A Crime On the Streets of Dallas

21 11 2013

Dealey-Plaza-CarolFifty years ago tomorrow, I was in an Omaha hospital, fighting for my life.  I was born with a gastro-intestinal defect—pyloric stenosis.  My family thought I would die.  I was baptized in the hospital and given extreme unction.

Tomorrow, we remember the murder of the 35th President of these United States.

I was born one month before President John F. Kennedy was murdered.  On the street in this photograph.  Elm Street.  Dealey Plaza.  Dallas.  Most Americans, even if they’ve never been to Texas, have been to Dealey Plaza many times over courtesy of the Zapruder film.

A few years back, my work took me in early June to downtown Dallas.  I stayed in the famous Magnolia Hotel.  It was unseasonably hot, even for Texas.  When I arrived in the afternoon, I determined that I would walk the eight blocks or so to this busy and strangely macabre site where our country was altered forever.

Dealey Plaza is virtually unchanged since that awful November morning 50 years ago.  Perhaps this is by design of Dallas city government and zoning officers.  I felt quiet and a tad eerie as I sat on a bench on the grassy knoll, within the shadow of the old Texas Book Depository building, now housing the Sixth Floor Museum.

It is a small area, this plaza.  On the pavement of Elm Street, there are “X’s” painted in the center of the road.  Two of them.  One for the shot that wounded both the President and Governor John Connelly.  And one for the shot that took from America her Commander-in-Chief.  And her innocence.

The day after my visit to the Plaza, I joined some colleagues for dinner.  We drove through Dealey Plaza, right on Elm Street.

Right over the spot where the 35th President of the United States was assassinated.

It was entirely pragmatic.  We were not tourists.  Elm was the shortest route to get to our restaurant. But it felt wrong.  Like playing soccer in St. Peter’s Basilica.  The area is not sectioned off, bollards guarding the motorcade route against profanation by cars, trucks and buses.  It’s a regular thoroughfare, used every day.  And yet it is sacred.

Life and death take place in the ordinary and the mundane.  This is the rule.  What kinds of normal places have you been to that have been made special by either tragic or heroic events?

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Get Real!

31 08 2013

be-true1

“Honesty is such a lonely word.  Everyone is so untrue.  Honesty is hardly ever heard.  But mostly what I need from you….” (Billy Joel)

Life thrives on health.  And healthy relationships thrive on honesty, on commitment to truth, whatever pains may ensue.  This is the same for all human interactions—with spouse, children, parents, colleagues, friends, etc.  But supremely with God and oneself.

I’m learning that in order to be honest with others, I must first be honest with myself.  I have to summon the moral courage to take a good look at where I’m at, what I like and dislike, where I’m going and with whom I’m going.

My wife has been the truest friend I’ve ever had largely because she sees me and tells me the truth, rarely with anything other than love.  She has helped me be courageous in asking myself tough questions about life and answering with the antidote of truth, even though it hurts.  One of my targets over the past few years is the practice of radical honesty, primarily with myself.  This will help me be more authentic with others because I’m a unity, rather than a potpourri of different selves adapting to the moment.

Go get alone, maybe with a journal and a cup of coffee or glass of wine, whatever, and ask yourself these tough questions and answer honestly:

  • Am I being true to my professed values, both in the public eye as well as out of line of sight? There is inherent tension that visits us when we profess one thing and live another.
  • Have I come to terms with the fact that I drove my own car to the place I’m at and to go further in my journey, I’ll have to drive there? Devil didn’t make you do it, the economy either, nor your parents.  Did they influence? Of course.  But we either acted or chose not to act.  This is a tough sell but you must own this.
  • If money were no option, what would I do for a career?  We’ve posted previously here at The Upside about the importance of doing what you love and were designed to do.  You have a sacred obligation to provide for your own, even if digging ditches.  But don’t stop there.  Work towards your dream occupation.  President Kennedy was fond of quoting the Greek maxim: “Happiness consists in the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope.”
  • Am I continuing to nurture relationships that are hurting me? I spoke with a dear friend about this point earlier today.  This is something of a mantra on this blog, but you really have to choose your circle of friends and acquaintances carefully.  Do they spur you on or deflate you?  And can you goad them in the direction of their best selves?  A certain prominent minister was once given the sage advice “You need to go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.”  Think about that.  In what environments are you most appreciated—who you are as a person, your giftings, and your values?  It matters.

Honesty is therapy.  You will ultimately be a much happier person as you really start to tell yourself the way it is from this moment on.  There may be pain at the outset but that will be replaced with more peace, if only because you’re finally authentic.

“To thine own self be true.”

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The Problem With Shortcuts

28 08 2012

“I do not deny that many appear to have succeeded in a material way by cutting corners and by manipulating associates, both in their professional and in their personal lives. But material success is possible in this world and far more satisfying when it comes without exploiting others.” (Alan Greenspan)

Bernie Madoff.  Michael Milken.  Ivan Boesky.  Charles Ponzi.  Jack Abramoff.   Enron.

The aforementioned are catalogued in the annals of infamy for cutting corners financially, hurting a lot of people and ending up in jail.  Greed and hubris motivated them all.  Plus the fatal narcotic of self-deception, thinking they could get away with their crimes.

There is no shortcut to the building of a large and stable estate.  Wealth grows in the soil of patience, competence and hard work.  There are no substitutes.

A good deal of the writings in the book of Proverbs came from Solomon, son of David, Israel’s wisest and wealthiest king.  Here is what he had to say about the acquisition of wealth:

  • Pro 28:8  Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.
  • Pro 28:19  Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
  • Pro 28:22  A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
  • Pro 10:4  A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
  • Pro 21:17  Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
  • Pro 22:16  Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.
  • Pro 13:11  Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

Avoid like the plague the get-rich-quick mentality.  Build your estate, your wealth, day by day, dollar by dollar on a foundation of hard work, thrift, competence and compassion.  You are not Gordon Gecko.  You’re better than that.  Avoid the siren song of cutting corners and coloring outside of the lines to get ahead.

“Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.” (Sophocles)

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The Laser-Like Power of Focus

24 06 2012

One of the very early goals President John F. Kennedy set before the eyes of our nation in 1961 was to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.

Our nation, led by a brilliant team at NASA, rose to meet this challenge.  On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface and uttered these famous words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The secret to NASA’s success? Unity and focus.

Diffused light will light a room and help you see things.  It might even make you feel warm.

A laser—which is focused light—can cut through steel.

I am stunned by the accomplishments of human beings of every stripe who unify, focus and stick to a task, gathering all of their energies toward one important end.  Moveable type.  Flight.  Space exploration.  Atomic fission.  Civil rights.  The list is endless.

In Genesis 11, the Bible tells the story of a group of people who gathered in Mesopotamia and began building an ancient stairway to heaven—the Tower of Babel.  It was quite a focused effort.

And it got the attention of God.  God.

God said, “”Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

Did you notice the last sentence?

“And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

God interrupted the building of the Tower.  But that is not the point of this post.  God Himself took note of a people, unified in purpose and what they could accomplish together.  There’s really no evidence that these people were in covenant relationship with God.  Indeed it seems to be this lack of a relationship with Him that prompted Him to break up the party.  Because “nothing…will now be impossible for them.”

If ordinary human beings, who did not appear to be seeking the God of Adam, Enoch and Noah could accomplish such things, what about people who love Him and want to accomplish His purposes?  Dreams and visions He’s put in their hearts?  “Impossible” tasks? (That’s what they said about flight before the Wright brothers lifted off.)

You have incredible potential as you concentrate, focus and rise up to meet challenges.  What’s your target?  End cancer?  Defeat world hunger by developing new food strains?  Increase world literacy?  Make every published work known to man available in any language in e-book form (the vision of Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos)? Fulfil the Great Commission one life at a time?  Go.  Focus.

You will be amazed.

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A Mother’s Love

13 05 2012

She was a young mother then, just days before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  She’d just given birth to a little boy.

Normally the birth of a child is a source of great joy.  But her joy was mingled with sorrow.  For her son was sick.  Very sick and just weeks old.

His stomach was not functioning properly and his life was in jeopardy.  Pyloric stenosis the culprit.  The condition required what was risky surgery in those days.  Not once, but twice.

When the mother realized just how serious her son’s condition was, she went to God.  She was afraid for the life of her child.

She was raised in a devout Catholic family and had her son baptized in the Roman rite in the hospital.  She did not know if he’d leave there alive.

So every morning for weeks on end, she got up before sunrise and walked beneath the stars to attend 6:00 AM Mass at her parish church, Holy Name.

She prayed numerous novenas to our Lord.  She asked that her son be spared. God heard her pleas and answered.  Her son lived.  He is writing the post you are now reading.

She went on to raise two more sons and a daughter.  In the sometimes turbulent days of the early 1970’s she went to college to pursue nursing.  She had four young children, a husband, and yet she found the time to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing science.  Education had long been a core value in her family.  She became an RN.

The years since that time have alternately been filled with joys and sorrows.  Her children are now grown with families of their own and have given her grandchildren.

In her endless quest for self-development and desire to help the hurting, she went on to earn her Master’s in Nursing.  For a while she taught in a university.

But there was more left for her to do.  There always is.  She went on to earn her Ph.D in Nursing two years ago.  She is now teaching in colleges and universities and continues to inspire her children to be all that they can be, never settling for less than full engagement of one’s faculties.

She is quite a lady and she is my mother.

And this is her day.





Greatness: Mother Teresa On Loving Others

9 02 2012

I remember the night Princess Diana died.  A young and promising life came to an abrupt, tragic end on the streets of Paris as her driver tried to outrun vultures (that’s Greek for paparazzi).

The news coverage over the next week was overwhelming as the world mourned this beautiful and tragic figure.  I remember watching the royal funeral, her young sons now without a mother, Elton John singing a moving and updated version of “Candle In The Wind,” the hearse bearing her broken body strewn with flowers as she passed by the citizens of the realm to her final resting place.

Lost in all the sorrow and news of the passing of the Princess of Wales was the death of another woman.  Dynamite comes in small packages.  Mother Teresa was not five feet tall and changed the world through her love and care for the forgotten and destitute on the streets of Calcutta.

She died the same night as the Princess.  She too was royal.

It is a tragic convergence of events where a truly great human being has died the same day as a celebrity or a world leader.  CS Lewis died the same day President Kennedy was assassinated.  The greatness of CS Lewis can hardly be exaggerated.

A hero of mine, keyboardist Richard Souther, posted this quote this evening from Mother Teresa.  I leave it with you.

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

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Dealey Plaza

6 12 2011

I was born one month before President John F. Kennedy was murdered.  On the street in this photograph.  Elm Street.  Dealey Plaza.  Dallas.  Most Americans, even if they’ve never been to Texas, have been to Dealey Plaza many times over courtesy of the Zapruder film.

Last year, my work took me in early June to downtown Dallas.  I stayed in the famous Magnolia Hotel.  It was unseasonably hot, even for Texas.  When I arrived in the afternoon, I determined that I would walk the eight blocks or so to this busy and strangely macabre site where our country was altered forever.

Dealey Plaza is virtually unchanged since that awful November morning 48 years ago.  Perhaps this is by design of Dallas city government and zoning officers.  I felt quiet and a tad eerie as I sat on a bench on the grassy knoll, within the shadow of the old Texas Book Depository building, now housing the Sixth Floor Museum.

It is a small area, this plaza.  On the pavement of Elm Street, there are “X’s” painted in the center of the road.  Two of them.  One for the shot that wounded both the President and Governor John Connelly.  And one for the shot that took from America her Commander-in-Chief.  And her innocence.

The day after my visit to the Plaza, I joined some colleagues for dinner.  We drove through Dealey Plaza, right on Elm Street.

Right over the spot where the 35th President of the United States was assassinated.

It was entirely pragmatic.  We were not tourists.  Elm was the shortest route to get to our restaurant. But it felt wrong.  Like playing soccer in St. Peter’s Basilica.  The area is not sectioned off, bollards guarding the motorcade route against profanation by cars, trucks and buses.  It’s a regular thoroughfare, used every day.  And yet it is sacred.

Life and death take place in the ordinary and the mundane.  This is the rule.  What kinds of normal places have you been to that have been made special by either tragic or heroic events?