A fool-proof plan for those needing more frustration in their lives

You poor thing.  Life has been boring for you lately, and you have been searching for a way to perk it up, to insert a little anxiety into your days and wakefulness into your nights. We have the answer for you.  Eleven answers, in fact.

Here are Joe’s tried-and-proven techniques, all guaranteed to add frustration to your existence….

!. Buy a computer.

That’s all.  Just get a computer. From the first, you will be frustrated just looking for the “start” or “on/off” switch. You will gnash your teeth trying to figure out how to get everything out of the box and set it up. You will learn the definition of words someone made up, like “modem” and “yahoo” and “google.” Then, after your 10-year-old puts it all together and makes everything work, you will tear your hair out on an average of at least once a week.

This is not an exaggeration.  It’s why a large percentage of computer-users are bald. It’s why almost no old people are on the computer. They would have been, but the stress killed them before they got out of middle age.

The computer is perfect for people with insufficient frustration in their lives.

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What I have learned about the creative process

“In the beginning, God created….” (Genesis 1:1)

Real creativity is a God thing.

When you sit down to write or draw or whatever, remember that your Muse (the Original Muse!) has read it all and seen it all and inspired much of it, so He is your greatest Resource.

Those who want to learn to write should surround themselves with good writing (i.e., excellent reading material) and inspired writers.

Those who want to think creatively should regularly plant themselves among off-the-wall thinkers, people whose minds push the boundaries in every direction. They will loosen you up.

And then, pull back and spend a lot of time alone, thinking.

Go to bed thinking about whatever is bugging you, inspiring you, burdening you, pestering you, charming you, or puzzling you.  Your subconscious will keep at it while you recuperate.

If something occurs to you in the middle of the night, you absolutely must get up then and write it down.  If you plead that you are sleep deprived and insist that “this is such a great insight, I’ll surely remember it in the morning,” the single thing I can guarantee is that you will not remember it when the night is over.  Iron-clad promise.

You must get up when the idea occurs.  Write it down.

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Things that do not stick with me

When my friend Freddie Arnold told me that a certain solution was exactly what I needed to take care of the mildew in my concrete, I wrote it down.

And promptly forgot what I had written.

Over the next several weeks, when I would be out and about and could have run by Home Depot or Lowe’s and picked up that item, my mind would not recall it, try as I might.  So, eventually, I dug out my note and determined I would remember it the next time.  And forgot it again.

It would not stay in my mind.

Shock Wave, it’s called.

And even now, I had to work at finding those two words in the cluttered file system of my mind.

Some things just will not stick with me.  You can tell me and I walk away without remembering one word of it.  It’s like the brain has no cells in that tiny portion of gray matter and we have to find another mental refrigerator on which to apply the magnet containing that piece of information.

Medicines are like that.

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The need for a traffic cop

Someone has to be in charge.  Don’t they?

On the highway, in the classroom, at the factory, during the ball game, and in the Christian life, nothing works without someone present being empowered to say, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).  Right?  Or not?

Here are a few thoughts to begin a conversation around your dinner table on the subject of authority….

In “The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published,” David Skinner describes the hostile reaction that greeted the release of “Webster’s Third Edition” in 1961.  The incident makes a great point for all of us, particularly church folk.

But first, the context.

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The kind of bridge I want

The Huey P. Long Bridge crosses the Mississippi River a few miles downriver from here.  It was dedicated in 1935, a time when cars were small and narrow and governments needed to put men to work.  That’s why they gave New Orleans its first bridge across the river and named it after this politician of dubious merit.  (That’s a pet peeve of mine, but I’ll move right along.)

The problem with that bridge for all the decades since is that its two lanes were too narrow and curving for modern cars and trucks. Each lane was 9 feet wide, with no shoulders alongside. Signs forbade trucks from passing anyone, and motorists caught up on their prayers driving across it.  It really could be frightening.

Then, in recent years, the government finally decided it was high time to upgrade that bridge, and shelled out something like a billion dollars to widen it and correct some of its flaws.  These days, driving across that huge wide expanse is a pure joy. (The lanes are 11 feet wide, bordered by a 2 feet-wide shoulder to the inside and an 8-foot shoulder to the outside.)

What I wanted to tell you, though, was something an engineer said about the original bridge, something I find fascinating.

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Claustrophobics and the gospel

“He brought me out to a wide-open space; He rescued me because He delighted in me” (2 Samuel 22:20).

Wedged into the middle seat on a flight from Nashville to New Orleans recently, the thought occurred to me that if a person were claustrophobic, he would run screaming from this plane.

The Southwest flight was completely sold-out and several times the flight attendant announced that all the overhead bins were filled and other passengers would have to check their baggage.  I managed to squeeze in between two full grown men, which meant our shoulders were practically bumping.  The one hour ten minute flight ends up taking another half-hour because we board early in order to wedge everyone into this sardine can.

Tight spaces.  It’s a way of life these days.

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What’s in a name? Apparently a great deal.

“I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

“When the shepherd puts forth his sheep, he calls them by name” (John 10:3).

The sweetest sound in all the world, we’re told, is our own name.

We can be dozing through the roll call, but the sound of our own name being spoken penetrates the mist and wakes us up.

We can be reading a report or newspaper and hardly paying attention. Our own name in black and white jumps out at us. It may as well have been in letters three inches high.

My name is who I am.

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How to make a bad time even worse

“I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13)

The former mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, has been sentenced to federal prison for 10 years. The charges involved kickbacks, bribery, and general crookedness.  If making promises he never followed through on were a crime, the man would never leave the big house.

Observers say Mr. Nagin got a break from Judge Ginger Berrigan. She could easily have given him twice that long–federal guidelines set the minimum as considerably more than 10 years–but she went easy on him.

The only person griping about that is Nagin himself.

Even though found guilty by a jury, and in spite of outright falsehoods in his testimony, the man is certain he was framed and wants to be sure you and I know it.

After his sentencing, Nagin said, “I’ve been targeted, smeared, tarnished and for some reason some of the stances that I took after Katrina didn’t sit well with some very powerful people. So now I’m paying the price for that.”

Denial is not a river in Egypt.

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Pretend you are omniscient. Here’s how it looks.

First a story.

General George Patton (of World War 2 fame) lived in the grip of a strong sense of destiny.  At times, he felt he might be the reincarnation of some ancient Roman general.  There was a daring and innovative spirit about him, a combination, some said, of past generals such as the Confederacy’s Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jeb Stuart, and the Union’s George Custer.

Patton knew he was special and felt “the gods” had ordained him for something dramatic in life.

According to LIFE magazine for November 30, 1942, he expected his death to be spectacular.

He has a date with history, but the date, he thinks, will be brief.  He expects to be killed in battle, not bombed out of headquarters somewhere to the rear, but blown up, bit by bit, in a tank advancing at the head of a victorious attack through the enemy’s strongest lines.

This premonition that he will be killed in battle is not something new. He had it in 1917; he had it during all the years between World War I and World War II, when even the Army seemed to believe there would be no more wars. He often described his premonition to his wife, until today she too believes it.  Of course, it may not come in the present desert campaign, but Patton’s friends now take his word for it: it will come sometime and it will be glorious. (p.116)

That’s what he  expected about his death.  It was not to be.

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How to give a commencement address they will remember

I’ve been watching commencement addresses on C-Span.

It’s not as boring as you might think.

They cut out the introductions and tell you in advance “this lasts 15 minutes” or whatever.

It’s highly educational, particularly for those of us who (ahem) make our living speaking in public.

I’ve heard governors, congressmen and congresswomen, CEOs of big companies, and entrepreneurs, all donning those medieval costumes, some with rather ridiculous soft mortarboards of strange colors, and all trying to say something life-changing to an audience that just wants to get this over with and get in out of the hot sun.

A challenging situation for any speaker, I’d say. .

Some have been entertaining and all have had a certain uplifting quality to them.

The speakers take these invitations seriously, I’m glad to say. Either that, or C-Span refuses to air the ones that bombed.

Anyway, based on my television-watching of the past few days, I’ve decided on the principles of a great commencement address and would like to share them with you.

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