America’s Heartland

America’s Heartland is also called the Midwest. It is not in the south, or on the Atlantic coast, or on the Pacific coast. It is not known for mountains. It has five great lakes and thousands of very good lakes, as well as rivers, prairies, forests, and vast acres of farmland. The Heartland has several large cities and a great many small towns. It is crossed by many roads, including Interstates 55, 80, 90, and 94.

Different observers have given the Heartland different boundaries, many of them defined by state borders. In my opinion, the Heartland runs from the Canadian border south to the Missouri and Ohio Rivers; it begins in the hills of western Pennsylvania and extends to eastern Nebraska. Chicago is the largest city in the Heartland, but it also includes Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Des Moines, Omaha, and Lincoln. Kansas City and St. Louis are on the southern boundary of the Heartland, as is Cincinnati.

Great Britain acquired half of the Heartland by treaty from France at the end of the Seven Years War. After the Revolutionary War, that region was given to the United States by treaty and was called the Northwest Territory. The other half of the Heartland was included in the Louisiana Purchase.

The Heartland is politically diverse. Many of the states in the Heartland remain “too close to call” during presidential elections, unlike states in other regions that are solidly red or solidly blue. Ronald Reagan was born and raised in the Heartland. Barack Obama began his political career in the Heartland.

The Heartland is home to ten major league baseball teams, ten professional football teams, six professional basketball teams, and six professional hockey teams. The Heartland is knit together by college football and basketball. The Big Ten Conference, aside from Maryland and Rutgers, is at home in the Heartland. In many parts of the Heartland, college football games matter more to people than any professional competitions.

The Heartland feeds America and the world. More than half of America’s corn, soybeans, and hogs are raised in the Heartland, as well as a large percentage of dairy cattle and beef cattle. Many other fruits, vegetables, and grains are raised in the Heartland. Moreover, the Heartland processes all of these foods before shipping them to the rest of the world. Carl Sandburg called Chicago “Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler.” Coal and natural gas are also found in abundance in the Heartland.

Weather in the Heartland reaches all extremes. Summers on the prairie are hotter than summers in south Florida, but winter temperatures regularly drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The Heartland has endured floods and droughts, tornadoes, hailstorms, and blizzards. The people of the Heartland endure weather with little complaining; one of the most common expressions about weather in the Heartland is, “Be patient; it will change soon.”

People of the Heartland often seem less expressive than people from other regions of the United States. In the Heartland, people are less likely to question visitors about whether they like the city or state they are visiting. People living in the Heartland seem to laugh less, cry less, shout less, hug less, and even talk less than people from other parts of the country. The humor of the Heartland is sometimes characterized as “dry.” Johnny Carson was from the Heartland. Bob Newhart is from the Heartland. Garrison Keillor is, of course, from the Heartland.

Other Americans sometimes characterize the Heartland as “Fly-over states.” But the cities of the Heartland have some of the world’s best symphony orchestras, ballet and opera companies, art museums, natural and historical museums, comedy clubs, botanical gardens, and zoos. Colleges and universities in the Heartland have produced some of the world’s leading scientists, mathematicians, engineers, writers, artists, musicians, and leaders in many other fields.

The Heartland holds the loyalty of its children, even when they wander far from home. Jobs and retirement have brought Heartlanders into the south, the southeast, and the southwest, but for many of these people the Heartland remains “home.” They still cheer for the same teams, they still yearn for news of their old neighborhoods, and when two of them meet they have an instant bond.

Fast transportation and instant communication have homogenized the world in some ways. McDonalds and WalMart look the same wherever they are found. Everyone in the country can watch the same shows, go to the same movies, and listen to the same music. Yet most people of the world continue to hold to a sense of their roots. With more time for leisure, many people have turned to cultural events to celebrate their family history-with food, with dance, with clothing, with music, and with artwork. The Heartland is home to people of many backgrounds-European, African, Asian, or Native American. Many languages are spoken in the households of the Heartland, and many different kinds of food are prepared in homes and in restaurants. Yet the Heartland itself is also a culture worth celebrating. The Heartland is an essential part of the American tapestry; without the Heartland, the remaining states would be far poorer.

You can take a person out of the Heartland, but you cannot remove the Heartland from that person’s heart.



Sunday morning mindfulness

When July began, I set seven goals for my life, seeking to develop a sense of Christian mindfulness. Three of those goals were:

“Worship services will be attended, not for me to be uplifted or entertained or educated, but for me to spend time in the house of my God and among the people of my God.

Personal devotional time, consisting of reading the Bible and of prayer, will be conducted, not as an intellectual exercise and not for self-improvement, but for bonding. The purpose of prayer and of Bible reading will be to spend time with the Lord, improving our relationship…

Because this is my personal experiment in Christian mindfulness, I will make regular reports by means of this blog to let you know how things are going. If any of you care to join in this experiment, please also make comments on this blog to let me know how things are going for you.”

Obviously I am trying to keep goal number seven, but I will do so by referring to the first two goals.

From time to time I visit a church where I used to work. Yesterday was one of those times. I sincerely like and love the people there, the building and artwork, the music, and so on. Otherwise, I would not return when I have the chance. Even so, Sunday mornings there can be difficult for me to endure. Members of this congregation brought (and still bring) a lot of resentment, frustration, and anger with them when they come to church, and they often aim it at one another. Under the surface veneer of a friendly and happy church lurks a powerful stream of vitriol that sooner or later emerges into the open. I feel the tension inside myself when I am there. As a result, I become petty in my own thoughts about the congregation and its members. I judge the preaching, both for what it contains (an occasional error) and for what it lacks (substance and significance). I judge the music, including the selection of hymns, the playing of the music, and the singing of the congregation. I judge the way people dress and the way they treat each other. When I do all this judging, I stand in the way of the Lord who wants to bless me in his house.

But not this time! When I went to bed Saturday night, I reminded myself that I would be going to a friend’s house in the morning, and I would not let anything there keep me from enjoying time spent with my friend. I said the same thing again when I got out of bed yesterday morning. It seems to have made a difference! It helps that two of my favorite hymns were included in the service. But I sang to honor Jesus, not to perform for others or to judge their singing. I picked up some good points in the sermon. And whenever my mind started to wonder, I let the artwork in the windows remind me whose house I was visiting and why I was there. For once, I left that building without anger and frustration churning inside of me.

I wish I could write as glowingly of my daily Bible reading and prayer, but the best I can say is that I have had good days and bad days. Since early childhood I have been a rapid reader with good retention, but some kinds of writing needs to be read slowly and thoughtfully. It needs to be savored, not merely read. Some days I have been able to remember this, but other days I have raced through my Bible reading and devotional reading, treating it more as a chore to check off the list than as time spent with a friend. I am still working to change this.

Along with the Bible reading, I have returned to some of the masterpieces of medieval Christianity. First I read The Cloud of Unknowing, limiting myself to ten pages a day so I could consider the flavor and the meaning of what I read. Now I am reading The Dark Night of the Soul, again sticking to ten pages a day. These texts are helping to remind me of the purpose of my devotional life, but at times I still read even them too quickly, too eager to get to the next task of the day.

Christian mindfulness does not develop overnight. It takes a long time to master the discipline of Christian mindfulness, just as Buddhist mindfulness or Hindu yoga take a long time to master. Any aspect of Christian living will take time to master, apart from salvation, which does not require any effort or practice on our part, because Jesus has done all the work for us. Thanks be to our Savior Jesus Christ!


The grammar Dalek could care less

People approach me with the oddest requests, knowing that I am a grammar Dalek. “Grammar Dalek,” they say, “could you please use your influence to set straight the English-speaking world? For example, could you please tell people to stop saying they could care less when they really mean that they could not care less?”

At questions like this I chortle—and if you have never heard a Dalek chortle, you should be thankful; it is not a pleasant sound—and when I can stop chortling I tell them, “People, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the original expression is indeed, ‘I could care less.’ Moreover, the right and wrong of this expression were debated long before you were born, and the official decision says that you are wrong.”

The Second Intergalactic Dalek War was fought over this very expression. Daleks divided into two groups, each intensely convinced that they were right, and each determined to exterminate the Daleks who disagreed with them. The larger group of Daleks, known to Dalektic historians as the Literalists, fired the first shot. “If you could care less,” they said, “then obviously you care a little. Stop saying that you could care less if you mean that you do not care at all.”

The smaller group, called the Ironists, replied, “Actually, the expression ‘I could care less’ is shorthand for a longer expression. It really means, ‘I could care less, but the difference between how much I care now and caring not at all is so small that you could not possibly notice it, let alone measure it.’ That’s too many words to say in the midst of a conversation or an argument, so the idea is shortened to the much simpler form.”

The Literalists shot back, “But your shortened expression makes no sense. It says the opposite of what it means!”

To which the Ironists answered, “Obviously you have never encountered sarcasm before.”

The battle was fought for many centuries, and many Daleks gave their lives for their respective causes. In the end, the Ironists prevailed, and now the iron-clad expression is, as you can see, “I could care less.” From now on, when you scornfully want to tell someone how you feel about their opinion, you know exactly what to say. Say it right, or say it wrong; it doesn’t matter, and really, I could care less.


Obsession, or seven of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll songs

I can’t speak for you, but I always learn the most interesting things while researching something else. For example, yesterday, in a bit of mild curiosity, I wanted to know which group sang the song “Obsession” in the early to middle 1980s. (The answer is Animotion; it was their first and biggest hit.) Along with the answer to that question, I also found several interesting internet lists about popular songs related to the feeling or condition of obsession.

Earlier this month I posted an essay about the meaning of love. Three of the points I made were that love cares more about the other than about the self, that the opposite of love is selfishness, and that popular culture tends to confuse the two, expressing selfish thoughts and feelings as if they were love. I now wish that I had used the theme of obsession to show the difference between selfishness and true love. After all, obsession cares more about “what I want” and “how I feel” than it cares about “what you want” and “how you feel.”

Last night and this morning I started examining my favorite popular songs for themes of obsession. I did this because several of my favorite songs appeared on those lists of songs about obsession. About fifteen years ago I made a list of my favorite songs. Some preferences have changed over the years, but the top of the list has remained remarkably stable.

My favorite rock ‘n’ roll song for much more than fifteen years is “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys (1966). I have always loved this song for its harmony and polyphony, and the actual words have never been as important as the sound. In this anthem to love, the singer mentions a few details about the appearance and scent of his beloved, but the bulk of the song is dedicated to the good feelings and “excitations” he is experiencing. One might gather that she feels the same way about him, if the two of them have good vibrations, but from the lyrics alone it does not seem to matter to him whether she truly likes him or not.

A strong second favorite song is “Hey Jude” by the Beatles (1968). Hard-core Beatles fans know that Paul McCartney wrote this song to comfort Julian (“Jules”) Lennon on the divorce of his parents, John and Cynthia Lennon, and John’s on-going romance with Yoko Ono. Some of the song directly mentions the sorrow of the boy (“Take a sad song and make it better.”), and other lines seem to encourage him to accept his father’s second wife (“Let her into your heart.”). As Paul filled out the lyrics, though, he seemed to add just a touch of obsessive “love.” (“You have found her. Now go and get her.”) Neither of my two favorite songs made the lists of songs about obsession, but they contain elements of the feeling.

My solid third favorite song is “Cherish” by the Association (1966). This song was featured on every list of songs about obsession. “Cherish is the word I use to describe all the feeling that I have right in here for your inside.” The singer sings about how she makes him feel and laments the fact that she has no interest in him. Writers of these lists comment how strange it is that this song is sometimes featured at weddings, even though it describes unrequited love. I agree. The song seems more suited to the sad and lonely guy at the back of the church than to the happy bride and groom.

After this, my favorites clump as a group, so I will list them in chronological order. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley (1960) is a simple love long about a man who is helpless in the face of love. Elvis had already sung about the symptoms of love, making them sound much like a panic attack, in “All Shook Up.” Now Elvis sings more calmly about those feelings, but again the singer does not seem to care whether or not she feels the same way about him.

The most obvious song on this list of obsession songs is “Every Breath You Take” by the Police (1983). Sting even wrote this song to portray the thoughts of a stalker, and, according to interviews, he remains astounded by its popularity. Like many other people, though, I have been drawn to this song since the first time I heard it. Its simple tune and beat describe a feeling that might well be mistaken for love, even though the singer is so obsessed that he sings, “Oh, can’t you see you belong to me,” without even stopping to ask whether or not she wants to be with him.

“We Belong” by Pat Benatar is a much gentler song about love, but seen in this light it may be just as demanding as “Every Breath You Take.” Although the song is about us instead of me, unlike most of the songs on this list, the singer takes for granted that “we belong together.” One wonders if the song is being sung because the beloved has suggested a bit more distance between the two of them might be healthy.

I was surprised to see the deeply romantic “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” by the Moody Blues (1988) on the list of songs about obsession. This song would appear to be one of the healthiest expressions of true love on my list of favorites, with reminders of “the promise that we made each other” and, “My arms will close around you and protect you with the truth.” On the other hand, the singer is obsessed with someone who is not present at this time. He remembers the past and he hopes for the future, but his love has no reality right now. He sings, then, only about his obsession, not about a love that the two of them share.

Here, then, is a challenge: how many popular songs from the last sixty years actually sing about true love—love in which the beloved matters more than the lover—and not merely about how the lover feels toward the beloved? Are there many love songs from this era that really express love rather than an addiction to the feeling of love or a desire to own and control the beloved? Let me know what popular love songs you like that actually express true love.


All*rgic to (YOU KNOW WHAT)

I got to work this morning, and I saw that my duty is to form (or script) a paragraph without a most common sign or symbol. How can I do this? And on a Monday morning to boot! I will try to stir my brain into action, but it is hard to gain victory and claim any award on this occasion. Thank you for this amazing and difficult task, A. Aurora. I will claim my victims (for this duty) tonight. J.

If all that puzzles you, read through it again and see what is missing. Do you notice? The paragraph does not contain the letter e a single time (unlike this paragraph). I enjoyed Authentically Aurora’s challenge almost as much as I enjoyed her clever paragraph, which managed to include the theme of allergies while omitting the letter e. (I’ll bet she thought that no one noticed.)

The other part of my assignment is to choose five other bloggers to write such a paragraph. Here are the official rules:

Write a whole paragraph (a paragraph sounds easy right?) without any word containing the letter “e”. Challenge at least five bloggers to do the challenge. They must do it within 24 hours or it is considered as failure. If you fail or pass, suffer in the Page of Lame. If you win, wallow in the Page of Fame.

I would add the suggestion that the twenty-four hours begin when you first see the assignment, not from the time I post the assignment.

And the five honored candidates are… drum roll please…

Lauren Haley


See, there’s this thing called biology

Playfully Tacky

Bonnywood Manor

Good luck and happy writing! J.

How am I? Please don’t ask.

I’m trying to cut down on my lying. When a co-worker asked me this morning, “How are you?” I replied, “I refuse to answer that question.”

This “How are you?” greeting is getting silly. People walking the opposite direction say, “How are you?” and I say, “I’m fine—how are you?” At that point, we either both have to stop walking or we have to shout to continue the exchange. Generally I do stop walking and make eye contact and wait for their answer, which forces them to decide whether or not to answer me. I don’t feel guilty about this—they started the conversation. Sometimes they seem flattered that I actually appear genuinely interested in how they are. Other times the situation is awkward because they weren’t really interested in my answer and they don’t expect me to care about their answer.

My counselor has an employee who calls a couple days before each appointment to make sure I am planning to come, and who greets me when I come in the door. She has a friendly habit of asking, “How are you?” and usually I tell her I’m fine. I wonder if everyone else lies to her as I do. I’m tempted, next time she asks, to say, “Well, I wouldn’t still be coming here if everything was OK, would I?”

“How am I?” A member of my family has been in the hospital since Wednesday night because of anxiety and depression and related problems. The rest of the family has watched this person struggle for several weeks. We are all glad that this person is finally getting some professional help, and we hope it will be beneficial. I’m willing to blog about the situation, but I’m not keen to mention it in casual conversation.

“How am I?” My knees ache when I climb the stairs. My ankle is throbbing because I stepped on the plug of another person’s GPS device which was, for some unknown reason was sitting in the middle of the floor and not in a car. My back is still sore because I wrenched it last week waking up from a dream.

Would you like to know about that dream? I had gotten on the flatbed car of a freight train while it was stopped at the station. That did not seem strange at the time, because other passengers were getting on and off the freight train. But as the train started moving to leave the station, I remembered that I had not told anyone where I was going. As the train approached a curve, I prepared to jump. I was determined to make a good solid jump off the train, as I did not want to risk losing an arm or a leg. I woke up when my body hit the floor.

This story about jumping out of bed because of a dream seems amusing at first. Thanks to the internet, I know that I can worry about this as a serious problem. It has a label, of course: RBD, which stands for REM behavior disorder. A healthy person’s body does not move while that person is dreaming, because the mind-body connection is aware of the difference between dreaming and reality, no matter how vivid the dream seems. When that awareness is lacking, something has caused the normal separation between dreaming and reality to be severed. The worst case scenarios involve a brain tumor or the onset of Parkinson’s disease. A more likely cause for my RBD is that I am trying to reduce my alcohol consumption. Either way, I’m not cheerful about a week of mild back pain due to an unusual sleep disorder which might or might not recur.

I’m worried about family finances. I’m concerned about people I’ve known for a long time and the problems they are facing. I’m concerned about people I’ve just gotten to know this summer and the problems they are facing. I’m not enjoying the summer weather. I’m sick of hearing my neighbor’s lawn mowers and trimmers and blowers. I’m taking medicine to control my anxiety and my depression. That’s how I am; thank you for asking. And, by the way, how are you?


Time travel, in fiction and in fact

Thirty years ago this month, the original movie Back to the Future first appeared in theaters. Some celebrations marked the occasion this month, although the real celebrations are holding off until November, for reasons that are immediately obvious to any fan of the trilogy.

Rather than reviewing the movies, all three of which I enjoy, this post will comment on a central element in the plot of the movies. This element requires a suspension of disbelief I find hard to maintain, even though it exists in most (but not all) stories involving time travel. The plot problem is that most imagined time-travel devices or techniques do nothing to account for the motion of the Earth through space and time.

Consider this: the planet Earth turns completely on its axis every twenty-four hours, creating the phenomena known as “day” and “night.” This means that, relative to the sun or to the center of the planet, anyone standing at the equator is moving about one thousand miles an hour in a circular motion from west to east. If a person is around 45 degrees north (or south) of the equator, that person is traveling roughly seven hundred miles an hour. This means that if you were near Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Paris, Munich, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Istanbul, Mongolia, or the Japanese island Hokkaido, and you were to jump instantly exactly one minute into the future (or into the past), you should arrive about twelve miles away from the spot that you left, since the Earth had spun that far during the minute you missed.

That, of course, is only due to the spinning of the Earth. As we know, the Earth is also traveling around the sun at a speed (relative to the sun) of 67,000 miles an hour. Moreover, the sun and its planets are circling the center of the galaxy at a speed roughly 490,000 miles an hour (relative to the center of the galaxy). Ergo, if you were to jump one minute into the future or the past, you would be many miles from the planet Earth.

Are you dizzy yet? Bear in mind that the universe is expanding, and the Milky Way galaxy is moving away from other galaxies at a speed around two million miles an hour.

The argument that all these speeds are relative, and should not be considered when thinking about time travel, falls short of being convincing. How can one accept the idea that the Earth is stationary and that the universe is spinning around it every day and also moving even more rapidly in other ways relative to the Earth? Far better is it to say that the Earth moves, and that the time traveler must find some way to keep up with the Earth. I suspect that time travel has been discovered several times in the last 120 years, but the discoverers are lost in the vastness of space with no hope of finding their way back to Earth again. Check the records for brilliant inventors who have mysteriously disappeared, and you will know who has already invented time travel.

H. G. Wells already knew about this problem. In his novel, The  Time Machine, time travelers remain associated with a spot on the Earth’s surface while they travel through time, guaranteeing that they do land at the same spot they left, no matter how far the Earth has moved during that time.

Doctor Who’s TARDIS travels through space and time, and its engineering is sophisticated enough that it can locate any planet in the universe in both space and time, calculating the trip without displacing the machine due to the motion of all the bodies in the universe. This explains, though, why the Doctor sometimes comments that the short hops are much more difficult than the longer leaps.

In 1970, Jack Finney published the novel Time and Again, which suggests that time is imaginary, so travel through time can be accomplished by training the imagination. This same idea made time travel possible in the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time. Presumably, if time is imaginary, then the dimensions of space are imaginary also, making it possible to travel through time by means of imagination without leaving the surface of the Earth.

The Back to the Future movies are cleverly written and well acted, so they are fun to watch over and over again. Until Doc Brown finds a way to convert a DeLorean automobile into a TARDIS, though, the three movies will be nothing more than entertaining fiction. (Sorry about that, Cubs fans, but the movies also put an American League team in Miami, so the prediction was doomed anyhow.)


What is this thing called love?

“Love” is a simple word, yet the idea of love is among the most complicated and confusing ideas known to men and women. What is this thing called love? What good is it? And who really needs it, anyhow? I do not pretend to be an expert on the topic of love (or on much of anything else, for that matter), but in my years of living and learning, I have discovered certain truths about love.

First: love is central to the Maker of the universe, which means it is a central power of the universe as well. The Bible never says that God is power or that God is knowledge, although it does say that God possesses all power and all knowledge. Yet in I John 4 the Bible says twice that God is love. Love is at the very center of the reality that is God. God does not merely love the things that he created; outside of space and time, God still is love. No Unitarian believer in God could comprehend this truth, but the eternal and unchanging love among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are essential to the true nature of God. The universe could be regarded, in a way, as a gift of love from the Father and to the Son.

One consequence of that reality is that, since men and women are created in the image of God, men and women are created for love. We already know that we are commanded to love God more than anything else and to love our neighbors as ourselves; but this understanding makes those two commandments more than just requirements. The entire reason and purpose for the existence of each and every one of us is love.

Second: love is defined by the fact that the Lover cares more about the Beloved than about its self. True love always puts the Beloved first. Poets and songwriters and movie makers have largely missed the boat on this fact. The culture around us trains us to think of love as the good feeling we have that is caused by another person. He makes me feel good, so I must be in love. I no longer feel good around her; we must have lost that loving feeling. The opposite of love is not hatred, as many people assume; nor is it apathy, as some have suggested. The opposite of love is selfishness. Whenever I use a person and my relationship with that person to make myself feel good, I am selfish; I am not in love. When I care about that person and want that person to be happy, even at some cost to myself, then I truly love that person.

Here is an example: parents do not change the diapers of their babies because they like changing diapers. No one likes changing diapers; changing diapers is a disgusting experience. Parents change the diapers of their babies because they love their babies. The comfort and well-being of their babies matter more to the parents than does their own happiness.

Third: love makes the Lover vulnerable. Once one cares more about the Beloved than about the self, the Beloved is able to hurt the Lover. That hurt may come through total rejection, through thoughtlessness, or through various other shortcomings. The Lover does not stop caring about the Beloved, even when the Beloved hurts the Lover. The Lover is willing to forgive, because the Lover cares deeply about the Beloved. The Lover is willing to make sacrifices on behalf of the Beloved, whether or not the Beloved deserves the love and the sacrifice of the Lover.

I suspect that the devil rebelled against God because he did not understand love. He understood power, and he understood justice, but he saw love and mercy as weaknesses of the Creator. The devil thought he could run the universe better than its Creator was running it precisely because the devil planned to stick to power as the guiding force of the universe. The devil never realized that power and even justice could be overcome by love and by sacrifice.

I know that when one of us hurts because of a rejected love, we share the pain God feels when the people he loves rebel against him. God could spare us that pain, but he chooses to let us experience that pain so we will sense the love he has for each of us. Whether one grieves over a broken relationship on the first day or the one-thousandth day, one is in tune with the heart of God.

Fourth: love is the focus of an appetite that all people have, but love is not the appetite. Children need the love of their parents, and husbands and wives crave the love of their spouses. God created us with an appetite for love, just as he created us to hunger and thirst for nourishment of our bodies. These appetites can become twisted and can be used to lead us into sin. Hunger can be twisted into a craving for unhealthy food, or it can motivate a person to steal food that person cannot afford. So the appetite to be loved can drive people into many thoughts and actions that are not healthy.

The arts in our civilization cannot discern the difference between true love and the appetite for love. Often the poems and songs and novels and movies of our culture picture only the craving for love and its satisfaction without ever showing true love. It is not wrong to want to be loved. This desire is healthy; it is part of the good plan of our Creator.

Fifth: love comes in many forms. Parents love their children and children love their parents, but that love is not the same. Romantic love draws two people together, perhaps producing a marriage and a family. The love of two friends for one another can be even stronger and more meaningful than romantic love. People love their pet cats or dogs, they love pizza or chocolate, they love their hometown and their country, and they love God. All of these loves are good, but they are not all the same.

Even the President of the United States and the Supreme Court have become confused about the different kinds of love. Love is good; nothing is better than love. I never want to love my cat the way I love a pepperoni and onion pizza. Many teens and young adults cannot distinguish the difference between a close friendship and a romantic attachment. They are still learning who they are, and they are easily confused. The answer to their confusion does not come from hate, nor does it come from repeating God’s commandments over and over. The answer to their confusion comes from love: loving them, and modeling for them in appropriate ways the beauty of love in all its forms.

Truly, love makes the world go ‘round. What the world needs now is love, sweet love; all you need is love. May each of us find it where and when God pleases to grant it to us.


My reel mower

In the last half of 2012, when the world was coming to an end and everything I owned was falling apart, I experienced one loss that brought me great joy. I was mowing the lawn and hit a patch of thick grass near the property line by Mrs. Dim’s house–Mrs. Dim waters her grass almost every day, even when it rains–and the mower engine died and would not start again. It may sound strange that I was glad to see my lawnmower die, but this breakdown gave me the chance to buy something I had wanted for several years: a reel lawnmower.

For the uninitiated, a reel lawnmower operates on neither gasoline nor electricity. It is powered only by the strength of a human body. As the mower is pushed forward, the turning of the wheels sends a reel spinning, and that reel consists of several sharp blades that cut the grass.

It was late in the mowing season, and none of the stores in town had reel mowers in stock. I had to order my mower online and wait a week for it to arrive. By that time, the grass had gotten pretty high, and the first two mowings were hard to do. After that the mowing got easier, and I loved my reel mower.

A reel mower is quieter than the typical gasoline lawn mower. One can actually hear the birds sing while cutting grass with a reel mower. A reel mower also does not burn any gasoline. Less noise pollution and less air pollution-what’s not to love? Leaving more gasoline supply for other purposes, I saw the price of gasoline drop a nickel each week for a month once I started using my reel mower. Of course I take all the credit, and imagine what would happen to the price of gasoline if everyone used a reel mower. Besides, my doctor wanted me to get more exercise, and mowing with a reel mower was just the ticket for more exercise.

Already I had been raking leaves instead of blowing them. Already I had been using a hand tool to trip the grass along the sidewalk instead of using a power tool. Now I had the best improvement of all: a reel lawn mower that was quiet, energy efficient, and provided me with weekly exercise. Since the reel mower was not hard to start, I didn’t mind taking a break for rest and a drink of water while mowing. I didn’t mind mowing different parts of the property on different days instead of rushing to get the week’s mowing done on the same day. I didn’t mind mowing at all, except for the times that the neighbors got out their loud smelly mowers while I was enjoying the day with my reel mower.

My mother and father said they remembered using a reel mower when they were young. Mrs. Dim said the same thing. Clearly, none of them understood why I would take a step backwards in technology. They could not grasp the goodness of a quiet mower that had no carbon footprint. Yes, I was smug about my reel mower.

Of course no change is perfectly good. The reel mower jammed when it hit twigs that the gasoline-powered mower could effortlessly grind to pieces. Various bolts had to be adjusted every two or three weeks to keep the reel mower operating efficiently, and the instructions that came with the mower were not very clear about what to adjust. I had to teach myself by trial and error. Worst of all, the handle of the reel mower was made from thin metal. Before the reel mower was a year old, the handle had broken, and I had to fix it and reinforce it to have a working mower.

The next summer, the handle broke again, and this time no repair I tried would hold. For a while I struggled to make the reel mower work, but meanwhile the grass was getting longer. Finally, I threw in the towel, drove to the hardware store, and bought another loud gasoline-consuming monster. I’m sure that Mrs. Dim was happy to hear the mighty roar once again. My weekly mowing takes less time, even if it does not provide as much beneficial exercise. But I miss my reel mower, and someday I hope to find a way to get a good strong handle attached to it again.


When I overanalyze, I’m sorry

This bothers me: when people describe to me a problem they are having, I try either to analyze why the problem exists or to help them find a solution. Then I overhear someone else say the kind, compassionate things I should have said, and I kick myself up and down the stairs the rest of the day.

Really, I want to be kind and compassionate. I hunt for the right words to say and apologize when I don’t find them. No doubt part of my problem is a Mastermind (INT-J) personality which is automatically analytical and problem-solving even when other people do not want that kind of response. I want to be classy like John Steed, but always I end up as Mr. Spock instead.

The reason this bothers me is that, when I am being the analytical Mr. Spock, other people get the impression that I don’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth! I would not be analyzing their problem if I did not care. To me it seems like I am reaching out with a helping hand, but to them it feels as if I am building a wall between us.

Whenever this has happened, I feel disappointed in myself. Understand that, in my household when I was growing up, “disappointed” was a code word for strong disapproval. In some ways, hearing Mom or Dad say, “I’m disappointed with you” was a worse punishment than being spanked or sent to my room. So when I say that I am disappointed with myself, I really mean that I am very angry at myself.

At the same time, I am very sensitive to the people around me. If someone is having a bad day, my first reaction is to blame myself. The other person might be fighting off a cold, or getting over a morning argument with a spouse, or focusing attention on a project, but part of my brain is asking the rest of my brain, “What did I do that was wrong?” I’ve been like this as long as I can remember. As a result, I have learned to ignore that feeling, the same way I ignore the feeling that I’ve forgotten something important each and every time I leave the house.

This probably means that at times I miss a chance to apologize when I should apologize. Or I miss a chance to say a kind word to someone who needs a kind word, apart from the fact that their problem is not my fault. Failing to say the right thing, though, bothers me less than saying the wrong thing. I cannot seem to remember that generally people want sympathy and support more than they want solutions.

Some people say that this is a male/female divide in western culture. They say that women talk about their problems to receive emotional support, while men talk about their problems to find solutions. Therefore, when a man hears a problem described, he looks for a solution; when a woman hears a problem described, she offers emotional support. That description is simplistic, of course, although it may contain some elements of truth. In the end, though, it seems more like a stereotype than a helpful explanation.

But, there I go again. Even dealing with my own feelings, I am looking for explanations and solutions. I am asking how I can change myself so I can offer support and sympathy and not be the analytical Spock who doesn’t help at all. At this point, I am who I am, analytical mind and all.