Ed Briggs

New Feature

 Posted by at 10:13 am  No Responses »
Feb 082013
 

New featureI have added a new feature which may or may not be of interest. I’ve had some scanning done and have posted text from my books, sermons, and music from years gone by when I was a minister and pastor of Baptist churches. I may later add a section for poetry.

This is all under the new “Publications” tab which you see above. Each of the sections and sub-sections has a brief introduction. The “Sermons” section is just a start for now. I have posted the first of what will eventually be around ten volumes.

I am not attempting to revisit or revise any of these writing, but the task of formatting for the web can be time consuming.

When they see the term “Baptist” most people read “conservative.” This was not always the case. I was a liberal Baptist. One of the last.

Repetition

 Posted by at 6:33 pm  No Responses »
Feb 022013
 

The man would wake up early trying to remember the night before. There was always a nagging fear that he had messed up. But he must get dressed now and get to work. The man was well thought of there, a nice man, everyone said. And he did his work well, so  things were good apparently. But as the office morning turned to afternoon, the man’s thoughts were drawn to leaving work and to the evening ahead. The day was about the evening.

repetition-champane-glassesHe had quit keeping liquor in the house because he drank too much if a supply was present. Getting some at the store and drinking in the evening became a day-to-day decision. He had more control that way. Often he would start the day determined to drink nothing. But by afternoon the urge would take hold and reasons appear as to why he deserved it today. Something bad had happened, or something good to celebrate, it didn’t matter. Any reason was a good reason. Always it seemed justified.

His present routine was to get two large bottles of fortified beer for the drive home, and a jug of wine for the evening. White chablis was his current choice. As he drank the beers in the car, bottle between his legs, he timed it so other drivers would not see, especially policeman drivers. And as the familiar feelings appeared, he reminded himself often to drive carefully. He considered himself a skilled drinking driver.

The man was always eager to get home and get started on the wine. Anything that might delay this could wait. If a neighbor waved and seemed to want something he would fail to notice. Once inside the door, all seemed right with the world. There was plenty to drink and an evening ahead.

The evenings were predictable. They began with drinking along with other activity such as eating, music, reading, writing, and thinking. They ended with unconsciousness and sleep. Drinking was a way to get to sleep. They were also predictable in that things generally moved from pleasure to misery. The welcome effects of the alcohol were pleasant at first. A time for writing poems and singing songs. But as the hours wore on and the supply diminished, a gloom settled in. The gloom had many faces that came and went like slides changing: guilt, shame, self-pity, rage. In a world now filled with enemies, the glass was his only friend.

Each evening proved again the unfairness of life. Only the list of hurts varied, some replacing others, others returning. Old hurts were revisited like favorite tunes. Except for these variations, the days were always the same. Even days when the man decided he should quit drinking and did so for a short while were the same, because they had happened again and again. The man reflected on the curious fact that in his daytime work he did many things successfully, but in the evenings he was unable to keep himself from drinking heavily.

He never talked with others about his drinking, and he thought of it as a secret life. But friends who had called him in the evenings soon learned to call early instead of late.

The man liked to write and would often do so while he drank. He had taken notice of the great writers whose drinking seemed to enhance their gifts. He imagined it did the same for him, and indeed there was some evidence to that effect. After a night of drinking, he sometimes read what he had written as if it came from a different source. And sometimes he was greatly impressed.

The one thing he tried not to write was emails. Many of those he wrote late at night he had lived to regret. He finally set himself a rule that he must save them in draft to be reviewed when sober. But like all the rules he established for his evenings, it only worked now and then. He wondered that he could not even keep such a simple rule.

repEvery morning the man wondered about many of these things. He accused himself of being weak and stupid and lacking in character. He made lists of  steps that needed to be taken. But then every afternoon he began planning for the evening. And every evening he drank.

Weeks became months, and months became years, and years repeated themselves. The days did not vary.

Actually, looking back on it now, there was only one day for this man.

His life was this single day, repeated over and over.

The Cardboard Box

 Posted by at 6:01 pm  No Responses »
Jan 252013
 

My father grew up poor in the mountains of western North Carolina. He was one of eleven children and the only one to finish high school, much less earn a Ph.D. Although he became a college professor, he never forgot his early struggles. Also he lived through the Great Depression, which those who did so always remembered. They seemed to carry in the back of their minds that this could happen again. They must not waste things. They must “save for a rainy day.”  Because of this I never heard my parents complain about the rationing during World War II. I did hear them complain about families in our town who were alleged to cheat on the rationing and get more than their fair share of rationed items.

My father would have listened with sympathy to all the complaints about wasteful government spending today. But he would not have failed to notice that many of the complainers are wasteful spenders themselves. The idea of people owning mansions all over the country and some with elevators not only for themselves but for their expensive cars, that would not have been well received. My dad never bought a car that was not a Chevrolet, and it was always the simplest and lowest priced model available. If it had a radio and windshield wipers and room enough in the trunk, it would do.

He made a large garden every year. We had fresh corn, peas, onions, tomatoes, squash, okra, beans of all kinds including soy, cabbage, carrots, beets, broccoli, turnips and their greens, collards and kale, garlic, lettuce, and always something new and experimental. The arrival of the Burpee seed catalog each year was welcomed with much interest. Before there was a grocery store called “whole foods” my parents made much use of them. Mother canned and froze food from the garden and dad helped. It was economical, and it was healthier.

Dad disapproved of cigarettes and soft drinks, which he considered wasteful. He also disapproved of the local bowling alley. If kids needed something to do, they could throw the football in the yard, which cost nothing. When his church voted to move and build an elaborate new building, he joined a group that split off and met in a large old house.

When Dad died at the age of 93, I was the only surviving member of his immediate family.  His oldest son had been killed in The War, and his second son had died in his late 40’s.  His wife had been gone for 20 years. As the remaing child I was left with the arrangements.

He had begun telling me some years previous that he wanted to be cremated. He reminded me again and again. He said an expensive funeral was a waste of money and made no sense. He did suggest that we could bury his ashes in the grave with mother and put his name on her headstone.

I was at a meeting in South Carolina when the call came. Dad had been in the nursing home for several years. His doctor said that his kidneys were failing and time was short. When I arrived he was still living but seemingly unconscious. I talked with him because seemingly unconscious patients often hear and understand even though there’s no sign of it. But his breathing slowed and slowed and after several hours of sitting by his bed he finally took his last breath.

As instructed, I arranged for the cremation. I also arranged with the cemetery to hold a short burial service at the grave and have the inscription done on the tombstone. Then I went to the funeral home to pick up the ashes.

They took me to a room that had shelves with all sorts of containers for such ashes. They were brass, pewter, silver, gold, ivory, marble, and other things. Some were plainer and some were fancier. They were nicely lit. The man said that I could take my time and pick out the one I wanted.

I thought of my dad whose earthly body was now a few handfuls of ashes. I thought of his life and asked myself what he would want me to do in this situation. It wasn’t hard to decide. I said to the man, “Now, if I don’t buy one of these containers, how do I get the ashes?”

And he said that they just come in a plain cardboard box.  And I said, “Then I’ll take the cardboard box.”

So we met at Mother’s grave there in the cemetery, and there was a hole dug in the ground, and a small platform beside it covered with artificial grass. And on the artificial grass was a small, almost square cardboard box.

I laughed and I cried. My father would have liked this.

Jan 082013
 

Yesterday I got welcome news. My entry into the lottery for the 2013 Chesapeake Bay Swim was drawn and I am now registered for the swim on Sunday June 9th. Some 1200 of us entered the lottery, and about 700 of us were drawn and allowed to register. This will be my fourth bay swim event. Review my experiences with the 2012 swim here.

bay swim startI ran across some pictures from previous swims.  The upper one shows a typical start from the beach at Sandy Point State Park on the western side of the bay. Do not imagine that I'm one of the mass of bodies surging ahead in the water.  I'm one of those in the back with arms folded, waiting for the crowd to thin out!

The lower picture shows a typical finish from the small beach at Hemingway's Marina on the eastern side of the bay. In between this and the start is 4.4 miles of water and, for me, over two and a half hours of navigating and swimming. In open water swimming, navigation assumes an all-important role, especially given the shifting tides and currents you experience during this crossing.

The start and finish beaches are both outside the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, BaySwim_061310_swimmersbridge2although most of the swimming takes place inside the two great bridge spans.

I am trying a somewhat different training strategy for this year's swim. Last year I started training in December for the June swim. I set a goal of swimming ten miles a week and pretty much kept with it.  I typically set the clock for 4:50 a.m. and was in the water at 6:00.  There was nothing wrong with this approach, but this year I am trying something different.

This year I plan to swim less miles but to do more intensive speed workouts and dry land exercises. I am doing 100 meter sprints as fast as I can go, resting 60 seconds, and then going again.  I am aiming to do a couple of miles worth of these a week, plus a variety of strength training for swimmers.  I may only put in 7 miles or so of swimming a week, but I think this may work well.

I'll know after June the 9th.

Nov 262012
 

This is a followup to a post of 2011-01-01 titled "How Many Socks?"  To review, just search for it or click the following link – http://edbriggs.com/2011/01/01/how-many-socks/  

Continuing on the subject of socks, let me mention the Thorlo brand. I first became aware of Thorlo socks when I started running in the '80's. The Thorlo running sock was bar-none the very best to be found. They were cushioned, well fitting, and lasted almost forever. They did cost a lot, but since running requires little besides shoes in the way of equipment, the cost seemed incidental. I have had Thorlo athletic socks perform for many years despite constant service.

Over these years, Thorlo has expanded its line again and again. It now includes a sock for every activity you can think of, and in multiple styles and colors and configurations.

If you search for "thorlo socks" on amazon.com you will get 681 results. These include socks for running, tennis, walking, hiking, boots, fatigue boots, distance walking, breast cancer awareness, everyday outdoors, uniforms, basketball, safety steel toe shoes, western dress, backpacking, golf, skiing, ironmen and women, hunting, sensitive feet, calf roping, everyday comfort, extreme cold, diabetics, enduro running, military physical training, snow boarding, mountaineering, and postal uniforms. There are also some results needing  research for me to understand, such as the "women's Xhale speed diva socks."

Would you agree that it's a good thing to have 681 choices if you're shopping for a pair of socks?

I decided that it isn't when I went online and tried to get another pair of the socks I already have. My favorite sock cannot tell you what it is. I'm sure the cardboard sleeve that came around it had a name, but that is gone and forgotten. Among the 681 Thorlo choices, there are many that look like my sock, and I have not way to know which one it might be or even if they still make my sock.

Fellow consumers, we are not being blessed by 681 choices, we are being duped and manipulated by them. The designed complexity of our choice will shortly frustrate and overwhelm us. Then we will rightly conclude that researching all these choices is a task we do not need and probably a game we cannot win. We end up just picking something that ends up not being what we wanted, and soon we are back to picking again. 

I saw this recently at the Verizon Wireless retail store where early holiday shoppers were being shown their opportunities to move up to the latest and greatest smartphones and tablets. Shoppers were nodding their heads as if they really understood the meaning of 3G, 4G, retina displays, 1080p, megapixels, download Mbps, VPN capability, and countless others. And this does not even get into the choices and charges for the cellphone plans needed for every new phone you purchase. The information overload is designed to get us to a state where we give up on understanding and just go with the sales pitch. How many of us would undertake to read and analyze a 33-page credit card agreement from the bank and then intelligently compare it with others before making a decision? 

I once spent a week at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, working on a training film. Aberdeen is a center for military intelligence and has a collection of captured weapons brought there for analysis. A friendly intelligence officer gave our team a guided tour of this facility, and a summary of military intelligence historically. He told us that the problem of early commanders was not enough information to go on. (I once read that the Battle of Gettysburg could have easily been won by either side if they just had a few of the walkie talkies now sold to children as toys.)  But the problem today is the opposite – too much information. The problem is how to process it and deal with the overload.

And there's another problem. In addition to all the people informing us, there are others who make their living misinforming us. The misinformation gets mixed in with the information. Deception poses as enlightenment. In political campaigns it gets more and more blatent. In advertising the mix of fact and fiction is usually more subtle. At times there seems to be more misinformation than information. The fictions outnumber the facts.

I once attended a national convention where matters were debated that I had little knowledge of. It was confusing. I was expected to participate in the voting, and I sincerely wanted to do the right thing. Each time a new speaker presented his point of view, it sounded good to me and I was ready to vote in support. But then a new speaker would rise up and speak in total disagreement. And that sounded even better. I was tossed back and forth, like driftwood in the waves. I felt foolish, inadequate, and out of place.

This is the result of our information and disinformation overload.  We feel foolish, inadequate, and out of place. And it will likely get worse, not better. We must somehow learn to cope, to "sort things out" as the Brits like to say. Let me know your thoughts.

The Nickel Effect

 Posted by at 5:53 pm  No Responses »
Nov 212012
 

For as long as I can remember, there have been "grocery bags."  First they were paper, then they were also plastic, and often now you have a choice. But for the past year in Montgomery County, Maryland, you also have another choice. You pay a nickel for every bag you get from the store. But you have a choice of bringing your own reusable bags and avoiding the 5 cent charge.

The logic behind this policy is fairly evident. When bags were all "free," we bagged things wastefully and created mountains of trash. Also paper bags are made from trees and plastic bags are made from petroleum. Petroleum is a resource the world is running out of, and burning it creates gases that contribute to global warming. Cut-down trees can be replanted with seedlings and replaced over time, but we are cutting our forests much faster than we are re-growing them. Saving our wood and oil just makes sense.

The transformation in people's shopping habits during this first year of the new law has been remarkable. In the early months, few people brought bags from home and just paid the extra charges. But every 5 cent charge you paid was a reminder. You began to notice more and more people bringing their bags, and you made mental notes to do the same. When you forgot, you scolded yourself and felt stupid. As you carried your groceries out in plastic, you imagined people staring at you disapprovingly. Then you became a regular.

Social distinctions then appeared. The "better" stores have their own better bags including their branded snob appeal. Not many people are seen bringing Wal Mart bags in to shop at Whole Foods. (Bill Maher's name for Whole Foods is "Whole Paycheck.") But the new law applies everywhere and is no respecter.

I have not seen figures on the amount of wasted wood and petroleum saved by this one law in this one county, but it has to be significant. I do not know the effect if the law became a national one, but the result would have to be huge. 

Like others, I was resistant to this law at first. But in these few short months, I have become a willing supporter. Bringing my reusable bags is easy and has become second nature. I feel good about saving our resources and the impact of all the waste we used to create.

I know this is one small step, compared to all the steps that are needed to bring our lifestyles into harmony with the evident strains of our economies and environment. But it is something, and it is easy. 

Dreading Hebrew

 Posted by at 2:05 pm  No Responses »
Nov 052012
 

Greek and Hebrew were both required languages when I was a seminary student. I was happy enough to take Greek–I had started learning it in college. But Hebrew I dreaded. Such a funny looking language, and I thought of no good use for it. Hebrew was the language of the Old Testament, and I was more of a New Testament kind of guy.

Every semester I kept putting it off, as in denial. But the requirement was not going away, although I was acting as if it might. I put off Hebrew until there were no semesters left except my last one. So I registered, then went to class with the enthusiasm of a person in line to renew a driver's license.

Hebrew text of Genesis 1_1-10The picture to the left shows the text of Genesis 1:1-10 in the original Hebrew. This is what I starred at on my first day of Hebrew class. I had to learn to read this stuff?

There are two directions this story could take. Either my prejudice was confirmed and I hated Hebrew class, or it was overturned and I learned to love it.

The latter is what took place. It turned out that my teacher was personable, smart, funny, engaging, and self-depricating. He seemed to know that students with my attitude were sitting in the rows before him. He loved Hebrew, and soon I loved him. And so I began to love Hebrew also. I ended up with an A in this class, got an A+ on a major paper, and ended up wishing I had done this sooner so I could take advanced courses.

As cautious, self-protective human beings, we all tend to pre-judge our situations. If a stranger approaches, we put ourselves on guard. And if the stranger is strange, we do so even more so. If we're given an assignment, we form an opinion about the outcome. We gauge whether we will like it or not, and whether it will turn out well or not. And these assessments tend to stick. They are difficult to reverse later on. If we decide initially that we do or don't like a person or situation, a momentum is established. Had you been betting on my experience with Hebrew, the safest bet is that I hated it, just like I expected to.

A funny thing happend just now. I interrupted these thoughts for a quick trip to the Safeway. There I glanced at a man who made a negative impression. I can't explain why, but I didn't like his looks. This took all of about two seconds. Then on the way home I stopped for gas. As I was folding and filing the receipt in my billfold, a car behind me blew its horn. There were plenty of open pumps, but for some reason they wanted mine. I noticed the driver was a young Black woman, and I made certain assumptions that were not flattering. Then I came home to continue these thoughts about prejudice.

All this suggests that we need a certain humility about our assumptions and prejudices. We will always make assumptions, even two second ones, but we must realize these may be totally wrong and keep from stubbornly persisting in them. It will help to remember how many times the things we dreaded worked out for good. 

I don't use my Hebrew much these days, but I know I would enjoy it if I did.

Nov 042012
 

I am from the South: Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina. Perhaps Maryland, where I now live, is not usually counted as southern, but people here still comment on my southern accent. When I travel down home I do notice the accents there, and I find that instinctively I can revert back and talk just like the local folks. This is handy for blending in.

I was down in North Carolina recently and went out for dinner to a popular local restaurant. Very local. Great food and great prices, but nothing fancy like cloth on the tables or someone taking your order and bringing you your food. You get in line, study the menu on the back wall, and place your order at the counter. You pay right there. wait on your tray of food, and take it to the table of your choice. After you finish you clean up after yourself.

A large group was cleaning up after itself and leaving as I got my food. They had on red tee shirts identifying themselves as "Tea Party Patriots." They carried political signs and paraphenalia from their meeting. They seemed happy and enthused. It was the evening of a presidential debate, and I thought they might have been heading out to gather somewhere else and watch the debate together.

Having never been to a Tea Party party, I listened in on what conversations I could as I paid for my tray and sat down at my table. Close by my table near the door, the owner of the restaurant was shaking hands with two members who appeared to be leaders. The owner did not have on a red tee shirt, but he was clearly a supporter. I knew this for sure when I heard him say the following:

"You know, if we just had George Wallace, none of this would have happened."

He did not elaborate on what he meant by "this," nor did he need to.

As a southener, I knew exactly what he meant. His listeners nodded in agreement. Then one of them confided that although he certainly planned to vote for Romney, he wasn't sure things would be any different. I thought to myself that he had good reason to be unsure. The Romney of late is far removed from the one who participated in the 20 primary debates and cast himself as the most conservative choice in the race. The Tea Party man was right to wonder which candidate he would be putting into office.

In case you are not southern and uncertain about the coded reference to "none of this," let me tell you plainly what it was about. "None of his" meant "this black man in our white house." That is why the memory of George Wallace was invoked. He would have stood in the way of "this" like he blocked the doorway to the University of Alabama in 1963. He would have stood up for our way of life:

"It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." (From his first inaugural speech as governor of Alabama, 1963)

Wallace ran for president as a third-party candidate.  In a campaign speech in 1968 he appealed to his constituency:

"And it is a sad day in our country that you cannot walk even in your neighborhoods at night or even in the daytime because both national parties, in the last number of years, have kowtowed to every group of anarchists that have roamed the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles and throughout the country. And now they have created themselves a Frankenstein monster, and the chickens are coming home to roost all over this country." "Yes, they’ve looked down their nose at you and me a long time. They’ve called us rednecks — the Republicans and the Democrats. Well, we’re going to show, there sure are a lot of rednecks in this country."

As a southerner, I dislike the term "redneck." I dislike the stereotype, and the fact that southerners are one of the few groups in the country that are still fair game for crude jokes that would be off limits for others. But Wallace did show in the '60's that there were a lot of them around. And the fond calling of his legacy made me realize there still are.

Jul 022012
 

Every open water swim is different from every other. The factors that make this so include the setting, the weather, the event, and the varying condition of the swimmer. The setting for my June 24th swim in Lake Chatuge was idyllic. A meandering mountain lake surrounded by natural beauty and blessed by clean water and almost perfect weather. A well run event with only 114 swimmers, and those a mix of fast and leisurely paces. I was mostly in good condition for the five kilometer race and finished strongly with energy to spare. Unknown to my strong finish, however, I had failed to hydrate properly for this event and paid penalty which I’ll describe shortly. Continue reading »

Advertising

 Posted by at 2:13 pm  No Responses »
Jun 292012
 

I can remember a time when no lawyer would advertise his services. It was considered unprofessional to do so. I think it may also have been forbidden by the American Bar Association’s Code of Conduct at the time. Now lawyers advertise. Some thrive on offering lawsuits related to automobile accidents and medical malpractice. They can win you a big, fat settlement for your personal injury, lost work time, and mental suffering. Continue reading »