I love Cookie. Who doesn’t? She always has a kind word and smile for everyone she meets, and that kind word is always just the right one. Last night as we stood in the lobby of Regal Cinema 16 in Sandhills after viewing Union Bound, she said, “I thought of you while watching it and was reminded of how important it is that we keep a journal.”

Cookie’s right. As I watched Union Bound, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other stories took place during that historic period of United States history and how unfortunate it is that we will likely never hear them. How many stories are playing out today that future generations will never know because no one is writing them down…or even taking the time to tell?

But first, here’s my take on last night.

We scarfed down our burgers at Five Guys and sauntered over to the theatre. Although it was thirty minutes until showtime, there were already a dozen or so people standing around in clusters, talking animatedly. We joined one of the groups and chatted a little about the event we had come to see, Union Bound. Excitement was in the air.

This wasn’t just any war movie. No, this one was based on an ancestor of a local person known to many. Although I don’t personally know the woman whose ancestor the movie was based on, I know two of her brothers-in-law. I also know that her husband is a Camden High grad of 1968. Go Bulldogs! That might not seem close enough of a connection to get the hubs and me out on a Wednesday night, but, well, it’s not every day that you get to see a local’s family represented on the silver screen.

According to the community newspaper, the Chronicle Independent, Bill Jay has always been a history buff, and knowing this, his father-in-law entrusted Bill with the diary of Joseph Hoover, his wife’s great-great grandfather. Intrigued by what he read, Bill transcribed the diary, and he and his wife Pam felt it would be a great film. They were right. Produced by Michael Davis, owner of Uptone Pictures, the story of Hoover’s escape from a prison camp in Florence, SC and his subsequent journey  North was riveting.

  • Something amusing—Before the movie began, we watched twenty minutes or so of snippets from other movies, and one included a youthful Matthew McConaughey. My friend Jeannette leaned over and said something like, “I really like him. “Me too,” I said. I then turned to my husband and reported our conversation. His only reply was, “Why?” Why???? Was he serious?
  • Something heartwarming—The turnout for the movie’s screening was wonderful. Not only was there a lot of support for the Jay family, but there was also a good bit of socializing and catching up among the movie goers.
  • Something I learned (or was reminded of) from the movie—We’re all in this together, and it’s our duty to be fair, loyal, and helpful.
  • Something reinforced by Joseph Hoover’s diary—We all have a story that needs to be told.

What’s your story? And when are you going to start recording it?

 

 

It can’t be that fattening, right? And after all, it has fruit in it. At least that was my thinking when I bought the cherry pie a couple of weeks ago. Usually, I just scoot right by the pies when grocery shopping, but on this particular afternoon, my progress through the crowded aisle had come to a dead stop right in front of the dessert choices. The apple pie crumb pie looked good but not quite inviting enough to tempt me. That’s when I saw the cherry one. After hesitating about ten seconds, I tossed it into the buggy.

I maneuvered the cart though the rest of the aisles as I picked up yogurt, milk, bagels, apples, grapes, bananas, and a yellow onion. No cookies, chips, or ice cream landed amongst the healthy choices. But then, there was that cherry pie. The picture on the box looked so tasty. And well, it conjured up a memory of a Sunday afternoon decades ago.

Dinner was over, and the rest of the family had skedaddled to do whatever whatever they chose. I, however, was stuck with kitchen duty that day. As I removed the plates and leftover food from the table, I noticed two pieces of pie, tempting and tasty, left in the pie plate. I wanted one—or at least a sliver of one and asked my mother if I could have a piece of a piece.

I’ll never forget her reply. In fact, it’s become somewhat legendary among the females of my family.

“Of course, you can a second piece, but you need to know that’s how people get fat.”

She didn’t say “gain weight” or “get chubby.” She said “get fat.”

At that time, I was on the skinny side of the curve. Seriously, maybe the 35th percentile for weight. Not only was I not in any danger of becoming “fat” (hate that word), but also there was no talk anywhere about the dangers of kids’ diets and exercise. Those topics were just not part of the social conversation. We played outside A LOT, and very few people had sedentary lifestyles—at least not the people I knew.

But when my mother warned me about the perils of a second slice of pie, though a small one, I cringed. Even as a child, probably ten or twelve years old, I recognized the truth when I heard it. Choices count.

“No Ma’am, “ I told her. “I think I’ll pass for now.”

Now whenever I think of having a second piece of fried chicken, a extra dollop of ice cream, or a loaded baked potato instead of broccoli, I remember a Sunday afternoon exchange between my mother and me.

Big deal, you might be thinking. Who cares about cherry pie? What I knew then was something that has been reinforced over and over and over throughout the years. Choices count. As Sartre said, “We are our choices.” Do your homework or go to class unprepared? Pay your bills on time or get a bad credit rating? Clean your house or allow it to get so cluttered that you feel unsettled? Walk around the block (or do some type of exercise) or do your laps on the couch? Finish college or drop out?

It’s your choice.

I succumbed to temptation and bought that cherry pie a couple of weeks ago. I also bought some small cups of ice cream to plop on the top of our warm slices. Right before beginning this post, I got the pie out of the freezer to read the directions and learned that there are 340 calories and 17 grams in one eighth of a pie. Seriously.

When I told my husband the bad news, he asked, “What about the sugar?” I could hardly believe my eyes: 17 grams of sugar in one eighth of a pie. And this is without the cup of ice cream!

We decided to wait for another day to enjoy that tart, red, juicy fruit cooked in the flaky crust. I also decided to go for a short walk around the block, do a little work on my fall classes, and sweep the kitchen. Choices count.

It happened in church. Something the speaker said triggered a distant memory, and although I had a sketchy image or two in my mind of the event and the principal players, I couldn’t for the life of me recall the day of the week—or even the year. It was probably not a Saturday or Sunday. Of that I was certain. Could it have been a Friday? Memory is a hot topic in psychology, and yet there I sat, someone who’d been teaching about behavior and mental processes for a couple of decades, feeling lost.

I had probably lived (at that time) 16, 425 Fridays but could recall fewer than one hundred of them—or maybe fifty. Truthfully, I had a hard time coming up with twenty. Where had all the Friday nights gone? How had they been spent? And what about the Tuesday mornings? The only one I remembered with any detail was the Tuesday at 3:10 a.m. when my daughter Elizabeth was born.

Church ended, and I forgot about the time thing. Sort of forgot, that is. It was always in the back of my mind, and I made more of a conscious effort to commit some moments to memory by jotting them down in gratitude journals. Years passed, and a couple of years ago I began taking and posting a Pic of the Day on Facebook. My iPhone made this an easy task. In fact, it was a pleasure and forced me to take notice of things going on around me.

Later I became aware of a website entitled 100 Happy Days and decided to participate in that. Several people I knew were doing it so I jumped on the bandwagon with them. Sharing the 100 days with like-minded people added to the fun and challenge.

What was especially enjoyable about the two above activities was the visual record of sights I had either seen that day or that someone had shared. I made a Shutterfly book of the Pic of the Day photographs, and the 100 Happy Days site printed 100 photos for me—for a price, of course. Since many of the photographs include scenes and people of interest, family members enjoy looking at them almost as much as I do. It helps them recall places and things too.

One day this past week I listened to an NPR podcast (TED Talk) about the shifting nature of time. It was right up my alley, and I found it educational and interesting. Psychologist Dan Gilbert’s comments were particularly thought-provoking…maybe more so than those of the physicist who talked about when time began. Since I don’t know as much about physics as psychology, I had to work harder to understand him.

But the speaker I’m latching on to this morning is Cesar Kuriyama who has developed an app entitled the One Second Video. Easily downloadable, the app helps a person “stitch together moments of your life into mini movies that you can share with anyone, or keep for yourself.” At the end of a year, you’ll have 365 one-second videos spliced into seven and a half minutes (or thereabouts).

In Mr. Kuriyama’s words, “I have seconds that look incredibly boring, but represent ridiculously meaningful events in my life, and I have seconds that look gorgeous, but many have been relatively insignificant days of my life. Each second is a secret code to myself that only I know the hidden meaning of.”

The app costs $4.99. I downloaded it Monday and am going to start using it today. And no, I’m not working for NPR or Mr. Kuriyama. I’m just a person who realizes that time is life and that once it’s gone, it’s gone. I also know that a photograph or video can serve as a fabulous retrieval cue. So can some scribblings in a journal, but that’s not what I’m pushing today.

Was that morning in church in winter or summer? Was it raining? Were the children behaving? What was I wearing? All I know is that it was Sunday. I also know that today I’ll be recording my first one second video.

I knew the gentleman in our writing group meant to write immaculate instead of emasculate in one of the pieces we were critiquing Monday night, and when I asked, “Freudian slip?”, he grinned. So did a few others.

Freud has fallen into disfavor among many people, and yet I can’t help but notice his presence in every intro psych text. Looks like we can’t cut him loose. After Monday night’s meeting, a few of his teachings came to mind. In addition to the emasculate example above, another writer in our group wrote an entertaining story about her mother taking her out of church and giving her a “whupping” because of her misbehavior.

Although the experience wasn’t funny to my friend at that time in her life, now she can laugh about it. The punishment reined in her id and strengthened both the ego and superego. The first time I heard of the id, ego, and superego, I thought Man, there is really something to this. I’m too lazy to go in search of a textbook, so I’m going from memory here, memory based on reading and decades of going over a programmed spiel in PSY 201.

The id is the part of the personality that a person is born with, and it operates according to the pleasure principle. Having no morals, sense of right and wrong, or understanding that there are other people with needs to consider, the id wants what it wants and wants it NOW. Babies cry, have hissy fits, throw food, and kick and scream.

According to Sigmund Freud, the id is powerful and must be reined in, and that’s where the ego comes in.  The ego operates according to the reality principle and develops as a result of interactions between the child and his  environment. A baby can cry all he wants to, but if Mama is driving, she’s not going to take the baby out of the car seat. That’s reality. Sooner or later the child learns to act in socially acceptable ways.

The superego develops last and is based on the morality principle. When a child is taught the difference between right and wrong through disciple, example, and consequences, the youngster develops a conscience that tells him “tsk, tsk” when he does wrong—or even thinks about getting off the straight and narrow. The “ego ideal” is similar to the conscience except that it encourages a child or person to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because he wants to avoid punishment, guilt, or shame.

The above three personality components work together in creating behavior. The id creates the demands, the ego adds the reality, and the superego adds the moral aspect. As humans, we have all three, and in a healthy personality all work together. For example, sometimes I might want to overspend, but usually my ego and superego work together to curb over-the-top purchases.

All three components have their value. Even the id can be good as long as we’re not overly hedonistic, selfish, greedy, slothful, or irresponsible. The ego keeps us straight and in touch with reality. The superego is, of course, desirable, but people with too much of it can be so suppressed, straight-laced, and prudish that no one wants to be around them or invite them to parties.

Sorry for this psychobabble. It’s the only way I could get to my point.

I haven’t thought too much about these elements of the personality since retirement, but since Monday night’s meeting, I’ve been pondering the strength of the id in adults, especially those in powerful positions, and wondering if it can be held in check, pushed to the side, or lassoed in. Although Dr. Freud is not here to weigh in on the topic, my guess is that he’d say no.

What do you think? Can a person’s basic personality be modified once adulthood is reached? Can a leopard change its spots?

Tender to the touch, my left shin serves as a reminder of last week’s adventure My sister, her daughter, and one of my daughters took off on a girls’ trip to North Carolina, and after “doing Asheville” on Friday, we decided to make Chimney Rock State Park Saturday’s grand finale.

We cruised into town around 10 o’clock after oohing and ahing over the sights along Hwy 64. We wondered aloud how it would be to attend Bat Cave Baptist Church the next day, and that led to yet another discussion about how many different ways there are for people to live and love and play and worship. We heartily agreed that it was important, imperative in fact, to get out of Dodge once in a while to see more of the world than our own narrow corners of it.

Once in Chimney Rock, the park entrance was upon us before we had a chance to signal and turn in. No problem. We rode through town and took in the sights, and since Lake Lure was right down the road, we went there too. I wanted to have a look at the beach. There were no ocean waves or roaring surf, but there was a beach. Water too. And a lifeguard. The area was fenced in, off-limits to us, and people were lined up to plunk their money down.

We headed back to Chimney Rock, not turning again until we got to the park. I was surprised to learn the fee was only $13, and the woman selling tickets said the price had been reduced because the elevator to the top wasn’t working. No one said anything. Not a word.

“So we’ll have to walk up?“ I asked.

“Yes. Is that a problem?” she said.

The general consensus was that we had come this far and by golly, we were going to get to the chimney and touch the flagpole.

“Let’s do it, y’all,” I said.

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Feeling overdressed and hot, we stopped at the restroom area and changed into lighter clothes and bought some water. I had learned from an earlier experience not to hike any distance on a hot day without H2O. We got back in the car and around and around the mountain we rode until we got to the parking lot.

We got out of car and looked up at the tall stone chimney. I had climbed this rock before, but it had been a beautiful fall day with brisk temperature. Now it was July. Truthfully, I think we all felt a bit of trepidation. Elizabeth had misgivings about walking in flip-flops, but since she had no extra shoes, it was wait on us at the gift shop or step forward. She started walking.The journey of 499 steps began with the first one. On we went, stopping to peer into a cave, look over the edge at the parking lot, or simply rest a minute. At one point, Elizabeth muttered to me, “This is the worst day of my life.” Lucky girl, I thought, understanding what she meant but knowing she could do it.

“You can do hard things,” I reminded her. No response. She just kept climbing in her flip-flops.

I took dozens of pictures and listened to the encouraging words of folks coming down. “It’s so worth it,” they all said. Some lied and said, “You’re almost there,” when in reality we had quite a way to go. The four of us made small talk and continued climbing—together.

At last we ascended the final twenty or so steps and walked on the rock itself. We laughed and shared “war stories” of the trek. We took selfies, and snapped photos of other people for them. There were so many people with us at the top that I had to carefully maneuver my way between them and the several big rocks. At one point, I got pushed (accidentally) and scraped my shin. Immediately, a goose egg puffed up, and a reddish purple contusion appeared. Ouch.

 After relishing our accomplishment for a few minutes, we began our descent, reluctant to leave the mountain top but anxious to begin the next adventure. Going down was so much easier than going up, and we gleefully told the tired looking climbers that they had a treat in store. “Keep on climbing,” we said. “The view is so worth it.”

Today I’m aware of my tender shin and the memories it conjures up of a day four of us, united by blood and purpose, ascended Chimney Rock. We encouraged one another, swigged our water, kept putting one foot in front of the other, stopped for breathers, and reached the top—together. It’s easier that way.

 

Last week I dined with two old and dear friends, one of whom had been robbed at gunpoint the night before. She and her family were watching television when she heard the unmistakable click of the back door. Could it have been the wind? Curious but not alarmed, she turned to look, and four masked men bounded into the room.

All had guns, and each leveled his gun at the head of one of the family members. Four people who’d been enjoying their time together at day’s end moments before were now held captive by invaders. Pleasure turned to terror.

As my friend said, “It was surreal. I felt like I was in a dream.”

The young men wanted money, not silver or jewelry or electronic devices. Sadly for them, the family had less than $50 in cash between them. After dumping the contents of the two women’s purses, the armed robbers (is there a better term?) retrieved at least one debit card and asked for the PIN. No fool, my friend readily gave it to him, and two of men left for an ATM machine with this promise/threat: “If this doesn’t work, we’re coming back to shoot all of you in the head.”

Held hostage, the family felt powerless. Cell phones had been confiscated and doused with water by this time, making contact with the outside world impossible. Even though they were confident that the PIN would work, the family still felt frightened, especially as they thought of the innocent two-year-old sleeping in a nearby bedroom.

Events took place that must have unsettled the two remaining intruders because they left before their partners returned, taking house keys and the home owner’s car. At least one phone still worked, and someone called 911. Police officers arrived in a matter of minutes. Three of the four men, all under twenty-one, had been apprehended by the time of our luncheon the next day. By that afternoon, the fourth was also in custody.

How could something like this happen in such a seemingly safe neighborhood with pretty lawns and tree-lined streets?

Another friend, Marsha, and I absorbed this story as we dined on salmon atop spinach lunches. Marsha began talking about a recent anniversary trip and delighted us with stories about her adventures, including a ride in hot air balloon. We chatted briefly about two other friends, one in Alaska and one who just returned from a trip to England and Scotland.

Life was good for them—and for us too. We never take that for granted.

The conversation reminded me of stories I’ve read about people in the most adverse of situations who somehow do more than merely soldier on. They laugh, joke, eat, make love, and sing even as bombs explode around them. No matter what exciting, trivial, or funny story came up in conversation, the previous night’s incident was there, hovering over and around and above us. Our dialogue always came back to IT.

No one had mentioned race. I’d pictured four white men brandishing guns. When asked if the thieves were black, my friend hesitated a moment before nodding yes. There was sadness in that nod…and knowing. Knowing that had developed from decades of working with college students and from reading and observing life with a clear eye. A woman of deep faith, she was likely thinking, “All are precious in His sight” even as she relived the terror of the night before.

Horrific things have always gone on, just not this close to home. Otis and I saw  The Independent State of Jones last week, and I was sickened by the work of the Klan. I can still feel my involuntarily uptake in breath when I witnessed Mr. Moses’ realization that three white men were following him with taunts and name-calling. They killed him in a cruel, merciless way.

I also reread Elie Wiesel’s Night last week and wondered how the world could stand by and watch. Just watch. Roosevelt knew and I’ve often wondered why he sat on it. Not a political scientist by any stretch of the imagination, there are many things I don’t understand. We were less of a global community then. Now we send troops to places in the world I’d never heard of until now, but then six and a half million Jews and other “undesirables” were killed while the world turned a blind eye.

I have no answers, just the conviction that all lives matter.

Yesterday at the beach I was flipping through Sasee, a publication I enjoy reading while in Myrtle Beach. After finishing Night, I wanted to peruse something light, something heart-warming and fun.

I became increasingly aware of this strident, shrill voice coming from my left. My feelings soon went from annoyance to downright anger. Did she really think she was going to persuade her companions of the correctness of her viewpoint by talking that way? Doesn’t she know that people can’t be bullied into agreeing with you?

I moved my chair down near the water’s edge. Ah, bliss. The sound of the surf drowned out just about everything, and I could read in peace.

A few minutes later, I heard it again—that irritating voice. Couldn’t be, I thought. But it was. The opinionated sunbather had followed one of her friends into the water and was haranguing her about a topic of obvious (to her) importance.

Here’s the thing. No one wants to be talked down to, and no one is going to be convinced of the truthfulness or awfulness of a person, place, thing against his or her will. There are ways to influence others, but hers is not one of them. Neither are the continuing posts, memes, and comments from hate mongers that I see on Facebook every single day.

If you hate Hillary or Trump or Obama, fine. Keep it to yourself. I prefer reading, listening to, and watching the news for myself. So do most people.

For now, I’m going to, figuratively speaking, move my chair to the water and away from the diatribe. I’ve already begun clicking “hide post” to posts that are unfounded and hateful.

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While most people don’t know or care that Camden High School had its 50th reunion last weekend, 200+ graduates and their families and friends do. Even those who couldn’t attend because of sickness, distance, prior obligations, or fatigue are probably interested in how it played out.

Since last week, about a dozen people have asked, “How was it?” In a word, fabulous. Read on for a summary and some noteworthy tidbits.

On Friday evening, classmates met at one of Camden’s historic locations, Proctor Hall. A two-story house with lots of character, it was the perfect setting for a gathering such as ours. According to its Facebook page, “Louise C. Proctor Hall epitomizes the gracious hospitality and antebellum ambience that characterizes Camden.”

Classmates walked across a lovely lawn beneath trees lush with the greenness of summer to get the entrance hall where they received names tags, information about weekend events, and a booklet with short bios of classmates. With a beautifully decorated dining room on the right and a grand parlor on the left, the downstairs area offered three rooms in which to mingle, and classmates crossed from one area to another to greet old friends. From time to time, I spotted clusters of people chatting on the porch.

On Saturday, several opportunities to get reacquainted with one another and with Camden were available. I can’t speak for other classmates, but I enjoyed visiting the Archives where dozens of mementoes from school days were available for all to see. What made this activity especially enjoyable was sharing it with others and hearing their laughter as a photograph triggered a memory of a teacher, student, playground prank, or classroom experience.

I also joined several classmates (25?) for lunch at one of Camden’s favorite eateries, Candy’s at the Granary. Not really expecting that much of a turnout, I was surprised and pleased to see that so many folks gathered to break bread together and just “visit.” From Dr. Hoffer who sat next to me I learned that the arthritis in my knuckle is likely the result of a traumatic injury and not the kind that comes with, well, you know, the aging process. Good to know. From Wanda and Bryan, I learned about the Apple Festival in Hendersonville, NC on Labor Day Weekend. Count me in.

On Saturday evening, the BIG event took place at the Shrine Club. Meeting there has become somewhat of a tradition. There was music, entertainment by some excellent shaggers, delicious food, and nonstop conversation. Someone had been hired to take a class photograph, and what could have been an ordeal turned out to be a fun half hour. We got a little cuckoo before it was over, and when we began singing the Alma Mater, the photographer directed our musical efforts.

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Dozens of scenes from the evening continue to run through my mind, but this afternoon, the primary ones are:

  • A graduate who brought two of his grandchildren rather than miss the gathering.
  • The numbers of people who gathered to watch a 1960’s DVD that featured events, music, and news.
  • The photographs of forty-four deceased classmates. There was rarely a moment when their names and faces weren’t being studied…and remembered.
  • The handsome caterer who appeared from time to time, shaking his head in wonderment and saying he had never seen anything like it. “Y’all ought to put this in the paper!” he said.

 

Here’s the concluding paragraph from the preface of the bio booklet, Here’s to the All of You. “Despite our relative homogeneity as kids, we’ve evolved into quite a diverse group. We served our country, nursed the sick, raised children, traveled the world, taught school, weathered personal storms, experienced tragedy and loss, run businesses, managed banks, and lent a therapeutic ear. We’re artists, dancers, camel riders, marathoners, golfers, coaches, and musicians. And we’re survivors.”

So far I haven’t encountered anyone who didn’t enjoy the reunion. As for the committee, we’re already planning for one five years hence. Next time it will be in the fall or winter. We seniors (yes, we can admit it) can’t take the heat as well as we used to.

Will someone please share a memory? Someone, anyone, everyone, tell something you liked, enjoyed, and would like to see repeated.

When I was in my late 30’s, I finally got around to reading Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’m not saying it’s rocket science and that everyone should order a copy from Amazon ASAP. Well, maybe I am saying that…at least the last part of the sentence. Rocket science is rocket science, but Mr. Carnegie’s book is the go-to book for getting along with others, maximizing success, and developing relationships.

Its theme is based on fundamental principles of fairness, kindness, courtesy, civility, and good old-fashioned common sense. I’m glad I read it. Like Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common,” and I needed a few reminders.

I didn’t intend to write a book review. It’s just that I was thinking of the influence that book had on me at an earlier time of my life. I need to go back and reread parts of it, and I think everyone alive could benefit from doing the same thing. By the way, an up-to-date version, How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, is now available, but the reviews aren’t that positive. Most of the ones I skimmed advised the reader to stick to the original edition.

But here’s my story. This weekend, I’ll be attending my 50th high school reunion (gulp), and I’ve been reflecting on other reunions. While they’ve all been fun, I recall the 20th with most affection, and I think it’s because my former classmates all seemed to be practicing the concepts of Mr. Carnegie’s book.

Example:

“Hi Jayne, you look great! What have you been doing with yourself? Where do you live? Do you have any children? Really? What are their names?”

While speaking to me, the person was smiling (one of Carnegie’s instructions), spoke my name (another one), and seemed genuinely interested in me as a person. That last behavior is of utmost important in Carnegie’s literature. He believed people should show an unfeigned, genuine interest in the other person. It’s not always about you. In his words, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

I first read the book because I was teaching Human Relations, PSY 103, and was always on the prowl for a little something extra to spice up my classes. As years passed, I was happy to see that some (much?) of Carnegie’s work fits in nicely with cognitive psychology and the importance of one’s thoughts. I’m going out on a limb and professing that his tried and proven methods of friendly, sane, and measured behaviors are in line with Goleman’s ideas about emotional intelligence. There are definitely some similarities although Goleman’s work is research-based.

Question: Is there anything new under the sun?

I hope everyone who attends this weekend’s activities feels acceptance, interest, and inclusion from his and her classmates. If you’re a sister or brother graduate, you can be sure I’m going to greet you with a smile, mention your name, ask about your life, and listen attentively while you tell me…not because I’m a manipulator but because it’s the human thing to do.

So tell me. What have you been up to since we last met?

I wish I could have come up with a snappier title, but I can’t.

Unless I’m traveling or sick, I usually make it to church on Sunday mornings, not because I’m a holy roller but because I need help. I understand all about loving one another, turning the other cheek, and practicing forgiveness, but there’s something about being in the midst of like-minded people (and sinners) that reinforces my desire to go from okay to good to better to best in thought and deed.

But yesterday we were traveling, and I found myself feeling a little fidgety and ill-at ease. I needed the communion of my church friends to buoy me up. I wanted to hear some beautiful hymns and ponder the mysteries of life and death and what comes after our tenure here on Earth…and what came before. I could have read about all those things and more, but reading wasn’t sufficient yesterday.

As we cruised along towards home, I recalled an article I’d read about Joel Osteen the day before and decided to listen to one of his podcasts. According to Success magazine, he’s “the most popular minister on the planet” and has a net worth between 40 and 60 million dollars. In addition to being able to pay bills, Osteen’s idea of prosperity includes having good relationships, feeling peace, and being able to bless someone else.

I know a lot of people don’t like him. They say he’s more into optimism and positive psychology than into theology. “A motivational speaker with a religious bent,” Osteen stays away from heavy discussions of Satan and hell. Maybe that’s why I like him.

Oops, the cat’s out of the bag. I do sort of like him, probably because he thinks like I do in some ways. I too feel that a person’s thoughts are central in determining destiny, and Joel says, “Your life follows your thoughts.” It’s not rocket science, but there’s truth in that simple statement.

Osteen’s philosophy is akin to cognitive psychology. As Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and change your world.” He wasn’t a psychologist, but he was, like Osteen, a minister, one who focused on the power of thoughts. Detractors would say that positive thinking is more of an armchair activity while positive psychology is aligned with replicable scientific activity, and they’d be correct. Still….

But back to Joel Osteen. His 10.5 million dollar house bothers some people, and while that doesn’t endear me to him, it doesn’t completely turn me off either. I realize that everything’s relative. I have acquaintances who live in houses worth between three and four hundred thousand dollars and some who live in mobile homes, apartments, and condos. All have homes more spacious, safe, and comfortable than many (most?) of the world’s population.

As I wrote the above sentence, I recalled a sign outside of Food for the Soul that I saw this morning. Positioned out near the street so that passers-by could see it, the sign announced that the homeless shelter would be open tonight. 

I missed being in church yesterday, but I like thinking, “You have gifts and talents in you right now that you haven’t tapped into.” There are so many people who need to hear that message, so many people I could share it with. While I would have heard and been inspired by speakers, prayers, hymns, and hugs had I been in a chapel with others yesterday, I might not have heard Osteen’s message.

And maybe his is the one I most needed to hear…and share.

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