Clouds of Confusion

Hughs Wordquilts

IMG_6837-002Sometimes I feel bombarded by clouds of confusion that masquerade as communication.  It happens on those morning talk shows where co-hosts engage each other or guests in trivialities with increasing volume.  One speaks, the other interrupts to shift the focus, two or more people talking past each other.  Sound bullets fly randomly through the airwaves, striking unknown listener targets. 

I recall a live fire exercise during my army basic training.   Walking through a field with loaded M-1 rifles (I know, I’m an old guy!)  we were to fire at pop up targets when they appeared.  On one occasion a  guy behind me fired without a clear view of the target.  I actually heard the bullet whiz past my helmet.  The training sergeant chewed him out and a moment of confusion became an occasion for clarification.

Sometimes our words are like that bullet, flying right past someone’s ear.  Words aimed for…

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Clouds of Confusion

IMG_6837-002

Sometimes I feel bombarded by clouds of confusion that masquerade as communication.  It happens on those morning talk shows where co-hosts engage each other or guests in trivialities with increasing volume.  One speaks, the other interrupts to shift the focus, two or more people talking past each other.  Sound bullets fly randomly through the airwaves, striking unknown listener targets. 

I recall a live fire exercise during my army basic training.   Walking through a field with loaded M-1 rifles (I know, I’m an old guy!)  we were to fire at pop up targets when they appeared.  On one occasion a  guy behind me fired without a clear view of the target.  I actually heard the bullet whiz past my helmet.  The training sergeant chewed him out and a moment of confusion became an occasion for clarification.

Sometimes our words are like that bullet, flying right past someone’s ear.  Words aimed for effect, not connection.  Sound bytes rather than discourse.  One-up-manship.  Nobody listening.  Nobody framing fresh insights from cognitive clarity.  Perhaps this is the new normal for conversation.  We talk past each other.  We listen only to ourselves and our own thoughts.  We trade words and miss relationships.

For several years my wife and I have enjoyed Saturday breakfast at a local fast food restaurant.  We take our newspaper and read it while we eat.  Recent renovations resulted in digital kiosks where the staff prefers customers place their orders.  I tried it once, but found I still had to get in line at the counter to pay with cash.  So, I still go to the counter to place my order.

One Saturday when I stepped up it felt like the clerk dismissed my words.  She pointed to the kiosk.  “You can order over there.”

I replied, “Actually, I’d rather…”

“I can show you how to use it.”

I began to explain why I preferred ordering at the counter.  Mid-sentence she broke in, “It will take your card.”

“I understand that, but….”

Impatiently she interrupted again.  “It’ll take your debit card.”

Now I was the one getting impatient.  “Look, I just want to place my order here.”

With an exasperated expression she said,  “So, what do you want?” 

She entered my order in the computer.  I handed her the cash, and she gave me my receipt and a placard with a number on it.  “Put this on the table.  We’ll bring it to you.”

I went to the table and began reading the newspaper.  In the background I heard various numbers called as they brought orders out.   Suddenly I realized we should have been served by now, so I went back to the counter.

“Excuse me, can you check on my order?”

With a blank expression and flat tone she said, “You’ll have to get in line, Sir.”

I dutifully worked my way back up to the counter and handed her my receipt.  She took it, disappeared for several minutes, then returned.  “Your order was served.”

“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t.”

With a sigh, “They brought it out and called your number, but you didn’t respond.  They thought you’d left.”

“Perhaps I didn’t hear it then, but the placard was on the table in plain…”

“Your order was served,” she said, looking past me to the next customer.’

“May I speak to your manager?”

She abruptly left the register and returned saying, “What did you order?  We’ll do it over.”

I told her and she replaced the order, got it filled and handed it to me on a tray.  When I got to the table my wife noticed one of her items was missing.  Reluctantly I returned to the clerk who was methodically directing customers to the kiosks.  She gave me a bored look, then went and got the item.  As I took it back to the table another server approached, handing me a tray with the same thing.”

I smiled and pointed to my tray.  “Thanks, but we have everything now.”

Looking past me she said, “This is yours.”

“But I already have my order.”

“We owe you this because you didn’t get your order.”

And so it went.

Sometimes I find a lot of conversations going this way.  It’s like we’ve become a computer-programmed population of people who no longer connect brain with tongue.  We rattle off our word bullets randomly, primed by programmed responses, never connecting.  Then I wonder, is anybody really listening?  Do we ever really hear each other?

Perhaps the problem is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be programmed into the stratosphere of digital responses.  Desensitized, we’ve become lost in clouds of confusion.   I wish sarge was here…maybe he could restore some clarity.

 

 

BLOWOUT!

 

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Our country is experiencing a blowout!

What’s happening to us?  Where is our respect for each other?  What has happened to civil discourse?  How have we become so splintered, self-focused, polarized?  What has happened to our beliefs that overarch the specifics of race, gender, place of birth?  Where have we ditched ethics and morality?  Where have truth and trust gone?

When a tire blows out you have to stop and deal with it.  A blowout disrupts your direction, energy, and purpose.  You have to do something definitive.  Oh, you could keep on driving on the wheel rim causing sparks to fly, eroding control of the vehicle.  Eventually, however, the blowout will stop you.

There are many actions available.  You might blame someone…the tire manufacturer, highway engineers, careless drivers who throw things from their cars.  You might blame yourself.  Blaming only prolongs the agony of the interruption.  It doesn’t fix anything.  Ultimately you have to change the tire. 

Our current societal blowout feels like we’re just continuing to drive, throwing out sparks, playing the blame game, certain that if we persevere the tire will just mend itself.   We throw out some of our passengers–they must be why it happened.  The road ahead is rough and extremely dangerous.  Preoccupied with ignoring the blowout for what it is, we will miss the bridge that’s out just ahead.  

When you buy a car the manufacturer provides a book with instructions about care and wear, and how to handle emergencies.  Even if you don’t consult it regularly, you know what’s in it and follow its wisdom.

One of the most universal human experiences, in all ages, from primitive to digital, has been the awareness of an intelligent Creator we call, in one form or another, God.  This Manufacturer of human life has provided us with instructions.  Our Creator has designed us to live in community, to experience joy and pain, success and failure, ease and hardship.  It is a given that we will sometimes be locked in conflict and other times embraced in love.  We fare best when we keep the highest values central.

One man of faith spelled this out in writing to an ancient civilization.  He said to inflate life with God’s Spirit.  When we do, our Creator will plant, restore, and enhance qualities that provide balance and healing for our emotional and societal blowouts.  The writer called the roll of those qualities:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

School shootings, violent intolerance, rude and vicious rhetoric serve only to throw sparks from the speeding rim.  What we need is to fix the tire, correct the problems that are destroying us.  Thoughts and prayers are part of it, but they must spur us out of the box of the usual.  Let us intentionally consult our Creator’s instruction manual for the path to renewed health.  Change the focus from self to God and others.  Let’s put down the verbal and physical guns, and absorb the Creator’s healing qualities into the fiber of our lives.  

With God’s help, we can fix this blowout.

 

 

 

Christmas Past

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2015

Two years ago my wife and I drove up to the Shenandoah Valley for our annual Christmas visit with my mom, Mary Ellen Townsend Harris (When Love Prevails, Kindle books).  It was the last Christmas visit we would have with her.  Mom was 104 then, and an active member of the assisted living community where she resided.

One of the things we always did with her was to reminisce.  We would remember  relatives long deceased, and recollect various Christmas occasions.  One such was during WWII when my uncle Bud, mom’s youngest brother, came to visit on leave from his Army  assignment at the Pentagon.  He was my idol.  I asked him  what he was doing to beat the enemy.  I’ll never forget his reply.  He tousled my seven-year-old hair, laughed and said, “I’m squirtin’ ink at ’em every day.”  His job was writing training manuals, but that was good enough for me.

I especially remember post-war Christmases.  My paternal grandparents had a small farm about fifty miles east of Cincinnati where the whole Harris family would gather.  Those were occasions that still reverberate in my spirit.  There would be a large evergreen tree trimmed with electric lights, ornaments, shiny aluminum icicles, and garlands of all sorts.  Grandma would be in the kitchen wearing a jolly smile and her best apron, tending a turkey in the oven.  All sorts of mouth watering aromas drifted through the house, mingled with the pipe smoke my dad and his dad conjured up in the living room.

Dad would load all our gifts in the car before we left Christmas morning, so one of the first tasks was transferring them to join the array of things already under grandpa’s tree.  I was past the Santa Claus stage, but my siblings weren’t.  Much effort was spent assuring them that Santa knew we’d be there instead of at home, so there would be gifts for all.  There always were.

I don’t recall precisely when we opened gifts, but I suspect it was before dinner.  I do remember how exciting it was.  Somehow Santa always managed to leave a toy for me that was perceived as a little beyond me, so I would have to grow into it.  “You can look, but don’t touch,” dad would announce.  “Grandpa and I will have to figure out how that works later, then we’ll show you how to use it.”

Gift sharing would yield to gathering around the table for grandma’s feast, then she and mom would be in the kitchen cleaning up and sharing stories about us kids…and whatever else.  I can still hear grandma’s laugh–a sort of twinkling chuckle–echoing through the house.  Dad and grandpa would plunge into figuring out the exotic game that was ostensibly mine, then retire out back to grandpa’s shop beside the barn to play pinochle (no kids allowed), while the rest of us took naps.

Much of mom’s time was spent there, just as it was at home, looking after the needs of my brother, Paulie, who had cerebral palsy, and my sister, “Sissy,” whose physical activities were curtailed due to a heart murmur.  I was supposed to “look after her” if she needed anything, which usually led to fights between us due to a wall of independence she built around herself.

Finally the pinochle games would end, a light supper would be served, and as darkness fell we’d head for home, exhausted, each in our own way satisfied with the events of the day.

Looking back, I was aware that Christmas was about the birth of Christ.  Mom told us the stories, and we heard them in church.  We had a cardboard manger scene that we always erected somewhere in the living room.  I knew the story of the three wise men who brought gifts to the Christ child, but I’m not sure I ever connected those gifts with the excitement that consumed most of Christmas Day at grandma’s house.