Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Follow your dreams: and other such nonsense

We are told, by seemingly everyone these days, to follow our passion. However, I would like to ask this question; is that always a good idea? Seriously, is following your dreams always a good idea?

Being a GenXer,  I was not beaten over head the head with this notion to the extent that my children were. Today when you sit your little ones down to watch a kids/teens movie, these messages will be central to the story. Be yourself. Believe in your dreams when no one else does. Follow your heart. Follow your dreams. You can do anything if you try hard enough. You can change the world.

I know it makes for good movies, but is it good advice?

Who am I to do battle with Walt Disney Studios and the billions of dollars they have made selling this idea with movies, music, books, backpacks, t-shirts, theme parks and commemorative Christmas ornaments? I'm really not doing battle with the idea of following your dreams, I'm just saying lets step back, take deep breath, and think about this.

Let's take the idea of following our dreams and see how that plays out in real life. I consider myself lucky enough to have a few things I am passionate about. I'm not talking about my family, as they are my driving passion, my main concern and the biggest responsibility in my life. No, I'm talking about the interests, hobbies, and passions that make up all the things I would rather be doing when I'm not doing them.

For me they are; music, writing, the outdoors, art, making things with wood or steel, and a host of others. Given the choice, would I rather have some type of vocation centered around one of them? My honest answer is yes; probably.

I do know people who have taken the thing they love and turned it into a successful business or career. That seems like a wonderful thing. Are they the lucky ones? I would think so. What about everyone else?

What if you are passionate about art. You have watched all the movies about believing in yourself, following your dreams, and you set out to change the world with your art. You study art, create art, live for art, try to sell art, try to teach art, but you can never make enough money for a first and last month's rent deposit? What message does that send to you? Are you a failure? You stayed with dream when everyone said you're crazy, you believed in yourself when no one else did, and it didn't work out. Now what? Do you become dejected? Bitter with the world, with yourself? Will you now have to 'settle' for some other 'meaningless' job to pay the bills?

I love music, and I would love to be a professional musician. It is a huge part of who I am as a person. I have always wanted to play music and sing. The singing part comes naturally to me, but the guitar/bass part is where my fingers and brain part company. I play bass well enough to get by if you keep it simple, but I understand my limitations. I am not gifted with that kind of talent. If had started playing music much earlier, by this time in my life I could have been a respectable musician, which I am not.

Instead of following my dreams, I followed the dreams picked out for me by my father. When my father passed away, so to did those plans. I had to make it up as I went. I also had a family and needed to make some sort of living.  I took whatever work came along. I have worked construction, heavy equipment operation, driven trucks, cowboy, network cabling, inside and outside sales and project management just to name a few. I have been happy in each of those jobs; Save one. I briefly sold cars while waiting for my contractors license. I hated that job. I was good at it, but making money by helping people make bad financial decisions was not for me.

I have dabbled in freelance writing, and I enjoyed it. I would consider doing that again, but only on the side. Much like my music, I enjoy writing, but I'm not that talented. I believe I could have made a living in almost any vocation, including ones that share my passions, but it didn't turn out that way.

Am I miserable? Am I working at a job I hate? One that crushes my soul and strips away my happiness? Not at all. I actually love my job. I get to meet new people, learn new technologies, and it's a great place to work with good benefits. My job enables me the financial means to enjoy my passions and interests in my spare time and since I no longer have to travel for work, I have that time. But even if I didn't have a good job, and believe me, there have been times when I didn't, I think I would still be happy. Why?  I think it's because I define success differently than a lot of people.

What I am trying to say is following your dreams is great, but it shouldn't be what defines your success. What if your dream is to be a professional baseball player, and you are extremely talented. There are three hundred million people in America. That means there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of extremely talented baseball players trying to get one of the 835 roster spots on a big league team. Dreams do come true, but the odds are very long indeed.

Could you take your passion for baseball find a way to work around the sport you love? Broadcasting, sport phycology, personal trainer, marketing, transportation, or even grounds maintenance. Being around the ballpark everyday would be cool, even if you were not playing. Could you work around the thing you love without being at the center of it? Could you feel successful without fulfilling that childhood dream? I hope so.

Even if you make your dream come true, will that guarantee your happiness? You could create a piece of music that hits number one on the charts, or have your art hanging in a prestigious gallery and get written up the The New Yorker, or write a novel that gets made into a motion picture staring Matt Damon. Cool. Let's say you make it, let's say you are financially and critically successful doing the thing you love. This may sound harsh but, so what?

Plenty of people achieve success. Are they happy? Did their success turn what they loved into something unrecognizable? Did they or their manager, agent, or studio take over their project and slowly turn their passion into a commodity to be packaged, marketed and sold like soda pop? Did the fame, money and success make them happy?

Will they be playing their one hit song in an Indian Casino thirty years later to pay for alimony, and child support payments? Will they be in and out of rehab? The tabloids are filled with successful people that come to find out they had achieved their dreams, only to be miserable. Maybe they were chasing the wrong dream.

What if you redefined your goals and your dreams? What if your dream wasn't to have success as a (fill in the blank)? What if your dreams were about you as a person and not what you do? What if your goal was to be a better person today than you were yesterday? What if your goal wasn't to change the world but to change one life at a time? What if your dream was to try to be positive influence on those around you? What if your dream was to be the best version of yourself you could be?

That would mean, no matter where you find yourself, you are in charge of your success. You could be working in a recording studio, producing music, or working at radio station as a production assistant making minimum wage. You could be working as a professional plumber (and they make a very good living) and still get together with your friends and play music a few nights a week and live a wonderful life. You could work as a therapist, really helping people, and paint, draw or write poetry in you spare time.  Wouldn't you consider that success?

The great thing about living life with the goal of being a good person is it makes you a bit tougher when the world hits you with a setback. You will know that your job is not you. Your house is not you. Your bank account is not you. The only thing that is really you is how you treat others, and how you view yourself.

Being a good person doesn't mean being perfect. We are all going to fall short at times. There will be peaks and valleys in life, they are unavoidable; health issues, relationship issues, financial issues, but you can choose how you deal with every one of them.

No matter what today threw at you, tomorrow is another chance to succeed. That is a dream I can follow.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Change is hard.

Of all the things we encounter, in the short time we spend in this world, not many of them stay constant. Sure, you can say that the sun will come up tomorrow in the East, and barring a meteor smashing the earth out of its orbit, that is true. However, even our sun is slowly dying. In 2.8 Billion years or so, the sun will balloon into a Red Giant as it expends the last of its energy, before ultimately shrinking into a Black Dwarf; a cold ball of carbon drifting trough the universe. Much like the line from Fight Club;  “On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”

As humans, we like to think the things surrounding us are more or less permanent. When we're young, we think we will always be young, or at least we think old age is way down the road, and doesn't trouble our thoughts too much. We live in America, where we are the sole super power in the world right now, and have been for a few decades.

Many younger people do not remember the 'duck and cover' nuclear attack drills we had in elementary school. I'm not sure how crouching under my wooden desk would have saved me from a hydrogen bomb, but that is what we were instructed to do.

There was a great unease in my youth brought about by the existence of another super power with a larger military, nuclear weapons, and a stated goal that they would bury us. I'm sure 9/11 and the following years of war and terrorism are in the back of everyone's mind old enough to remember it. Still, there isn't that macro threat of the Cold War where one day the whole world would be incinerated as the USSR and the US engaged in a thermonuclear warfare.

Even with the resurgence of Russia, and the oncoming development of China, we are still the lone super power on the globe, for now. Give it another 30 years and China will compete and ultimately fill the void for global dominance. Young people will be astonished as we face off with China over natural resources, technological dominance, and Geo-politics. They will say, I remember when they built all our iPhones and TVs, why do they want to take over Japan and South Korea now?

Like I say, change is something, we as a species, are not very good at. Now, there are some people who are very good at spotting trends, and changing dynamics whether it be in business, technology, politics, or culture. These are the people who said, in ten years the big book stores will be a thing of the past. We laughed at them and said, hey I just became a Borders Rewards member, there is no way this place is closing. They just put in a coffee bar, free wi-fi, and beside, people will always want to browse and buy books in a store. Five years ago the same people said Best Buy, Radio Shack and electronic super stores will be gone in a few years and they may be right. I think Radio Shack just filed for bankruptcy last week.

Humans are the same way when it comes to our personal lives.We don't like change, or I should say the majority of us don't like change. Some folks out there, and thank the Lord for them, never like to sit still. They crave change, and are always looking to the future for a better way. However, most of us desire the steady, constant path where things go right along without much tumult or agitation. As long as we do what we've done before, we  will be safe. As long as I keep showing up for work and doing it the same way, I will always have a job. As long as I treat my family/spouse the same way, they will always be there. As long as I live my life this way, I will receive this result.

If we take an objective look at life, I'm not sure how we come up with this notion of "do the same, get the same". We feel as though we are entitled to that steady, consistency of the way our lives are right now. I think that type of mentality is a dangerous thing. Things are changing all around us, all the time. We just have to start looking up from our daily tasks, our daily routines to spot these trends. Otherwise we will be blindsided by change.

I love technology. I stared in the IT infrastructure field 20 years ago. I started at the bottom and worked my way up, learning everything I could as I went. When I started there was a distinct stratification to the industry. Cable pullers were at the bottom, fiber optic technicians were towards the top. Terminating fiber optic cable back then was half skill, half artistry. Cleaving a bare fiber, smaller than a human hair, by hand and then polishing it with finer and finer grades of sanding/polishing paper took a long time. Making figure-eights on the paper with a polishing puck was all done by feel. If you screwed it up, you clipped off the end and started over. It took me a few months and a few dozen clipped ends to become good at it. It took me a few years to become really good at it.

Today, the ends come pre polished and you can use a fusion splicer to connect them to the fiber optic cable. The splicing machine is so precise, I could train most people to use it in a day or so. That is change. Not to say that new person will know how to use an optical time domain reflectometer or OTDR to test it, or perform all the other tasks that come with the job, but it is getting quicker, and easier to learn and do these tasks. Less training time, and more reliable tools means fewer fiber optic technicians are going to be needed in the future. Or at least their skill set will have less of a premium placed on it. That's why I am constantly keeping up on wireless technology, as our industry moves towards the mobile client.

I have mentioned the OODA loop before, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, and it has become a model for me. Why am I doing what I'm doing? Can I do it better, or can I get better results? How can I get those results, what steps do I need to take? Then, act on the plan. Start the loop again. This process is not only applicable to individuals, but groups, businesses, churches. Any entity that has to deal with change.

I have been through a big change in my personal life recently. My weight has been an issue with me since high school. I was a skinny, active kid living out in the country. As I got into high school, I discovered fast food, and beer. Thankfully I also discovered sports. I was a three sport athlete in high school, so I was always training, lifting weights or competing. When I graduated, I kept my eating habits, but not my work out habits. Every year I put on three to five pounds or so. After a thirty years I found myself fat as a tick and becoming increasingly unhealthy.

In that time I had tried many diets. I lost and gained back twenty pounds, forty pounds, etc. When I started to become diabetic, that is when I knew I had to do something. I started the process of looking into gastric bypass surgery last fall, and this January 29th I went in for surgery.

This is not an easy endeavor. The pre-op work, weight loss and the surgery prep itself are no fun at all. The initial week to ten days following my surgery were painful and frustrating. Two weeks in, and I started feeling better. I went back to work my third week, and was back to normal work, no restrictions in six weeks.

I am now two and a half months out from my surgery and I'm adjusting to my new life. I have lost about sixty pounds so far, and feel better. I do look at eating in a different way now.  Eating is not something I plan my day around as I did in the past. Some days I have to remember to eat. Some of my favorite foods I can't eat right now. Others are fine one day, and not so fine the next. My new, smaller stomach has its own set of rules. What it likes, how much and how fast to eat it, these are things I will have to think about. Break these rules, and I will pay a price.

This surgery, this decision, has and will change my life. I hope for the better, but time will tell. I could have done nothing, and continued to watch my heath deteriorate. I could have  started another diet, and maybe this time, it would have worked. I'll never know. Based on my past experience, I am doubtful. 

I say all this to point out that change is inevitable, but not always easy. You will not be the same person you are today this time next year. Things will happen, situations will change. you will change. The trick is, will you be one directing this change, or will things, people, events direct it? I understand that life happens, and sometimes events are outside your control, but how you respond to them is not. Your response is entirely up to you.

If you cannot change the past, (and you can't) you must move forward. What will you do? Will you sit down and turn inward in protest to the unfair card you were dealt? Will you get angry, bitter, and resentful at the people, the situation, or even God for letting this happen? How will you respond? How will you handle this change?

These can be scary questions. However, there is another side to change. What if we choose to do nothing? What if we choose not to see our relationships falling apart? What if we refuse to see our changing work place situation? What if we choose to stay on this same, "safe" path we have been on? What if that safe path leads nowhere? What if we lose one, two or twenty years keeping our head down and plodding along this path because we are afraid to face change. What if we grow comfortable in our apathy?

I offer no advice other than these two items:
  • Change is coming, be the one out front directing it if all possible.  
  • It is possible.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My memorial service.

I have wanted to do this for a while now. Listening to my favorite pastor, Francis Chan, I am finally beginning to understand that I owe my next breath to God. One day, maybe today, maybe in thirty years, my heart will beat its final beat. Whenever that day comes, there are things I wanted to say. While I am still drawing breath, I thought I should not waste another heartbeat.

First off, I am usually the one up front at these things so I wonder who is reading this? I may shame Dan Gallardo into performing it because he hates speaking in public, but I think he would do quite well.

Before I get into too much detail, I want everyone to know how much I love my family. My parents Walter and Alice, my step father Paul, my sister Lisa and brother in law Roy. I had such a wonderful childhood. Sure we had some ups and downs, but I was always loved, and I cherish those days.

I also love my wonderful in-laws, Don, Lois, along with Eric, Brian and the whole Meidinger clan. I’ll bet you didn’t know what a ride you were in for when I married dawn, right?

I must say that everyone loves their family, or at least that’s the way it supposed to work, and I hope I can cover in a few minutes the infinite amount of love I have for my wife Dawn, my son Steven and my daughter Abigail. If by the time you are reading this I have grandkids, I’m sure I love you too and keep giving your folks a grief, its payback time.

 Sitting here today, I am a very happy person, but that has not always been the case. I have and continue to struggle with being an anxious, worried, petty, vain, untrustworthy, angry, and hypocritical person. Some days I win, some days I lose, but in all days, I thank Jesus Christ for the strength to fight.

Much like a Labrador Retriever, I have been slow to mature. I still remember that kid from Oak Run, down at the creek with my dog throwing rocks at frogs, sticks, oak balls, whatever, pretending I was bombarding them with cannon fire. To tell the truth, I would still do this today if no one was watching me. I remember the crazy kid in high school, drinking to excess and acting like a lunatic. Why my parents ever let me have my own apartment at 17 is still a mystery to me. If I lived my high school days over ten times, it is no exaggeration I would die seven times.

I remember meeting my future wife, asking her to marry me without the slightest idea of what I wanted to do with my life, or how I would make a living should something happen to my father. Well, unfortunately, we had to find out. I was so unprepared for my father’s death and it set me back in so many ways. Emotionally, financially, and spiritually, I was a wreck.

If any person saved my life in those dark days it was Dawn. She stayed with me, even when she didn’t know what was going to happen, even when I was very depressed, even when I was wallowing in darkness, even when I didn’t deserve to be loved, she was there. Simply put, she saved me from myself.

She was my first love, someone who I was not looking for when I found her, someone I could not live without once we met. After our first few dates, we were inseparable. When I ran out of money and asked if she wanted to go out to the ranch and run around with my dogs as a date, she said yes, and I knew I found a keeper. We have been through so much; good times, bad times, heart aches and turnarounds. She has been a steady force in our marriage, trying to keep my wandering course off the rocks.

Our son Steven came into this world, and surprise, and again, I was not ready for it. I would like to think I was a pretty good parent, but I was unprepared. I owe him many apologies and ask for his forgiveness. I was not trying to screw you up son; I was trying to do the best I could. I think we are hardest on the weaknesses we hate in ourselves when we see them in others. I was way too hard on Steven, trying to correct my own faults through him.

One thing I hope I did right was stop trying to pound that square peg in a round hole like my father tried to. It became pretty obvious that Steven’s personality is different than mine, or Dawn’s. He is a ‘sit back and watch’ kind of person. He doesn’t like to meet new people, and it takes a while for him to make friends. I found this frustrating as a parent. Why isn’t like me? He wasn’t into sports, and for a guy for played three sports in school, this seemed strange too. He hated school, and I mean hated school. So I did the only thing I knew how to do, I just took with me everywhere. Steven was my constant companion on weekends when I wasn’t working, and he seemed to be okay with it. As long as we stopped off to eat at a good place, he was cool with it.

 I was wondering what we would do with him when he asked for a guitar for Christmas; I think he was 13? Little did we know that we had just unlocked a side to our son that we had never seen. He played for a while, I bought a guitar too and we plucked around making noise for a few months and then he just slowly stopped playing. I thought this might just have been a phase that had run its course when one of those weird things happened. Dawn’s uncle Tom and aunt Carol came by. He heard Steven had a guitar and Tom is one of those misdirected musical geniuses, and he asked to see Steven play. He did, and then he picked up Steven’s cheap Chinese Strat knock off and made it sing. Steven seemed reinvigorated in his music and played, and played and played some more. He started playing at church with Peter Numann and he blossomed under Peter’s direction and Pastor John Withem’s encouragement. Dawn and I owe a great deal to Peter and John for seeing what Steven could become and giving him the chance to succeed.

Steven, you are a great son. Even when you were being a butthead, you were nice about it; which is more than I can say for myself. I love you so much, you inspire me. I worry about you at times, but I shouldn’t. You will always do what is right. You are stronger that you know, one day you will find that out and the world better watch out. 

Then there is Abbie. Abbie came into world in a crisis. She was 3 pounds 4 ounces and both her and Dawn tried to die on me, but with a lot of prayer, a whole lot of prayer, and their own stubbornness, they both pulled through. I have always said that Abbie was going to give me a heart attack, if I died from one, Ab, I was just kidding. You are great, it’s just that after Steven and his easy going pace, I was not ready for Hurricane Abbie. I used to say that Abbie never walked on her heels around the house, and I was right. She ran and stood on her tiptoes most of the time. She was a blur of activity, always moving, always running, and usually in her mom’s footsteps. We used to call Abbie, Dawn’s mini-me.

Abbie, you are kind, funny, up for every adventure. You don’t get bogged down in life; you seem to just roll with it. I wish I had your spirit.

If Steven was always with me, Abbie was always with Dawn. She used to go to work with her on Sundays and so I didn’t see too much of her on weekends. Abbie, unlike her brother is a “joiner” she wanted, and did, do just about everything. Soccer, volleyball, basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics, 4-H, riding horses, and I probably missed a few along the way. Abbie loves the ranch. Both, Gibson and Sugarland. She has such talent on a horse. She works very hard at it. It is her passion. Abbie’s love for horses and riding is very similar to Steven’s love of music. They both are naturally gifted and I have wondered at their achievements, and I could not be prouder.

I wish we had spent more time together as she grew up, and I am sorry for that. Maybe it’s natural to be more connected to children of the same sex, or maybe our personalities are not as similar and mine and Steven’s. Whatever the reason, Abbie, I wish I knew you better, and I wish we were closer. You have my quirkiness, my strange sense of humor, and you love to make friends. I cannot tell you how much I love you. Even if you think I love your brother more, you are wrong, he’s a guy and know what it’s like to be a guy. Young girls and women scare the hell out of me and I don’t know anything about being one of them, so you will have to forgive me for not knowing what to say, or the right way to act around you. But I love you dearly, and you make me so proud. You are such a good person.

To all my friends, and family, I thank you for allowing me into your lives and that you had a glimpse into my twisted little world. While many dying people say I have no regrets, I think that is a cop-out. I have many, many regrets.

I regret I was not a better husband, father, son, brother or friend. It wasn’t like I was out saving the world or curing cancer, I had the time and ability to do all those things, I just didn’t. I was too wrapped up being me.
I’m sorry, and I hope you will forgive me.

My deepest regret is not doing what the Bible tells me to do; love the Lord your God with all your mind, body, soul, and spirit and love your neighbor as yourself. While I believe that Christ Jesus died on a cross, and took my sin to the grave, came alive again and made me spotless in the eyes of God, I have been a terrible example to the rest of world.

If I could come back to change one thing, one mistake I have made, it would be that. I regret not bringing more people into the kingdom of God, I know there are friends of mine that do not have a relationship with Jesus, and that I could have done a lot more to ensure that their names are written in the book of life. This is my failure, one that I hope someone hearing this message will rectify.

 If I did you wrong, please forgive me. If you believe you did me wrong, don’t worry about it, I’m not.

Try not to cry for me here today, I am not in this box, I am not this bag flesh, if you dropped me on the way to the hole, I hope at least one person laughed. Nope, I am gone, but I am still with you, all of you. In your memories, in your hearts, and I hope to live on in your stories, I know there are a few really good ones.

Please know in the deepest part of your soul that I am in a better place, I am home. I am in the place I was made for, not here on this earth, but at home with my Lord. I hope to see you there, where we can spend eternity in the throne room of the God, crying out Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God almighty!

Now go get some food and hug my family.

Walter Christopher Lucas.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Farmers and Ranchers.

No cows to feed, no hay to tarp, no mud holes for the feed trailer to get stuck in, no endless mound of muddy boots and rain gear at the back door. Nope, none of that this winter.

I am out of the cattle business. I have been out for almost two years now, and there are thing I do miss, and some I do not.

I do not miss calving season. Seeing a cow off by herself just as you get home in the dark and walk out to see if she's having trouble calving. Or being way past your elbows inside a cow's uterus trying to put hay twine around the calf's hooves to pull it out when it gets stuck. Or the disappointment of having a still born calf. Seeing the confusion of the cow as she tries to get the calf up by pushing it around with her nose with no result. Or a first-calf heifer who is astonished, and somewhat horrified, by the small animal that just came out of her and seems determined to suck on her utter for some reason. Some heifers can drop a calf on the ground, give it a sniff, and walk away to the feed rack as if it were sack full or rocks. If you cannot reconcile the two you will have a orphan, or 'bummer' calf. Nothing beats heading out to the barn in a driving rain with a bottle of calf-replacer half of which ends up in the calf, the other half all over you.

A strong mothering instinct is no picnic either. If the calf needs medicine or treatment, some cows are quite sure their new calf is in mortal danger, and transform from the somewhat jovial bovine you used to hand feed, into a lioness protecting her cub against all comers.Trying to hold a calf's head between your legs as you fumble with a syringe all the while having snot blow on you by a 1,200 pound mama cow prancing around you is not something for the timid.

I do miss the calves. I miss the running, jumping, and bucking. I miss how curious they are. I miss  when you go out to work on the water trough how the calves will pick up your work gloves and tools in their mouth just to see what they are. I miss how the bull calves will find the highest piece of ground, no matter if it's a foot tall mound of dirt, and play King of the mountain.

The thing I miss most is going out in the tall grass, laying down on my back, and just being still. The calves cannot help themselves. It may take ten minutes, or an hour, but eventually all of the calves will form a circle around you. They sniff at you, some have even nibbled on my boots, but they want to know what you are and why you are there. The mothers are usually right behind them, just in case they feel the need to stomp a mud hole in your chest if you mess with their baby. It's probably not a smart thing to do, but I have never been accused of being too smart.

No, I have left all that behind for the modern day gold rush of planting an almond orchard.  Not as romantic, not as messy, but I have yet to be kicked in the package and smashed into a iron gate by an almond tree.

Planting almonds seems to be the thing to do in Yolo County. When I drive into Woodland from Esparto I must pass 5 or 6,000 acres of newly planted almond trees. I have no idea how many new orchards are being put in right now, but if the trend continues, the canning tomato may get a run for its money as king of crops.

I actually hate being one of the crowd that is chasing this growing market. To hear the almond industry tell it, Asia loves almonds and walnuts and that market has huge growth potential. That is probably a true statement. However, I still have this feeling of being that sod buster in Iowa back in 1849 working his small farm when the news of gold fields in California hit. Pull up stakes, sell the plow and mule and head to California as fast you can. I'd much rather have opened a hardware store in the gold rush selling picks, shovels and gold pans at a good mark up. You may not strike the mother load, but you will always have a constant supply of customers looking to get rich quick.

I didn't have much of a choice about selling my cattle in the second year of a drought with no prospect of irrigation water from the district. I would buying ever more expensive hay to feed my cattle. To a point where the calves would not pay for the hay bills. Still, I hate being a farmer. Farmers work all year, and if the wrong weather happens in the wrong time frame, you are sunk. Pouring rain and wind during your orchard's blossom? You may lose 20-30% of your production. Hard freeze? Even more losses. It's like gambling with Mother Nature. I'm not much of a gambler.

I liked being a rancher, even with all the bad parts thrown in. Maybe I will have a change of heart. Maybe in 10 years, when my orchard is in full production and I am sitting in my new bass boat, (I really don't like to fish, but it seems rich people do) and I will laugh at my current misgivings and trepidation.

Or I might be pulling out my almond trees and cursing the slightly cooler climate that brought back ample snow fall and plenty of water to southern California where almonds have a longer growing season and much higher yields. Well, we will see.

Hmmm. Maybe I will buy a few head of cows with my almond money.........

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Church from a blank slate.

What if we didn't have the modern church? Seriously, what if there were no brick and mortar churches, no cathedrals, no multi purpose school rooms converted to sanctuaries on Sundays? What if we just had people who read His word, fed the hungry, clothed the poor, did good works in their communities in the name of their savior, and told others how Jesus changed their lives?

My thoughts are:
A. That is what Jesus would have wanted.
B. That is what Jesus would have wanted. (and lastly)
C: That is what Jesus would have wanted.

No matter how we arrived here, A, B, or C is not the model of the church in America. Don't get me wrong, I am not against corporate worship. I have felt the moving power of an assembled gathering of Christ's followers engaged in worship and prayer. It is palpable. I just think our modern model of "church" has evolved into something unrecognizable to anything in I can find in scripture. I understand that times and cultures change, but there is a sameness found in most places of worship on most Sundays.

I can't find anything in the Gospels where Jesus says, "I want everyone to come together in a certain building one morning each week, (unless your football team is playing the early game, then you are excused) serve some delicious snacks and Starbucks coffee, have someone play and sing contemporary worship songs on an acoustic guitar, and a keyboard if you have one, and listen to a guy tell you all how cool it is that I came down here to visit you one day long ago, and died for your sin. Oh, and take an offering so you can pay for that building, pay all the staff salaries, insurance, and for the glossy handouts."

The church is people folks, not a place. Not a building; but people. You are the church, I am the church. Together, we are the church. Maybe that is where we have to start; changing the way we think about about church.

It's easy for me to poke fun at the church because I'm just a guy who sits in the chair on Sunday and takes it all in. I am not criticizing any particular churches or denominations here, it is just a general observation. So don't think just because your church sings out of a Hymnal written in the 1800's, played on an organ and you would never serve anything other than good ol' Maxwell House coffee to your congregation, you are off the hook.

My son plays guitar in a church most Sundays. He plays at many different churches with a lot of different worship teams. I have been going with him since he was too young to drive. We try to have breakfast very early on those Sundays, it's kind of our tradition. That said, I have been to a lot of churches and listened to many a church service. The funny thing is how similar all of them are. No matter the denomination, no matter if your congregation is young hipsters with ironic facial hair or well dressed older ladies and men with ties,  no matter if you're in the city or out in the country, most church services go a little something like this.

You're greeted at the door by some of the more outgoing members of the church and given a glossy handout, along with the church bulletin and sermon notes. You stand around the coffee and snacks for a few minutes talking to the people you know, maybe saying hello to a new face, probably not, and finally move to your seat when the worship leader announces that church has started.

You take the same seat where you usually sit and ignore the worship pastor at the end of the first song when he asks everyone to move to the center to make room for more people. You stand for another song, maybe two, before the announcements. A staff person, or maybe the pastor usually asks for more help with the children's ministry, and reminds you to bring some can foods for a food drive and lets you know this group or that group is meeting Wednesday night at 7:00.  One last song, usually a more reflective song to get the congregation in the mood for the sermon, prayer, and welcome the senior pastor to the stage.

The senior pastor begins with a light hearted comment or joke to get started, asks you to pull out your sermon notes and fill in the blanks on the paper. The sermon is usually nothing too challenging. There are always new people in church, checking out all this Jesus stuff their sister has been telling them about or some disenchanted believers from another church looking for a new home, and you don't want to come off all 'fire and brimstone' on them. Just the good ol' vanilla Jesus, He loves you and He want's you to go to heaven. If you are really good, you use an acrostic in your sermon notes, using the letters of one word to make sentences so your message easier to remember. Even if it was really hard to find the right word to make the acrostic work with your message, at all came together. Slick stuff right there, the mark of a real pro.

The offering might be during the announcements, or at the end of the service while the band plays a soft instrumental. Maybe a alter call, probably not, but hopefully an invitation to accept Christ as your savior. Anyone raising their hand gets a new Bible and an invitation to come to a new believers class next month.

One last song as everyone exits, it's usually just one verse and chorus of the last song they played. A few more hand shakes of people you know, dodging the kids who are back from Sunday School and cleaning up the last of the snacks. The pastor makes his way to the door to say goodbye to his flock. Pick up, clean up and pack up, if you are in a mobile church, and get ready to do it all again next Sunday.

There is a reason when you fly into, or drive into, any good size city in America you will see a Home Depot right next to the Appleby's, the Target and the Office Depot, or the Walmart right next to the McDonalds and a Best Buy. The outskirts of every city look just like the outskirts of every other city with all the same shopping and dinning choices. Except for the whole Carls Jr - Hardees thing. But again, it's all in name recognition, same restaurant, different names depending on what part of the country you are in. There is a reason for all this sameness.

Americans are the most conditioned and highly trained consumers in the world. There could be a small mom and pop Mexican food place that serves the best meal you could ever have right in front of you, but you drive past and pull into the Chevys Fresh Mex that you saw from the freeway. They have fresh chips and salsa don't you know.

I guess my point is, if I even have one, is it would be refreshing to see us break out of the way we think of and do church. Even if it's only a few Sundays a year.

Hey, its going to be beautiful next Sunday, so lets meet in the park, or down by the river. Bring your own chair or a blanket to sit on. No P.A. system, so everyone will have sit close together, one or two, or ten songs whenever we are moved to sing them. But next Sunday, let's talk about God. Who He is, what he means to us. The changes He has made in my life, and the changes He can make in yours. How His presence can help you through this rough time in your life, because in any church of any size, there are quietly hurting people who need to know Jesus is the answer to whatever they are going through. No snacks or coffee unless you bring your own, or better yet, get the whole family together and have breakfast before you come to church.

Wouldn't that be refreshing? Would anyone come? Would you do more for the kingdom of Christ if you had a third of your normal turn out, but those who came were moved to action, moved to a decision to seriously follow Christ?

Look, I know there are realities to deal with; budgets, payrolls, a monthly nut to crack and a leadership team or group of elders to deal with, but I think as church leaders, or pastors, we should start asking ourselves, why are we doing it this way?

I may be all wet on this one. Maybe this is how church in America is going to grow. A successful church will plant new churches that grow up just like the parent church. I just hope we are not turning church into a commodity, into a franchise where all the churches look, act, sing, and preach like all the other ones. I don't want to attend the Appleby's of churches, or the Morton's Steakhouse for that matter. A church should have its very own, distinct, personality. Stiched together, blended from a people who serve shoulder to shoulder, brought together by the Spirit of the living god. That is what church should be.

To borrow a line from Abraham;(Lincoln that is) A church of the people, by the people and for the people.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I have a screen capture from my email inbox with a what can only be described as a ridiculous amount of pleas for my money. Not that I have given much to political campaigns over the years, but it seems once they have you in a database, it's like winning the Lottery. However, the pleas are not from relatives or every person with a hard luck story, they come from politicians, and politicians are much worse than relatives. 

Thankfully, the campaigns I have given to have been Independent or Republican, therefore their technical prowess seems to be at least one election cycle behind the Democrats. Hey at least I'm not getting emails from Shotgun Joe Biden, and Michelle Obama. The ham handed, fear inducing cries for my money have become a bit ridiculous. 

Here is my problem with the GOP right now. Telling me that unless I empty my IRA and give to the RNC, the RCCC, or the NRSC, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will be running the show, is not a big motivating factor to me right now. Why? Because the Republican party has become the Democrat Light party. Sure they talk a big game about freedom, small government, and strong defense, but that is just when they have one hand around my shoulder and the other one in my wallet trying to get more money from me. When they get back to Washington, they must sit in their Georgetown homes, sipping on a bottle of Cognac that cost as much as my truck payment and chuckle at how they keep duping us into keeping them in the lifestyles they have become accustom to. 

There are some real conservatives in congress, a few, but the establishment GOP would rather go along, and keep their powerful friends and future lucrative lobbying jobs. Read This Town if you want to see the Washington onion peeled back, it's a great read. 

Massive amounts of debt, fewer people working since the 1970s, a president who seems to think that he can change any law at any time he likes without going through congress, not to mention the most corrupt executive branch in history? No worries, just send us your hard earned money and we will fix it all.  

Look, most of the real battles today are won or lost in court, that is the sad fact. Congress can pass a law, the president can sign it, the people can pass a proposition, but if one judge somewhere thinks his personal views should trump the law of the land, Bam! We are screwed. 

I would like to make a suggestion as the election draws closer. Save your money for people and organizations who are really moving the ball forward. If you are a supporter of the Second Amendment, and if you live in California, there are a few organizations that doing tremendous work in this field, and getting results. Calguns Foundation is one of them. They are fighting and winning court cases where County Sheriffs are refusing to issue concealed weapons permits to law abiding citizens. Protecting gun owners from illegal confiscations and generally standing up for our rights as law abiding citizens. 
The Pacific Legal Foundation is another one. They are suing and winning important private property and personal freedom cases. 

I hope Republicans win the Senate in November, I do. Passing a budget, passing laws to curtail the abuses of the EPA, IRS and so forth will be great for optics as we head into 2016 and the next presidential election. President Obama will be forced to veto these laws and then have to explain his veto, along with every Democrat running for President. This will be a good thing. However, I am under no illusion that changing the names in the offices will do much to change the direction of our nation. Having the GOP in charge may only make one truly important difference; Supreme Court justices. No matter who is at the  wheel of this behemoth government, we won't stop sinking until we we start chucking the dead weight overboard. That means shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tactical vs Traditional; Can I love both?

For quite some time I have had an internal battle going on inside me. A struggle if you will. Yes, it seems my very soul has been bisected and if I do not get behind one side or the other, the tumult and chaos will soon lead to my demise. The war must stop, but the outcome is far from decided. (How is that for faux dramatic effect?)

The struggle I face may be something that you battle as well. The battle between my love for my traditional firearms, and the new (to me anyway) word of tactical arms.

To give a little background, I grew up in the country, on a cattle ranch. My first firearm was my father's 1966 Canadian Centennial Ruger 10/22. 

Not that he was collector; it was probably just what they had on the shelf when he bought it. From the time my hands first embraced the walnut stock of that rifle, I was hooked. I will never forget the words he said as he handed me that rifle at the ripe old age of 10. As he sent me out the door he gave me a 50 round box of Winchester Wildcats and said, "Don't kill yourself."

Luckily for the world, I did not kill myself, or anyone else, but I did have to learn a lot of safety lessons the hard way. This method of firearms training by osmosis is one I would not recommend to anyone. I think the main reason I became a firearms instructor was the lack of instruction I received as a young shooter. I love teaching young and new shooters how to be safe, and how to have fun.

My first center fire rifle was a Marlin 94 in 30-30. My dad kept his Winchester 94 in 32 Special in the closet away from my grubby little fingers. As for my Marlin, many a muskrat met their demise at the front end of that lever action rifle. Eventually, when I was 13 or so, my father gave me his Remington 700 in .243 Winchester. I loved that rifle. I took my very first deer with it, and about a dozen more until I bought my own Model 700 in .270.

Growing up, I thought guns should be made of blued steel and a nice piece of wood. My first pistol was a blued, six inch Colt Trooper in .357 and I shot that pistol for years until I saved up enough money to buy a real, honest to goodness, Colt Series 70 1911. I still own that Series 70 and it is one of the guns I would run back into my burning house to save. The dark blued slide with the rampant colt logo, the sweeping curved lines of the Ed Brown beavertail safety, and the checkered walnut grips; it’s a beautiful thing to behold. I digress.

After buying, selling and trading a few dozen firearms, (yes you could once do that here in California) I had a nice little collection. The folks at the local gun shows would lick their chops every time I came through the doors. I am not a good trader. The Native Americans who traded Manhattan for a basket of beads where wheeler-dealers compared to me. I'm surprised I didn't trade that Trooper for some magic beans and a Stevens single shot .410.

I eventually came to love Smith & Wesson revolvers, along with my fondness of Colt 1911s, Remington rifles and Browning shotguns. Like most men, I like to tinker with stuff.  Before long I started to refinish guns and do a little customizing.  Through some twist and turns I found my way into the world of sporterized Mausers. This is not an inexpensive hobby. I have a few VZ-24s that I have turned into nice little hunting rifles. I also had a friend transform an $80 VZ-24 from Big-5 sporting goods into a beautiful elk rifle in 338-06. It is the finest looking firearm I own. 

Somewhere in the early '90s, a small hiccup hit my world of warm wood tones, color case hardening, and rich bluing. A tremor in The Force if you will. It was a rather unattractive, blocky, flat black pistol made of plastic. Well, the majority of the slide was polymer; the rest was made of steel. It was a first generation Glock 23.

What had just happened? Why did I have this sinister, black, boxy looking thing in my safe along side my lovely guns? Well, I guess the reason was one of my friends had a Glock, and thing seemed to work every time you pulled the trigger. My Glock was no different; it just worked. Factory ammo, reloads, full metal jackets, hollow points, hard cast lead bullets, it didn't matter, it would go bang every time.

Glocks, in case you didn't know, are the gateway gun to the tactical world. Damn you Gaston Glock, damn you and your ugly plastic pistols that work!

Soon, most police departments were trading in their Smith & Wesson revolvers for these new fangled wonder guns. The Glock Safe Action system, with its three passive mechanical safeties, gave people the high capacity, semi-auto action they wanted, along with the 'pull the trigger and shoot' simplicity of a revolver. 

I now had one toe over the line, into the dark side, the tactical dark side that is.

Many of my friends are police officers and military veterans; many of them work or had lived in the tactical world. After a bit of resistance, I finally gave in to peer pressure, and bought an AR-15 lower. 

Well, peer pressure and the fact that the government in all its infinite wisdom decided that I didn't 'need' one, so I bought one. This stripped lower receiver was relatively inexpensive, just over $160 with all the paper work and fees. I now had a new tactical 'firearm' even though the lower is just an aluminum paperweight by itself. It sat on my desk, mocking me. I could not take it any longer.

The expenses started to add up fast. A lower parts kit, a complete upper receiver, magazines, sights, etc. My $160 had turned into something north of $800, but I now had a fully functional AR-15 in .223. I though that would be the end, I had an AR-15. It was fun to shoot, but it was not 'my kind of gun'. The matte black anodized finish, the sharp lines of the rails, the click and clack of aluminum and plastic, my AR did not seem to be alive, it didn't seem to have a soul. Maybe that is the point. After a while, I heard the not so quiet call from the dark side.

Every time I had some extra fun money come in, the dark side would call to me. "You know you don't need to buy another complete AR, you could just get another upper, maybe a bull barrel varmint upper, or one in a different caliber!" 

In a few years my safe was full of upper receivers, for my AR-15. I can now put together a lower receiver kit in my sleep. I am always customizing my tactical guns, free floating hand guards, match triggers, etc. I also broke down and bought another lower receiver so I could take the family out shooting. This is where the lure of the dark side started to reach out to my children. 

Not my children! Have you no shame! They are far too young to be turned from the world of English walnut stocks and double-action revolvers to your corrupt, cold, matte black world! 

In the end, the dark side won. My 13-year-old daughter loves nothing more than to send me to the poor house by endlessly emptying magazine after magazine of .223 at the orange self-healing targets she shoots at. My wife is a bit of a purist and will only shoot the AR with iron sights, as she says, "Scopes are cheating." Every person I take shooting wants to shoot the 'black guns.' I am now getting all the gear I need to start Defensive 3-Gun shooting this year. I even bought a tactical shotgun. I had been turned. I was now fully involved in the tactical world. 

As a side note, I have never been one of the "tactical range warriors" you see in all the gun shops and at the range. If you work behind the counter of you local gun shop, why you feel the need to wear a plate carrier adorned with patches with your 'tactical name" on them is beyond me. If you are going out to the hill shooting squirrels, or punching holes in paper targets, a molle chest rig, a tactical thigh holster, and your concealed cary pants are a bit much if you ask me. Even with my all my 'black' arms, I refuse to give in. I am proudly un-tactical. 

As the years have passed, I have noticed a distinct change in the way I view firearms. Much of it was driven by the appeal of tactical shooting. However, to be honest, with all the talk of banning this type of pistol or that type of rifle, I did buy a few firearms for fear I would be unable to buy them in the future. The last few years of gun bans, magazine bans, and calls for registration have driven up gun sales like no other time I can remember. 

It seems all the major firearms manufacturers are bringing out new tactical lines of pistols, rifles and shotguns. While I do enjoy shooting and customizing my tactical arms, I do miss the craftsmanship of a finely made wood and steel bolt-action rifle, or a single action pistol. 

I stopped Cowboy Action Shooting years ago. I cannot remember the last time I took my 1866 Navy lever action out to the range. My set of Ruger Vaqueros in .45 Long Colt get a gentle wipe down from a silicone cloth every so often, but that is about it. I have a reproduction 1886 Winchester takedown in 45-70 that is loads of fun to shoot with hard cast bullets. I never seem to reach for those guns any more. They have worked their way to the back of my gun safe. Along with my M1 Garand, and my fathers 32 Special. 

The other day I was thinking about putting some money aside for a new pistol, maybe an ultra compact 40S&W or 9mm. Then for some reason I started thinking about a pistol that I have always wanted. A Colt Combat Commander. The beauty of that pistol, with a four-inch barrel, blued steel, and walnut grips speaks to me in a way that the more practical and tactical pistol does not. It is more than a tool, more than a purpose driven piece of functionality, it is a piece of art. 

If function wins the day, the modern tactical arms are the clear winners. Much as a new, smaller, modern four cylinder, fuel injected sports car would beat a 1969 Corvette Stingray with a 400 horse power L86 engine in a race, the new tactical pistols and rifles are technological wonders. However, given my choice, I would take the primitive, old-fashioned Corvette any day. 

Why? Well if you don’t understand, you probably don’t have any lever action rifles in your safe.