represents everything that a baseball player or person should strive towards. The bunt is a simple play but not one envied by those who wish to hit the crowd favored home run. It’s an act that often goes unnoticed. It is an act as selfless as the person behind it.

Oddly, when I think about bunting, I don’t think of baseball immediately. Instead, I think of my parents who have essentially “bunted their entire lives. The immeasurable sacrifices that they made to raise their children were not done by people who wished to be the center of attention. The desire to see all four of us succeed was the act of two parents who would have rather starved then to see us go without.

As a baseball player, I used to hate to bunt. I preferred to swing away so that I could get on base. Now a days I see that it takes special, humble individuals to lay down a bunt even when it often times leads to that person being called out. I think about all of the people that I consider bunters and realize how important they are to the functioning of our society. No, you will not find them in the newspaper or on the red carpet of an awards banquet. Their averages will not be on the top of the statistics leader board or names etched into the Hall of Fame. Bunters don’t do it for the glory or seek the limelight. They do it all for the team.

The name of my blog is “Called to Bunt.” It’s catchy, meaningful and for lack of foresight, original. Still, it is more than a title for a collection of my thoughts and essays, it’s my mantra.

Maybe I should copyright it!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Singled Out

I picked her delicate frame up out of the car seat with such amusement as our eyes met halfway in a moment that can only be described as heavenly. The feeling didn’t last long however, as I noticed the after-meal hard candy mint dripping down her tiny fingers while she extended her hand as to offer me the rest. Right then my immediate reaction was… “Oh no my seats!”

Selfish? Definitely. Although I assured myself as a 25 year old with minimal interaction with toddlers, my thought process was as common as any. Then again, I doubt there would have been a blink of the eye had I have been a single mother.

Her mom thanked me several times over throughout the drive home for taking her and the two kids out for a Mother’s Day dinner. Had I had half of the guts of her, I would have told her she had it all wrong, that she was the one that deserved all of the praise. The words “thank you,” coming out of her mouth in my direction landed on my guilty ears and ate my heart out. I couldn’t help but sheepishly reply, “You’re welcome,” as I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw the two beautiful children that she had raised up until that point.

On several occasions I have mentioned my list of heroes growing up. Atop the list have been soldiers, teachers, nurses, coaches’ everyday volunteers and pretty much any hard working person who doesn’t wear a tie and sit behind a comfortable desk all day. After my Mother’s Day dinner with the three best dates one could offer, I couldn’t resist adding another type of person to that list; Single Moms.

Talk about a hero and what great company for my list as she ranks with all of those people who I have grown so fond of and looked up to for all of these years. I don’t think any of them would mind either.

I’ve never really appreciated a single mother as much as I did during my dinner with her wonderful family. I watched her closely as she chose to feed her kids before herself. I saw soups, sauces, sodas and everything in-between fly all over the table and at times spill onto her clothes. Complaints? None. Don’t I feel ashamed now for some drool on my leather seats? In the end, she had the audacity to thank me with the kind of humility you would expect to hear from a Mother Theresa. I didn’t even know God made these kinds of people.

This particular single mother should have received a round of applause from that restaurant as she brilliantly orchestrated a complex evening affair of flying food, crawling babies, hyper children all the while carrying on a half way decent dinner conversation with the other adult at the table. Did I mention that we went to a cook-it-yourself- steakhouse, where she…. (Sound of trumpets) did the majority of the cooking?

Indeed, all single Mother’s deserve more than the hallmark holiday that they share with the rest of the Mother’s who have help. Single Moms deserve their own holiday and much, much more. If the expression “doing God’s work,” ever rang true, it does so without error for what they deal with on a daily basis.

In a world with so many dead beat Dads that refuse to accept responsibility; those acts ought to be thought of as criminal. My view of the world is so much deeper after having spent a loud, sometimes stressful but overall enjoyable dinner with a single mom and her family. I never thought that such an event would be so profound before it took place. I guess if I had to sum up the entire experience, I would say “A single Mom saved my world.”

Thank you to all of you Single Mother’s out there that may have stumbled across this blog. May you know that you are far stronger than you can even imagine. God bless and keep the faith!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

For God or Money?

As Martin Luther walked up the steps to post his 95 theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517, he saw to bringing an end to the indulgencies of the Catholic Church. To him, the church that he would soon relinquish as his own had been more interested in finances than salvation.

In short, Luther believed even the Catholic Church had its price.

Lately, it has been hard for me to accept fault in the Catholic Church. Bias, I had blindly defended everything about it as being infallible. Nevertheless, as I have begun to peel back the layers of the past to revisit them with my own objective conscience, I have seen at times a very cruel and dark history. From the indulgencies which Luther abhorred, to the sexual abuse scandal of the 21st century, I cannot help but acknowledge the sins that have penetrated my religion.

In recognizing the obvious flaws in my own church, I have found it difficult if not downright hypocritical in calling out the faults of other churches as I understand that all of the major religions worldwide share more similarities than differences. However, as a member of a church which has undergone much controversy and strains in the past, I cannot help but notice that history may be indeed repeating itself.

Today there are many religions that trace their origins back to the protestant reformation that Luther initiated. One of which are the Evangelicals who are quickly becoming the new face of Christianity in the modern age.

My first introduction to these “born again” Christians had been during a Thanksgiving service in 2005 when my brother invited my parents and me to see for ourselves. The service had been my first experience outside of Catholic Mass and to my surprise was very uplifting. The band was fresh and hip, the sermon felt relevant for a change and the back of the heads I witnessed were not just the usual gray that one would find in a Catholic mass, but colorful and young.

As the service went on, I was almost relieved (as were my knees) of the informality that the service took. While the singing was at times over the top and the stage set up with giant size screens seemed theatrical and overdone, I could easily understand why people attended. It felt like a rock concert save the drugs.

After the service my brother drove us past the house of the pastor who had just preached about “living our lives like Jesus.” To my disenchantment, I saw a house about 10 times bigger than the one I grew up in. My brother proudly pointed it out from the others as if I were supposed to marvel at its greatness. To me, I found it particularly difficult to understand how this multi-million dollar mansion that was paid in part by my brother who was tithing had anything to do with the way Jesus lived. To this day, I still can’t find anyone to give me a reasonable explanation as to why that pastor lives so lavishly.

Since that time, I have been to several Evangelical churches and have even tuned into the televangelists when I feel like being entertained. Each time I walk away with the same conclusion in my head, “practice what you preach.” It’s an easy enough cliché to comprehend but hard to execute. Sometimes I even revert back to the popular “WWJD,” that made its way onto many a Christian wrist back in the late 90s and whose origin probably and ironically started with the “born agains.”

My feelings towards Evangelicals are not out of resentment. Many of them are better practicing Christians than myself and could do circles around me in terms of their knowledge of the bible. It is not that bible study that I am concerned about, but rather the undeniable profiteering that feeds itself first rather than helpless mouths.

A few months back my girlfriend took me to see Benny Hinn while he was in town for one of his “midnight crusades.” Without knowing much about his ministry, I was impressed at first sight. After passing around the bucket and soliciting his audience for generous donations, he began his “healing,” which I now consider part hypnosis and part bullshit. I immediately had a flash back to Steve Martin’s movie Faith, except this guy wasn’t a con artist, he really believed what he was doing.

At the touch of his hand, I saw him drop rows of people in the crowd under this pretense of being “healed.” He pointed his finger towards the choir up in the balcony and like a tidal wave; they fell limp in their seats. From a distance, I saw old men and women being screened by physicians before they could approach this “healer named Benny Hinn.” Many of them never did get on that stage. Those that did make it, ended up shaking on the stage within seconds of being in Pastor Hinn’s presence. Canes, wheelchairs, glasses and hearing aids were thrown off the stage one after another.

When I got home, I did what any suspicious man who had thought he just saw several thousand miracles would do…I “googled him.” I found what I expected to find all along. I saw pictures of Benny Hinn getting into his $80,000 Mercedes and of his multi-million dollar mansion(s). I watched a 60 minutes documentary on a man who was afraid to talk straight into the camera after being caught red-handed of the lies, deceit and corruption that were a staple of his ministry. All along as I had watched him supposively cure Cancer, arthritis, deafness and blindness, I thought “this is too good to be true.”

I was right.

If you tune into one of these televangelists you will hear a common theme of “sowing your seed.” This merely means, “Give more money.” It’s safe to say that these Pastors, are far more interested in lining their pockets than giving back. Their claim that the more one sows, the more ones money will grow cannot possibly be thought to be doing God’s work. They don’t talk about investing or working harder at ones craft but rather having faith that God places a premium on finances.

What bothers me about this concept and the continuous lectures is that these pastors prey mostly on those who have nothing but hope and a prayer left. As I left Benny Hinn’s service and looked around at the thousands that had filled the auditorium to be healed but were left dealing with their illness, I saw the agent of change to be less of Benny Hinn and more of healthcare. What those people needed was more of the latter. It is my belief that it is almost fraudulent to place the hopes of ones fate and/or destiny on a sealed envelop with money in it.

As a Catholic, I have placed my faith in God. But even with that, I know that my own personal goals have their limits as I am subject to the Almighty’s plan.

As I look at this emerging church whose members total over 400 million, I gasp at the greed and downright intolerance that its members have been asked to accept. Then, just as I am prepared to point the finger at the transgressions that have tainted more Christians, I begin to look inward and see that these are the same mistakes that Catholics have been accused of.

I wonder when and where the next Martin Luther will pop up to post his “theses,” for the world to see. Perhaps instead of being nailed on a church door, this one will reach a broader audience by internet…perhaps by something much like this blog.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Man's Worth

After walking aimlessly throughout the grocery store, it became apparent to me that I had no business being there. The “fish out of water,” cliché doesn’t nearly fit into the reality that I was in. In a sense, I felt like a zombie, walking the aisles stone faced, looking for any signs of my girlfriend who was doing the “real shopping.”

I was more than out of my element this time, I was in a place where the females had the home court advantage and the rest of us so-called men were there to merely push the cart. As I looked at my fellow Y chromosomes in the checkout lane, I saw a look of acceptance in their faces that whatever happened to be in that cart, was A) good for them and B) regardless was what they were going to eat for the next week or so.

Lately, it’s been more than the grocery store that has led me to the conclusion that women have more control than men. For me, it’s been every time that I look around my immaculate apartment after coming home from work. It’s when I look into the laundry bin and see that all of my dirty clothes have been cleaned. And it’s at dinner time when I smell the fresh aromas of cooking in the kitchen. Each day, I am more and more thankful for the chores that my girlfriend has taken up. I realize that while I may have the higher income, I am by no means the “head of the household.”

The females in my life (grandmothers, mother, sisters, friends and girlfriend) are incredible. I could detail everything that they do on top of their jobs that keeps their significant others going but I don’t want anyone to think that I’m in somehow going back 50 years by commenting on gender roles. Instead, I would like all of the men to appreciate the crap (and yes that is the appropriate word here) that females put up with on a daily basis save childbirth which is immeasurable to me at this point.

I don’t have to study the millions of females around the world that do the types of activities that make a man’s world as convenient as possible. All I really have to do is to look at my own home and see how easy I have it.

I suppose this post is more or less an ode to women but more importantly my girlfriend, who cooks, cleans, goes to school and holds a part time job all the while putting up with my constant BS. Additionally, she also gives some great advice. When I asked her what I could do to make my blog more appealing, she quickly replied, “Keep it short.”

Point taken.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Black Hole?

There’s nothing sexy about the country of Sudan. It’s not a place that most journalists, tourists or policymakers choose to visit. Its geography is largely dry and flat with nothing more to offer the world than modest reserves of crude oil and strife. The name Sudan is derived from Arabic “Bilad-al-Sudan,” literally meaning, “land of all blacks.” It is that translation that perhaps resonates most for Americans as it is seen as a country of little to no value to the western world.
If you don’t want to know more and want to continue to live in the blissful ignorance that you have become accustomed to, then I would suggest that you stop reading here. It only gets worse. To continue reading would seriously jeopardize the neat little safe haven that you are comfortable with. The truth is that Sudan along with many other countries in Africa (that get even less publicity) are in dire need of outside help and if assistance is not given to them in the immediate future, then their place in the world will perish and the rest will be history.

It should come as no surprise that 20% of young Americans believe Sudan to be part of Asia, even though it is the largest country in Africa. And while Hollywood has been making strides towards awareness by marketing the genocide within the country with popular movements such as “Save Darfur,” “the enough project,” “Not on our Watch,” and “Live 8, the conventional wisdom has still been to ignore the continent of Africa in its entirety and to discard it as a land of hopelessness.

Since 2003 experts have estimated that over 200,000 men, women and children have died at the hands of government sponsored militants known as the janjaweed in Darfur. What’s more is that this number is low balled from estimates that have the death toll well over 350,000 with an equal number projected to die in the coming months according to the United States Agency for International Development. If broken down that would be more than 500 killed each day or 15,000 a month. Additionally, of those who have survived this brutality, 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes, many of whom are women and children who are suffering from malnourishment.

The story does not end here though.

Internal conflict is not exclusive to just Sudan. Similar displacements to the tune of 1.4 million are escalating in Uganda where young boys and girls known by some as the “invisible children,” are abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced to join their ranks.
The United Nations largest peacekeeping force is not in Sudan or Uganda but rather the Democratic Republic of Congo where last year 500,000 were displaced and 45,000 die each month. Stories of women and children are also routinely reported for the horrendous sexual torture that is forced upon them.

I could go on with a laundry list of examples of countries under the same plight but out of fear that they would be treated as just that by viewers (a laundry list) where people would wash themselves clean of the horrors that affect millions of people, I’ll simply list them and allow the readers to look up their backgrounds at their leisure: Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.

So the questions that I can never find answers to are; Has this blog reached anybody that will do something useful with their time to change the life of maybe just one human being in Africa? Do numbers and statistics reach our conscience? Do pictures and images of slaughter and rape push us into action? Are eloquent words about humanity and suffering worthless? Are trendy Hollywood ambassadors useful? Ah…the rub?

Maybe we do need Paris Hilton and Britney Spears to visit Africa to bring attention to the world. I think that if the paparazzi were to follow them down there and see for themselves the violence that is afflicting Africans all over the continent, then maybe they would put their cameras to good use and enlighten the rest of us. As much as it pains me to see Kanye West saying anything other than “Welcome to the good life,” perhaps his presence in Darfur could open our eyes and awaken our consciences.

Then again, the Live 8 concerts had a remarkable turnout and produced little in terms of putting pressure on the Sudan government to halt its practices of backdoor support to the janjaweed or demands on the Chinese government and major corporations to divest from Sudan. No, I think this is one problem that not even Bono will be able to fix. The intervention required will take the serious attention and interest of western populations that care to look at Africa not as a continent infested with civil war and AIDS but as a place where human beings have the right to live.

I haven’t gone into gruesome detail of violence that I have read so much about. Nor have I given a thorough background paper on what is actually going on in parts like Darfur. Instead, I ended the last few paragraphs talking about celebrities just like the rest of the news; I’m no better. And for that, I like the others who have tried to reach a tiny cross section of the world have come up short.

My main point which sometimes gets lost in the convoluted and at times incoherent sentences of mine, is that we choose not to act. It would certainly be one thing if we didn’t know about the crisis out of the lack of reporting or information at our disposal. The reality is that any search engine with the word “Darfur, Sudan, Congo, Uganda etc…” will bring up a myriad of hits that talk to the heart of the matter. Americans cry apathy far too much, citing elections as just one example. I don’t buy it in this case. Genocide is a cause we can take up and is the exact word that the US and UN have used repeatedly to describe parts of Africa.

For once we need to listen to our President who in the past may have led us astray in his leadership but in case is spot on, "I promise this to the people of Darfur: The United States will not avert our eyes from a crisis that challenges the conscience of the world.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

America Strong

The sweat dripped down my face as I put one foot in front of the other. Cars zipped past the side of me on their way to the beautiful ocean view that was giving me my last bit of inspiration.

Slowly, I jogged up the steep incline with my eyes staring at the pavement moving beneath me. As soon as I looked up I saw another runner coming my way down the hill. In an ever subtle gesture he gave me a nod of acknowledgement and then a ‘thumbs up’ as if to encourage me. In that split second exchange, we had connected on a similar level; a runner’s level. I knew he had just been where I was a few minutes before and he knew the pain that I was enduring.

On my way back down the hill I encountered several other runners embarking on the same climb that I had just done. Without hesitation and without a sense of obligation, I gave a small wave as we crossed paths. Call it a runner’s thing, a symbol of unity or whatever you wish. The bottom line was that we were all trying to get up that hill.

Running is very much an individual activity and even though there are running groups here and there, the vast majority of runners like to go at it alone. Some people do it competitively in marathons while others just go out to get in shape or to give themselves an excuse to get out of the office. Despite the reasons why people choose to torture their knees for long periods of time, there is one common denominator; the struggle. It is that struggle that connects us, that bonds us.

That instance when I was running up towards Diamond Head and got a motivational thumb’s up is not unique. Almost every time I go out for a run, I encounter similar signals, whether it be a wave, a wink, a big smile and of course the ‘thumbs up.’ The point is that runner’s like to see other runners out on the roads, putting in work when everyone else is at the beach or watching TV. There is an instant sort of brotherhood that is unspoken but understood.

After my last run, I began to ask myself if I had similar experiences in other aspects of my life where complete strangers offer signs of deference out of the blue. For whatever reason, that guy who reached out and made that simple notion to me made me realize that although running is an individual activity, I was by no means out there by myself. I thought for a minute on my descent and then immediately thought of work.

Whenever I enter the gates to work, I am greeted with a sharp salute. Over years of military custom, the salute has begun to mean a lot of things. The most important of which is mutual respect. Salutes are common in the military and for most of us they are second nature. Whenever I see a troop coming my way to salute me, I return a crisp one back without ever thinking twice. Along with the salute comes the verbal greeting (morning, afternoon, evening) and if we are really motivated that particular day, a “Hooah!”

The salute is not a gesture that civilians do. It’s a special sign of solidarity between military folks that is a constant reminder that, “we’re in this fight together.” Like runners, military men and women are easy to spot out in our uniforms. Even outside of work most store owners can spot us a mile away with our short hair cuts and demeanors.

Some storeowners identify me as one of them even.

Whenever I visit a Korean owned store, I’ll call out “on yang hay say yo,’ –one of the few phrases that I know in that language. Right away, I am in their graces. For the most part, they have already identified me as one of them and my broken Korean if anything, lets them know that I would be talking in English as I do business.

I love seeing the old Korean ladies light up as I walk into their stores. I know that I will get some extra unfair hospitality and occasionally a discount. I also know that 9 times out of 10 if they have a daughter, they will probably show me pictures of her. I love Koreans.

On my way back from my deployment (a plane ride lasting over 36 hours with layovers) I met a very nice flight attendant. Maybe too nice. “Are you Korean?” She asked as she handed me my meal. “Yes,” I replied. Her smile grew large.

After she had seen I was done with my meal, she had another one in her hands steaming hot. I politely tried to refuse as I pointed to my stomach to try to tell her that I was full, but she left the tray there anyways. Out of embarrassment and respect I ate the meal and put it on the empty seat next to me as I closed my eyes.

A half hour later she was back. “Are you still hungry?” she asked. “No thanks, I’m really full,” I replied. I knew that my response was not the end of it. And sure enough, plate number three came my way. I looked around to see if anyone else was getting the “hook up,” and to my guilt, saw nothing of the sort. By the time the plane landed in Hawaii, I was full and wide awake. For I had gotten a great night of sleep thanks to the additional pillows and blankets that she had given me throughout the flight as well as the constant service.

Thinking about the runners, the military folks and Koreans that I come across on a daily basis, I began to wonder whether Americans have anything that we do collectively to show that we are Americans.

I am an American first. And although I wear many hats and belong to various social circles, I am proud that no matter where I am, I am a part of a great nation. That great nation though, does not show its solidarity as well as it probably should. We are constantly divisive on ethnic, religious, economic and political matters. The more I walk around and see the face of America today, the more I begin to see a clear line between the “haves and the have nots.”

I turn on the news and see commentators yelling back and forth at one another about differences of opinions. These debates solve nothing but are the epitome of this hatred and resentment that is everywhere.

Other than the national anthem that is played before ball games or the 4th of July, is there ever a sense of belonging for us all. Most of us are too busy with ourselves and too wrapped up in our self interest to think anything of our fellow Americans who have less.

So what is an American? Is it the man who cuts his fellow driver off on the freeway so that he can get home five minutes earlier? Is it the guy who refused to hold the elevator open while he looks away and pretends that he didn’t hear you chasing it down. Is it the real estate agent preying on the elderly to purchase a reverse mortgage? Is it the car dealer who sells a lemon jus to spin a profit? Or how about the southerner whose family immigrated to America two generations before but now acts as if immigration is this terrible thing now?

I’m not suggesting we wear red white and blue everyday or that we salute one another as we pass by. All I’m saying is that we can be more cordial, treat people with respect and dignity…as equals! We must overcome our bitterness towards people who don’t think the way we do or even act it. America is more than a piece of land in the northern hemisphere. To me, it is an ideal of democracy, a shining city upon a hill that can be recognized as a beacon of hope for all of those around the world. Together we are united and above we are “indivisible.”

“His foreparents came to America on immigrant ships. My foreparents came to America on slave ships. But whatever the original ships, we’re in the same boat tonight.”

Rev Jesse Jackson

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Take a number!

It was November 7, 1950 and Earl Warren was on the verge of winning a third term as California’s governor. Instead of celebrating in the governor’s mansion, Earl and his wife Nina were at the bedside of their youngest daughter Honey Bear who had come down with a case of infant paralysis. Shaken and unusually somber, Warren isolated himself even when the election returns came favorably pouring in. As Governor, Earl Warren’s health plan covered his family (six children and wife), an acknowledgement that Warren felt a deep appreciation and gratitude for. In response to the abundant medical care costs, Warren remarked to a reporter, “What would the average family do if afflicted this way? They wouldn’t have any resources to take care of it.”

And so was the turning point for a governor who would become one of the greatest Chief Justices in American history. A man who began his law and political career as a conservative from the Republican party to a compassionate overseer of justice as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. From that event forward, Chief Warren would take off his wingtip shoes and try on a pair from the working class citizen’s perspective.

Chief Warren never did get health care coverage for all of his constituents. Instead he was as he put it, “glad to be going to the supreme Court because now I can help the less fortunate, the people in our society who suffer, the disadvantaged.“ President Eisenhower would remark several years after his appointment of the Chief to the bench “was the biggest damn fool thing I ever did.” With irony as our witness, just as Eisenhower thought of Chief Warren as his biggest mistake, history has claimed the Chief Ike’s greatest success.

My perspective on health care does not come by a sob story of struggling to fight an HMO. I have never once been denied medical help nor do I have inadequate coverage. I’m not one of the fifty or so million adults without health insurance that we hear so much about. I make this argument because I wonder like Chief Warren, “what happens to all of those who are not covered by the government?”

It would be very easy for me to stay out of this debate. I’m a government employee as a member of the armed services where I get 100% health care coverage at any time of day for any illness. I could get on the phone right now and be seen by a doctor today, tomorrow and for as long as I so choose. I’ve had every vaccine that exists and even get priority for the flu shot. A year ago if you recall there weren’t even enough to cover all senior citizens (the ones who needed them the most!). The scars on my arm are a constant reminder that I am one of the privileged few who will be taken care of at no cost to me by Uncle Sam. For that alone I feel grateful, but also in a great sense; guilty.

The bottom line is that I’m a healthy 25 year old adult male who has a health plan that more than covers my needs. I’m very fortunate that I pay nothing into this system whereas many like my parents pay upwards of $15,000 a year. I mention all of this as a means to brag by the way. I’m not being modest. I want everyone to know that I could walk across the street to CVS to pick up a prescription of pain killers or skin products without paying a dime. I talk to my physician regularly and have seen a doctor more times than I can count in the past year. Oh, another thing, I’m not even sick. I haven’t broken any bones or anything of that nature. I just have the taxpayers of America to thank.

I would also like the American people to know that the US is the only wealthy industrialized nation without a universal health care system. That’s a fact. We are surrounded by countries who provide for their citizens, from our neighbors to the north, Canada to the south such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Uruguay…even Cuba! Oh and Mexico will probably have it in a year. There are more; Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Brunei, India, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think that this is a revolutionary concept though.

It would be hard for me to imagine how I might react if I had a terminally ill friend or relative who sought medical care but were refused due to health insurance technicalities and disqualifying preconditions. I know for certain that I would not walk away. Therefore, before it even gets to that point in which I do as Denzel Washington did for his son in John Q or before I cross the border to Canada for generic drugs or renounce my citizenship so that I could fly to France and come under their plan, I think we ought to re-look the situation.

The politicians we hear debating this issue so tenaciously are the same elected officials that receive congressional health care. Your taxpayers ensure that if they are sick, they will be treated. As far as I’m concerned, they are hypocrites for even having a say in the discussion. Many of these people also receive substantial amounts of money from insurance companies and pass legislation to protect the lobbyists that line their pockets and provide for their campaigns. but don’t take my word for it.

The problem as I see it is not that our hospitals are broken. The problem is that health care is not affordable. Millions of Americans do without because they must choose between pills or food. Doctor’s must turn away potential patients who are sick because they don‘t have an insurance card. Families must choose between life saving medical procedures or death all because of money. Is that how far we’ve come? Have we devalued the human being by putting a price tag on his or her body? Since when has that been what medicine was all about? Call me naïve, but I always assumed one of the reasons doctors went into medicine was to help people. If given the choice, I guess I’d rather be a doctor in a country that didn’t have to worry about these petty things.

These are awful options but they are reality. Even those who have insurance plans are not covered sufficiently enough and are often given lesser and more cost efficient treatments at their own health’s expense.

Some of you may be thinking I’m throwing a political pitch your way. I can guarantee you that I’m doing no such thing. I can only guarantee that the facts that I have presented are true and as a consequence, the people who deal without health care are real.

I ask whoever reads this the following questions: Why a country like Cuba-communist and sworn enemies of the US-has health care for all of its citizens? Why can criminals in federal prisons get health care and the rest of the law abiding Americans cannot? Why can all of the countries aforementioned find innovative ways to provide a basic service while the US refuses? Why have we as a nation become so selfish that we would rather turn a blind eye to this injustice?

I state injustice because that is surely the word that Chief Warren would use in this instance. Health care is more than a problem, it ought to be our mission. It transcends political indifference and supersedes that overarching goal of individual prosperity. It is the linchpin of the right to life and is in the fundamental catalyst that drives our pursuit of happiness. Health care is a civil liberties issue not a partisan one. It is a fight worthy of our attention. As the ole’ Chief might say, “if it isn’t worth fighting for, it isn’t worth having.”

We are a nation held together by a common set of values. Our bond is only as strong as the weakest link. That weak link is health care. Let’s do something about it.