Monday, December 24, 2012

Ten Lessons Learned in 2012

Lesson 1:

The difference between weird and crazy is that you can medicate crazy.

I had many run ins with people who weren't really practicing safe mental health during this past year. I live with me so I count myself as a barometer of normal/abnormal behavior. It is sort of like that old poem: "Yesterday upon the stair; I met a man who wasn't there; He wasn't there again today; Oh how I wish he would go away." That little poem depicts my unpredictable state of mind pretty well.

We had a visitor this past year who came into our home and actually spent the night with us. She was an add-on to relatives of my wife. She brought a little dog with her. This dog was a pug-terrier-chihuahua mix or something close. It was easily the ugliest mammal I've seen, ever. We provided a private room for the dog and its master. There was pronounced evidence that the dog slept in the bed with the freshly laundered sheets. I really did not meet the beast until breakfast the next morning after their late night arrival. The dog was 34 years old, diabetic, blind, incontinent and smelled like a necrotic meat ball. My first introduction took me back. You see the little meat ball was seated in a baby carriage at our dining room table being fed with a spoon by its master. This during our group breakfast that my wife had carefully prepared. It is my understanding that the owner has this creature with her constantly due to the need to constantly monitor its health. She administers vaccinations of insulin periodically with salves, potions and eye of newt. Picture in your mind this unusual caricature of an aged lady pushing a baby carriage with this goblin-like pet. Weird, weirder and weirdest of most life experiences I had this past year.

Lesson 2:

I experienced the loss of my Mother this past year. That is a watershed experience.

A mother is a single issue sort of relationship. Eleanor was 82 years of age, a double amputee and a stroke victim. I was born to her in 1946 when she was 16 years of age. So I spent a great deal of life being experimented upon by a child. I also spent a fair amount of time helping to raise her to adulthood. We had a pretty thin relationship by the time it was all over. Still I cared about her and did a lot for her over her lifetime as she did me. 

Our relationship was complicated over her course of life with 4 failed marriages and moving in and out of 113 jobs. In the end her care fell pretty much upon a younger brother in a far away place. I am grateful for that brother. He is resentful of me and my other brother. I don't blame him but she had burned all the bridges between myself and my other brother so he was her only option. 

I attended her funeral and watched the officiator pour her ashes into a little hole in the ground in a countryside church garden. And that was that. The person who had given me life ended up in a hole in the ground. At nearly 67 years of age the realization that I would soon follow her settled in on me and caused me to reflect. I don't find that unsettling but rather find it sort of fixating and relevant to the nature of this life we are given. Use it wisely because it all ends with your being laid or poured into a hole in the ground.

Lesson 3:

Accidents happen quickly and abruptly and can be quite painful.

No matter how careful you think you are accidents befall us. Mine occurred back in February. I was burning some old files in a chimnea. If you don't know what a chimnea is picture a 5 foot squash held upright with a hole at the top and all the innards removed and a window in the front lower portion. This is a poor man's fireplace. They are quite nice for burning yard trash or old files in .They are also useful for setting your house on fire. On this particular day I was burning not noticing that a thunder cloud was approaching. All of a sudden a brisk wind arose and rushed down through the chimnea blowing a piece of cardboard onto my unprotected shin. The cardboard adhered to my flesh for no more than 5 seconds. It left a burn about the size of a baseball. The pain for the first 24 hours was almost unbearable. Then a nice blister produced by my body formed a soothing cushion for it. That blister ultimately broke and there I was with a wound with skin slammed down on top of it. Consulting my Gynecologist ( My physician son-in-law, who is an Ob/Gyn) I was disturbed to learn that according to the Merck manual I was to get some scissors and a set of tweezers and remove the skin from the burn. I did so and the next 4-5 days this wound would keep me awake at night and hurt unbearably. I had to constantly clean it and dress it. It ultimately got better but it left a sizeable scar on my shin. Now I am in the midst of making up a plausible yet outlandish story about how I got it. Something involving napalm and a dark ops rescue mission of some sort.

My daughter-in-law fell down some steep stairs at our church and broke her foot. This was on Fathers Day. It has caused her some serious anguish. It happened quickly and involved some high fashion high heels. She is better now and does not have a neat, baseball sized scar that she can make up napalm stories about.

Lesson 4:

Things change whether or not you want them to.

When I was a child it was very common to have your tonsils removed. When I became a grown up and had children of my own it became very uncommon to have your tonsils removed. Now that I have grand children it has once again become common to have your tonsils removed. Our little 3 year old grandson, Benjamin had to have his tonsils yanked. He was such a pitiful looking little waif before the procedure, now he has a gut and is on his way to being officially chubby. Soon little Samantha Abigail will follow him into the new/old world of tonsilectomies.

The easiest thing you have ever had to do over the course of my life is renew your drivers license. My license came up for renewal this past May. Whereas I used to simply go online and pay the fee and hit the send button and I was renewed, now it is rather like trying to become a citizen. I had to produce a birth certificate,  utility records showing my address, social security information, another form of photo ID, all of my childhood vaccine records, a current liver function test, two MRI's, finger prints, an EEG and an EKG. OK, I am exaggerating some of that, but not all of it. It is a new world post 9/11/01.

I have only flown one time since 9/11. I plan to fly this coming year and am very anxious about how all that has changed. Do you need a passport to go to Albequerque?

Lesson 5:

Developing new friends is a delightful experience.

I made some very good new friends this past year. One of them is a man who is an Egyptian Coptic. He is a practicing physician here in the area and I had the privilege of consulting with him in the purchase of property.
90% of Egyptians are Muslim. This fellow is a Christian and attends services where they perform mass in arabaic. He is a wonderful person with a dynamic personality and incredible work ethic and I count myself fortunate to have made his acquaintance.

I had other clients who came to town to purchase. I became aware of a house two doors down from me that was coming to market subsequent to the husband's death. I had sold them the house before it ever came to market. They are now my good friends and my neighbors.

I met a sweet lady from China who became my client. Her husband had charted most of Florida's coastline during his 43 years of working for University of Florida. She was such a lovely person and moved to Boston to live with her daughter.

The list is longer but I have made my point.

Lesson 6:

Golf is a stupid game.

I have played golf since I was 38 yoa. My wife bought me a set of golf clubs for a Christmas present and I became an addict almost immediately. I play an average of 35 rounds per year. The first time I played I shot a 116. This past week I played and shot an 88. My current handicap is 11. That is the lowest it has ever been.

I have played long years with the same people. Due to attrition such as moving, quitting the game, extensive psycho-therapy, etc. that mix of people has changed. I currently play with a group of guys with whom I do not even keep score ( except in my head ). Before I played with guys who meticulously kept score, enforced the rules and insisted on having some sort of wager going on. I am much happier playing the way I do now and I am scoring better.

Why do you suppose I am playing better? I think it is because of the approach. In that we do not wager nor keep score I play very relaxed and lackadaisical. I think I have learned that the harder you to try to score in golf the harder it is to do so. If you just don't give a rip, you will play much better.

Lesson 7:

Good guys don't always win.

I carefully make this statement so as not to offend my friends who are Democrats, one of them being my wife. It was my great pleasure to meet Mitt Romney at my church here in Tallahassee on Thomasville Rd. in 2007. I sat right beside him and asked him the question, " Can a Mormon become President of the United States? " His answer to me was, " That is entirely up to good men like you.". He owned me body and soul from that moment on. I became an official Mitt Head henceforth.

I know somewhat of the standards by which he leads his life. He and I share the Mormon faith. He has served as a Bishop and a Stake President. I know of the caliber of life a person who fills those jobs must align himself with. My wife graduated from Brigham Young University with him. I have a high school friend who served in the mission field of France with him.

Mitt Romney is one of the most moral and all around good people that has ever run for political office. We all know how far that carried him. To a resounding loss. Good guys don't always win.

Lesson 8:

Old friends are the very best friends.

This past year I renewed two relationships that have been very important to me. One is a friend with whom I worked at DuPont. I was going to Orlando for a training meeting at my church. I called to see if he wanted to get together to go to dinner. He insisted that I spend the night with him. It just so happened that he lived 10 minutes from where my meeting was being held. We went out to dinner and stayed up late and visited. It was just like discovering lost money.

The other relationship is with a friend that I used to call on during my sales career with DuPont. He and I play golf almost every week together now. He is one of the most grounded people I have ever known. I know his entire family and he knows mine.

Old freinds are very special.

Lesson 9:

Roles eventually get reversed,

My children are gradually morphing into looking out for me and my wife more than they used to. I hope to not ever become dependent on that role reversal. However, it is surely sweet and reassuring to have them there. They truly are my very best friends.

My son, Drew, had to go to a convention in Nashville this past year. His wife was unable to attend with him as planned because she broke her foot in an accident. He asked me if I would care to go with him. I decided why not. So I loaded up and accompanied him on a 3 day trip.

He and the rest of our family used to accompany me when I went on such trips. Now here I am sleeping late while he went to meetings. Taking off and playing golf all by myself on an unfamiliar course. Most importantly finding a good restaurant to eat at after hours. One such restaurant was Mortons steak house. The steaks there litterly melt in your mouth.

We stopped and ate at a fast food place across from a building where I worked in Montgomery before moving to Tallahassee. It was during my sojourn there at that building in that town where my world blew apart in 1971 precipitating my move to Tallahassee. Here we were in almost the exact spot that represented one of the extreme low points in my life. However, I was with my son who was born in 1974 after I came to grips with that personal crisis. He provides me with strength and assurance that the world is in good hands.

Lesson 10:

Trust your gut.

Nancy and I own a 2005 Mercury Mountaineer. It has 143,000 miles on it. Our daughter, Beth invited us to accompany her and her family over Thanksgiving to a condo in Helen, Ga. It is a 300 mile trip one way. Her husband had to work until after hours on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We therefore planned to leave around 10:00 AM with our three little grand-daughters.

Something in my gut told me to rent a car for the trip. I did so. We went up in a brand new Tahoe and the trip went well except for the traffic around Atlanta.

A week ago as we were out looking at Christmas lights our transmission practically fell out of the Mountaineer. Had we taken it to north Georgia we would have surely been sitting on the side of the road between Tallahassee and Helen with our little grand-daughters.

Always trust your gut.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Mortgage Tax Deduction

I wrote to Senator Rubio re: the fiscal cliff and the possibility that Congress may take the mortgage interest tax deduction off the books. This is his response. I think it is classic pol-babble.

Dear Mr. Vass,

 Thank you for contacting me with regard to the housing market. This is an important issue for Floridians and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss it with you. As you know, misguided government policy fueled excesses in the housing and real estate markets throughout the 2000s, leading to a peak in the market in 2006 and a subsequent crash. The losses to American homeowners were enormous. Families across the country lost more than thirty percent of their home's value, in many cases leaving them underwater on their mortgages, and many have still not recovered to this day.

Nationally, the housing market is beginning to recover, albeit slowly. Though the worst may be passed, homeowners continue to struggle. Policymakers must learn the correct lessons from the recent crisis and not repeat mistakes. Past promises of assistance have only resulted in financial ruin for millions of Americans. Federal legislation passed during the downturn served only to make matters worse for Floridians by prolonging the negative impacts of government favoritism.

 The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed under a Democrat-led House and Senate and signed by the President in 2010, imposes stringent regulations on small and community banks, the most important lenders in a housing market recovery. One community bank president described the Dodd-Frank regulations as, "Costly, both in time and personnel to implement," and, "confusing to our [customers]." By placing burdens on the lenders and creditors most vital to recovery, this law will continue to hurt homeowners and families in Florida.

 Additionally, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have served as short-term band-aids for the housing market and further distort the true value of Americans' homes. The FHA recently said it may need a federal bailout of as much as $93 billion. With more than 90 percent of all mortgage originations backed by the government, a larger government role in the market and more bailouts are exactly the wrong solutions for taxpayers.

 Floridians know that if the government created a mess of the housing market, it cannot be trusted alone to be the solution. We cannot ask our children and grandchildren to finance Washington's risky lending and irresponsible government policies by accumulating more debt. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must be wound down and reformed, allowing a fair market for housing to return in the private sector. The federal government must learn the lessons of the Great Recession and allow lenders and borrowers to make informed decisions without excessive government meddling.

 A healthy housing market is a goal shared by all Floridians. Restoring choice and an open marketplace in housing will revive economic growth for all Americans. I will keep your suggestions and thoughts in mind when considering issues that will impact the housing market in Florida and the nation as a whole. It is an honor and a pleasure to serve the people of Florida.


 Marco Rubio United States Senator

 I've heard so many stories from middle class Americans about their financial struggles and accomplishments. As the result of an empowered middle class, I want to continue to be your voice in the Senate and give you a seat at the table. I hope you take a minute to visit my website and tell me more about your story. Each week I provide a weekly update on issues in Washington and ways in which my office can assist the people of Florida. Sign up here for updates on my legislative efforts, schedule of events throughout Florida, constituent services and much more.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I am a Mormon and a CHRISTIAN

I have been a member of this church for almost 50 years. I was educated at a Methodist College, Huntingdon, in Montgomery, Alabama. It is owned and operated by the Methodist Church. A huge percentage of the people I attended that college with are now Methodist ministers. One of my class mates was Senator Jeff Sessions one of the two U S Senators from Alabama. All that I was taught in that college I believe. I had to take 12 hours of religion in order to graduate from there. I was not taught anything that runs counter to what I have been taught as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.

It has been my privilege to have taught in the church’ Seminary and Institutes division 6 years. I have shared lessons with 100’s of students. I have drawn on the things that were taught to me in college. I find no incongruence between the theology of the Latter Day Saints and that of the Methodists.

However, I have been told by countless people that I am a member of a cult. I don’t even comprehend what they are talking about. I had this well meaning client explain it to me. He said that a cult is any organization that teaches you have to do extra stuff to be saved. That is beyond the acceptance of the Savior and confessing his name. Incidentally this guy’s life looks like scrambled eggs resultant from the choices he has made over the years. However in his vernacular, he is a Christian and I am a non-Christian.

I approached a big mouthed radio talk show guy about hosting a member of our leadership on his show. The intent was to have a local Bishop and/or a Stake President speak to his listeners and handle questions. The reason was that the GOP candidate, a latter day saint, worked in those two positions for a sum total of 12 years. I suggested that the venue might be of interest. Following is his response back to me.

“ As for your offer, I will pass.  Gov. Romney's religion was discussed on the program last week when I received just one too many e-mail from people telling me that they would not vote for him due to his faith.  Suffice to say that I think it is a foolish position.  Though I believe there are vast and important differences between Christianity and Mormonism, I completely support Governor Romney as a good, moral, upright man.

 Feel free to listen to the segment (maybe Thursday).  I have no interest into getting into a protracted debate over Mormonism and Christianity.  I got a couple of e-mail to that effect from Mormons in the audience.  I have studied the faith, along with other world religions for eight years.  I served as a vocational pastor for about sixteen or seventeen years and studied the bible in three languages.  My position on Mormonism is rooted and not changing.

 I have learned over the years that practicing Mormons believe it to be their mission, in part, to convince people like me that the faith is fully compatible with Christianity.  I disagree and I would much prefer to leave it as that.  I lament that Christians do not live their faith out as completely as do Mormons, because Mormons that I call friends are among the finest people I know.

He reveals his contempt for Latter Day Saints in his words. It is sort of what a racist does when he castigates a general group of people by their ethnicity and/or demographics. “ Let me preface this by saying that some of my best friends are African Americans, orientals, gay people, muslims, etc, etc.”

I will tell you that I just don’t get it. Years ago I was sort of drawn to the message of The Promise Keepers . I was in a position to provide them with a spectacular family values display put together by my church and meant to be a standing display on family values. I put this display in the State Capital of Florida here in Tallahassee, the Leon County court building, numerous malls and other court buildings in outlying areas. My intent was to share it at a  Promise Keepers rally that was to transpire in the Donald L. Tucker, civic center here in Tallahassee. It was to be put up by volunteers and would have cost them nothing. They could have afforded it because the price per head to attend the rally was about $75.

I got back a scathing reply from one of their leaders, a protestant minister. He told me in no uncertain terms that theirs was a Christian venue and that they would not be accepting any help from a cult. He told me, in the name of Christ, that I should examine my allegiance to such a non-Christian organization as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Back during the Republican primaries this drama developed at a rally of evangelicals in Texas. This venue was early in the candidacy of Texas Governor Rick ………………(oops)…………….Perry.

It was no ordinary opener from the prominent Southern Baptist Convention leader, Pastor Robert Jeffress, who endorsed Perry on Friday. Jeffress praised Perry for defunding Planned Parenthood in Texas, calling the provider of women’s health and abortion services, “that slaughterhouse for the unborn.”

He also lauded Perry’s “strong commitment to biblical values.”

“Do we want a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric or one who is skilled in leadership? Do we want a candidate who is a conservative out of convenience or one who is a conservative out of deep conviction?” Jeffress said. “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person — or one who is a born-again follower of the lord Jesus Christ?”
Jeffress called Perry a “genuine follower of Jesus Christ.” The pastor did not mention Perry’s rival Mitt Romney by name, but he told reporters after his remarks on Friday that Mormonism was a “cult.” (USA Today)

I will tell you that I just flat don’t understand this assertion from so many people and avenues. I   worship Jesus Christ. He is my Saviour and my master. I pray to the Father through him every day. I read about him in the Old and New testaments. Everything that comes out of our church’ publishing division has His name in it. If I went out and drank myself off of a stool every night people would call me an alcoholic. If I shot myself up with heroin 2-3 times a day people would say that I am a dug addict. If I chased women and added up monthly conquests they would call me a fornicator. Here I am trying to live a Christ like life. I speak of Christ, I live my life around His teachings and I have taught my children of Him. Yet people call me a member of a cult. If I worship Jesus Christ, then I am a Christian, period, end of discussion.

Jan Shipps author of  Sojourner in the Promised Land (2000, by University of Illinois press)  is an authority of sorts regarding we Mormons. She describes her acceptance into the Mormon culture in sort of a Diane Fossey’s “ Gorillas in the Mist” fashion. She is an academic. A Ph D in history, BA from Utah State University and a practicing Methodist. She sums up her 400 page text with this alarming statement:

“ In the light of a contemporary rhetorical shift that seems to be turning Mormon into an adjectival modifier used to signify a particular kind of Christian. I may seem to be making too much of the fact that at a critical juncture in the establishment of their church , the Saints accepted and came to relish Mormon and Mormonism as alternative labels. But there can be little doubt that their embracing the label Mormon in lieu of being called Christian contributed to a perception that Mormonism is not Christian” ( pg. 345 3rd paragraph)

She goes on in her summary to take the position that we Mormons are not Christians. I find that amazing. Not only does she begin sentences with prepositions but she spends 40 years studying our faith and does not have a clue as to whom we follow. That is simply illogical and extremely ignorant. She actually believes that we invented the terminology Mormon and prefer it to Christian. I have been taught from day 1 of my membership that we follow Christ. Mormon is a nick name given to us by outsiders because of our belief in the book of Mormon. We did not invent that nick name. Outsiders did that.

I suppose that the best we can do is live our lives in a fashion that tells people that we are Christian. Let them call us whatever they like. I have been alive almost 67 years. The people that I know that are the very best example of Christ like demeanor come from amongst my associates in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.