Posts Tagged ‘ priorities ’

Chocolate Cake

After the last two weeks of political conventions, it should come as no surprise that not everybody loves chocolate cake. Unlike both major political parties, chocolate cake makes sense. But, not everybody loves it. Why?

There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about chocolate cake (again, unlike both major political parties). Tho not everybody even has access to chocolate cake (ref political conventions, which are in our faces, 24/7; somehow, even the priest at Mass managed to point out current politics in his homily (to be accurate, he made some pointed observations about current politicians).

The list of what is wrong with American politics is long (proving once again, that while genius is limited, stupid is infinite); but I am at a loss to find even one thing wrong with chocolate cake.

To be slavishly accurate, it is “German Chocolate Cake” which is my own personal favorite (those in the know, know that the title really should be “German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake” – having nothing to do with anything at all Deutsch). Which I made for myself for my birthday for years, but this year, my wife has me helping a friend move on my birthday, so no cake. Yeah: too bad, so sad. Anyway…

True: nothing, in and of itself, “intrinsically evil” about chocolate cake. However, when there’s too much of it; that is a horse of a different color.

We never read the Bible at home while I was growing up; dunno why, ‘cause we went to Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day of Opportunity (I never liked the term “obligation” – so I’ve borrowed “day of opportunity” from someone else – apologies for not remembering well enough to give credit where credit is due), also “CCD” (the Catholic version of “Sunday School”), and I can’t forget prayers before every meal and at bed time. We even went to Mass while trekking across country during my dad’s two weeks of annual vacation. More religion than most, perhaps; but that was it, lock-stock-and-barrel.

For some reason, the parable of the fig tree has stood out since my earliest days. It always seemed so strange that Jesus killed that tree just because it didn’t have any figs. Whatever happened to “live and let live”? It wasn’t until recently that I discovered some commentary that explained the parable. It was probably the footnotes in the Nararre Bible; if not, then the Magnificat monthly magazine. In any event, I was a Catholic for sixty years without understanding that parable – so how much else have I not understood? The answer to that question boggles the mind. Or, maybe not.

The whole point is not “what are you about – what are you doing?” The whole point is simply, “are you doing the right thing?” That fig tree had lots and lots of leaves; one would think, a good thing for a tree – especially in a desert climate – to have. Like chocolate cake, nothing inherently evil about leaves.

But, figs it did not have. And, it should have. That is the point.

It should have had figs. It was the season for figs and it had none. Lot of leaves – lots of sizzle; no figs – no steak. So, the tree was not doing what it should. Tho it was standing out there, minding its own business, making lots of leaves. Maybe it missed the memo. Unfortunately for the tree, Jesus called it; and the tree was busted.

Nothing wrong with chocolate cake, but chocolate cake is not what we should be about. Once in a while, leaves are a good thing. Once in a while, chocolate cake provides the positive strokes that are also necessary for living. But there is a big difference between a piece of chocolate cake once in a while, and a piece every night, or every week. To say nothing of what else you could eat, or spend your time with.

And that is the point: are you spending your time doing the right things? Or, are you spending your times making leaves, and no figs. You see, while some people can “multi-task” (I can’t, so I really have no idea how others do that), there really are priorities. And maybe some resources (time, energy) are better spent on things other than chocolate cake.

I don’t know anybody who is not doing all they can. Finding someone who is not busy is about as likely as finding an honest person in Washington (D.C. or Olympia – take your pick). Busy, busy, busy. Always rushing around. Spending their lives doing and not being. Lots of leaves, no figs.

We all know – intellectually, we all know – that our total days breathing and walking around are numbered. We all know that we may have already seen our last sunrise (or, sunset). We all hope that we will live forever in perfect health, even when we’ve never, ever, met anyone who has (why do we think we’ll be the first?).

Not a case of “play today, repent tomorrow,” for nearly no one thinks they have any reason to repent of anything. What’s wrong with leaves? Everybody’s doing it. Some are even making more leaves – a lot more – than others. I never liked figs anyway.

The problem is, figs count, leaves don’t. I hope I’m making figs – I hope, but I don’t know. I hope, but I don’t know for certain. All I can do is try, and pray. Pray that GOD will show me how to do better.

Could Jesus have cut the tree some slack? Yeah, could’ve. Didn’t. Pretty brutal. But, for thousands of years, GOD tried working with the Hebrews, and still to this day, hasn’t been able to soften their hearts. Am I doing enough? Dunno. I am aware, very aware, that there is always room for growth, room to improve, another branch to grow figs on.

Figs, figs, figs – more figs. Less chocolate cake. And that is the downfall of chocolate cake: figs. While eating one, I am not eating the other. While doing things that are moving me away from GOD, I am not doing things that are moving me closer. Two masters – something in the Bible about that. On the one hand, I have things of this world that do not move me closer to GOD; on the other hand, I am very much aware of things that do move me closer. And they are mutually exclusive.

I’m afraid, very much afraid, that the recent political conventions are a harbinger of things to come. I’m afraid, very much afraid, that the storm is coming, and it will be brutal. And there is no reason to think that it won’t be the perfect storm than sinks this grand experiment called America.

The recent, targeted, murder of a Roman Catholic priest in France (Fr Jacques Hamel, RIP) has done two things. First, it has escalated the conflict between Islam and the rest of the world. Second, the silence of the political parties and the news media on this shows that we can expect further attacks (no repercussions, no reason to stop killing religious) and further silence.

Put another way, we now have proof that nothing is sacred, not to ISIS, not to our politicians.

The fig tree didn’t have a chance – it had already used up all of its chances. It was time for the fire. I need to eat less chocolate cake. Politics in America would be an embarrassment if they weren’t so disgusting (really, Clinton and Trump – this is the best we can do???).

I think I still have a chance to cut down on my chocolate cake to make room for more figs. I’m not feeling so optimistic about the American dream. Perhaps, like the fig tree, it is time for the fire?

It’s all about me (not)

Because of my job, I am unavoidably assaulted with “news” about the current “presidential race” (not sure if “presidential” should be in quotes – as in the things going on are not worthy of being called presidential; or if “race” should be in quotes – since the current fiasco is more long-winded (dare I say boring?) than a cricket test match).  After having spent nearly 20 years overseas (i.e., not in the USA), I learned to appreciate other news sources (read: BBC).

And part of the exposure to politicians is having “issues” thrown in my face, over and over and over (ad nauseam).  Topics I guess I should be concerned about, but just can’t.

In my quest for preparing our Twins for their future, I search (“surf”) the web looking for what I think they ought to know.  Facts that should influence their opinions; which of course should then affect their actions.

Two stories on the BBC World Service tonight made me pause.

One was on the  convenience of food.  Specifically, “Is Convenience Killing Us?”  At issue was whether or not “hyper-processed” food was leading to better health, either in the west (USA, UK), or in the east (Red China).  One commentator in the podcast wondered what was compelling us to conclude that everything else we fill our days with was more important than what we eat.  Basically, we are wringing our hands over our bad choices from a plethora of products.  The Twins are approaching their ninth month, and are being weaned – time to start a kitchen garden at least.

(I do love the irony that, we are moving to a new house that will allow a kitchen garden (fresh, homegrown tomatoes!) and reduce my commute to the job I hate by about half.)

The other article was on water.  Of course, everyone knows how consumed Americans are about gender orientation.  This really is shameful considering how many people either don’t have easy access to water, or the water that is available is, well, not suitable for human consumption.

There aren’t many words accompanying this article, which will make it a “quick read.”  Mustafah Abdulaziz has traveled around the world with his camera, and 70 large-scale photographs are on display in London; a handful are available on line.  Consider:

I don’t know how far the children in Sindh Province, Pakistan, must travel for water; but, judging from the background of this photo, it is a really, really long way.  And judging by what they are carrying, they won’t be carrying much water back home.  And, when do they have time for soccer lessons and baseball lessons and … ?

That 57 million people in Nigeria don’t have access to clean water makes me wonder if the photo of a group pulling water out of a very primitive well are some of the lucky ones.

(If you’re not real sure how many people 57 million is, the 2013 National Health Interview Survey estimates something less than 1.8 percent of adults in the USA identify themselves as homosexuals.  This is on the order of about 2 million people.  Presumably, they all have access to clean water.)

It took me awhile to understand one of the photos.  The caption was frighteningly clear: in India, 140,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by bad water.  Looking at our Twins, I can’t even begin to imagine the heartache for the parents.

Besides learning how to type (on a manual typewriter, no less), I often wonder what I learned in high school.  But I apparently learned to love learning.  I hope to instill the Twins with this love.  I do know my parents taught me (by their example) to love to read.  Ultimately, I hope they learn that this life is not about them – they have already taught me that much.

 

 

Let me count the ways….

Quite by accident, I just happened upon an article titled, “17 things the boss should always say in a performance review.” It was purely accidental, because I would have had to have cared – like I once did – to go look for something like that. You know, if I was a boss, I would be burning the candle at both ends to find nuggets like that. I’m convinced my boss has never even seen a headline like that, let alone read, or studied that kind of material.

Of the 17 topics in Jacquelyn Smith’s “Business Insider” article, not a single one came up in either my “performance review,” or my more recent “salary discussion.” Not a single one.

Rather, my boss informed me that his “spousal unit” – is that supposed to be some cutesy way of referring to this wife? – has given him permission to retire anytime. He emphasized the point by saying “2015, 2016, 2017 …” Not sure if his dumbing-down was for my benefit or his. I still can’t figure out how his retirement plans figure into my life in any way.

His next major point was to say that a lot of people leave looking for more money, only to come back when they find out the grass is greener on this side of the fence. Huh? Is that encouragement to leave, or just another way of saying, “take it or leave it”? A previous boss (third level) was fond of saying we should vote with our feet.

Smith would have a boss open up with “How are you feeling?” or “I’d like to hear your thoughts on how you think you did this year.” Me, too. Just once.

By a very convoluted path, I found myself in what is essentially a “call center.” Imagine a call center for any product or appliance you have in the house, or driveway. If it breaks, or makes a funny noise, you’re not going to call ghost busters, are you? Nope, you call the manufacturer; there is a highly trained, highly experienced team standing by, around the clock (literally 24/7/366) to answer technical questions. In my case, the product is airplanes and they often have passengers on them – put yourself in their shoes (might not be very difficult, if you’ve flown very often).

The call center I was in up to a year ago handled older model airplanes – airplanes that I had years of experience and training on; the call center I have been in the past 12 months handles the latest-and-greatest model (a single model). So, with no experience and no training, I sit at a desk with a couple of phone lines and three computer monitors linked to half –a-dozen databases, in a room with around ten others.

My boss says I did well over the past year. I remind him that I have had no training at all on the one model we support. That was worth a salary increase of precisely 1.75% “Celebrate the positives”? You mean like I didn’t go postal? Smith says, “Reinforce the person’s strengths. Recognize what they are doing right and give them an opportunity to expound on their achievements.” Really?

As far as asking me what I could have done better, or differently, or where I might see my greatest potential for growth and improvement, I’m sure that never occurred to him.

And, a plan for improvement, whether my words or his? Hah, that would be a joke. Even more ludicrous would be him saying “I’m here to support you. Never hesitate to ask me any questions that arise or share concerns that come up.”

The positive note that charade ended on was that it ended. As we were walking down the hall, back to the call center, he asked, “How are those two little ones?” My Twins are eight months old; that is the first time he has ever asked anything about my home life. If you have babies in the house, you know it is not “business as usual” when they arrive. I know he has kids – he talks about them frequently (though he talks about fishing more).

Many moons ago, I was filled with piss and vinegar (or youthful enthusiasm, if you prefer), and I was going to be “a somebody” in the company. I never had a horizon as to how long I was going to stay; I never had a limit as to how high I was going to climb the corporate ladder. I learned two things going to classes at night to earn my MBA: (1) hard work was not enough – career progression has more to do with who you know and less with what you know; and (2) it wasn’t worth a marriage and an estranged daughter. In other words, the enthusiasm I brought with me 30 years ago has been beaten out of me.

I long ago stopped looking for anyone to say thank you, or in my potential to grow or develop as a professional. I have instead, put my energies into my new family and my Church. In the early days, I didn’t have time for anything but The Company. Now, I have no time for The Company.