Monday, December 28, 2009

Ice Driving

In 1968, me and four others musicians left Manhattan, Kansas for a gig in Guyman, OK 350 miles away in the Oklahoma panhandle. Before long, rain had begun to pour. Soon it was freezing on the road and our windshield.

About thirty-miles outside of Dodge City, we were stopping every few minutes to scrape the ice off of the windshield since the defroster in my nearly new ’67 Ford Econoline Van would not keep up. There was about a half inch of solid ice on everything and it was coming down fast. After one stop, I pushed the accelerator down and heard a snap. The throttle linkage had broken. We somehow propped the throttle open a little and limped into Dodge at about 15 MPH, which was a comfortable speed considering the conditions.

The Ford dealer said he could have the part in a couple of days. We called to cancel the gig, but the promoter had already cancelled due to the ice storm. Wiser folks would have checked in into a hotel, but we fashioned a make-shift throttle linkage out of coat hanger and headed back to Manhattan, 230 miles away, driving the entire distance on ice, holding onto a piece of coat hanger hooked to the carburetor.

We arrived home almost 24 hours after we left, driving 20 hours on ice, half of that with a hand operated throttle, having accomplished absolutely nothing.

Twenty years later, my wife and I decided that we had had enough white knuckle driving and enrolled in ice-driving school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. ( There we learned about four-wheel drive, all-wheel-drive, front wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and the advantages and disadvantages of each. We spent hours driving each type on ice learning how to maintain control and regain control once you lose it. Since we were avid skiers, this made our annual winter trips to the mountains much less nerve racking.

Now I actually look forward to getting out and playing in the snow. The beautiful days we are now having with blue skies and fresh white powder on everything makes me wonder why we didn’t plan a winter vacation this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Golden Rule

Every business person I know understands that the key to success is treating your customers well. Jesus laid out the basic principle for business when he said to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We even call that the golden rule.

I know of only two industries where this is not normal business: banking and airlines. In both situations the federal government has had to step in with new rules and regulations to keep certain businesses from abusing their customers. I find it amazing that this is even necessary.

The airlines now face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger if they leave passengers stranded for more than three hours on the tarmac. I presume that this will get their attention. Of course they are squealing. Apparently it takes that threat to stop certain airlines from physically abusing their customers, because they did it more than 600 times last years in the US. The European Union already has similar laws about such things.

Most of us in business don’t have to be threatened by the government to treat our customers right, because we know they will go down the street to the next guy if we don’t. It would be nice if the big banks and big airlines would start seeing their customers as assets to be nurtured and not as captives to be gouged and abused.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why war?

On the day when President Obama went over to Oslo to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize, I was thinking about war and peace and violence in general. The skeptics are right to question whether the leader of a violent country like the US is qualified to receive the prize; especially when we are involved in two wars that we started. But the other side is that President Obama didn’t start the wars, and he appears to be trying to get us out of them, though not very whole heartedly. That may not be ideal qualifications for the Nobel Peace Prize, but not many others seem to be doing much better.

In a bigger concept, violence on any level is just the ultimate failure to communicate. Whether it is the punk on the street frustrated with not being able to get a job, to nations feeling like they have somehow been violated, violence is always rooted in poor communication.

The kid who feels like nobody cares about him or understands him will turn to violence to make his point. Groups of people opposed to everything from abortion to “infidels” sometimes turn to violence because they think that the world is not listening to their concerns. Responses and tit for tat quickly lead to gang wars and wars between nations. Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek.” Instead most people and nations believe that standing up for our “rights” is more important than stopping violence.

Perhaps we should rename the State Department the “Department of Peace” to remind them that that is their job. War is always the result of failed diplomacy. If the Department of Peace (State, or Foreign Ministry as most countries call it) received as much funding as the Department of Defense, the world would be a completely different place. And by the way, the War Department’s named was changed to Department of Defense to remind them they are defensive not an offensive group, but I’m not sure it has helped. I can’t even name all the wars that we have fought in just my life time.

Perhaps the Nobel committee was doing a little wishful thinking, or maybe they realized that with the Nobel Prize for Peace sitting on his desk, that President Obama might see the opportunity he has to actually advance world peace in this decade. But peace doesn’t start with the Department of Defense; it starts with the State Department. Peace ends with the Department of Defense.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Fourth Quarter

In watching a sporting event on television over a recent holiday weekend, there is one thing that is obvious to me: you have to play all four quarters. It is nice to get a good lead in the first half, but you still have to play the whole game. More often than not, the last two minutes are important and in the case of a recent game featuring two rivals that came down to a score with less than two seconds on the clock, the last two seconds were very important.

I am now in my sixties. Any way you look at it, I am in the fourth quarter of my life, certainly the fourth quarter of my productive years. Anything beyond eighty years is probably overtime. At sixty-one I am definitely starting the fourth quarter. Running out the clock or going to a knee, as sometimes happens in American football, at this point just doesn’t seem very sportsman like, even if I had a good lead going.

I know many people my age who are eyeing the clock figuring that they can coast to the finish line, that is, if they haven’t already given up or headed for the showers. The funny thing is I feel as good as I ever have, I’m not tired, I’m more creative, and I know a lot more. It may be time to revise the game plan, make better choices, or play like the game is one the line, but just run out the clock? I don’t think so.

The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of life being like running a race. The point being that you run all the way to the end. In I Corinthians 9:24 he said “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

We seem to have gotten the idea that at some point we can take it out of gear, coast, and still win the race. This is a relative new idea dating from the 19th and 20th century. Germany was the first country to introduce the idea of retirement in 1880. Now many, if not most people, in industrialized countries consider retirement a basic right. Whether or not a person keeps working in their career or not after a certain age should be a personal decision. We should, however, continue to serve the Lord and serve others in various capacities as long as we are able.

In Philippians 3:14 Paul says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul knew that at that point the race was not over, he was pressing on until the game was over.

As for me, I intend to play hard until the final gun, whistle, Gabriel’s trumpet, or whatever it is that stops the game. After all we owe it to the coach, our team, and ourselves. That is why we were put here, to play the game until the end.