It is Finished

It Is Finished!  What does the phrase, “it is finished” mean?  Does it mean, over and done with? Does it mean that it is accomplished?  These were Jesus’s last words on the cross (John 19:30).  Did he mean that his life was over or was he saying that his life’s work was over?  Somehow, while I did not want to seem blasphemous, this phrase was echoing in my mind and it seemed a fitting way to end my Time Blog.  What does “it is finished,” mean?

I started this blog sometime in October of 2009.  A friend of mine had asked me what I had written recently.  This was several years after my last book was published (1998) and I had not been writing for several years.  He noted that it was a shame that I was not writing and I replied “I only write if I get paid for it.”  Later on I thought about this and upon some reflection realized that in writing one does it because they love it but not necessarily because you think you will make any money on it.  Putting aside my pecuniary interests, I decided to write for love and passion.  Meaning to hell with any writing for business or clients or money, I would simply write what I felt like.

It took a while but I finally settled on the idea of writing about time. I decided that I would write a series of reflections upon the many and manifest varieties and concepts that time is associated with.  Time seems to affect every element of our lives and I am and have been (or at least thought I was) a master at using, saving, managing, deploying and creating time.  Money has tnever been important to me or my life but I am obsessed with time.  I cannot waste a minute of it. It is the most precious thing in the world to me.  It is truly (or was anyway before I started this blog) my GOD.  Along the way of writing this blog, I began to see that I was holding on to a phantom.  Time did not exist except in my mind and heart. I was creating it each morning when I woke up and letting it go each night when I went to bed. 

I decided to write a blog every weekday or at least try to.  I reasoned that more people would read my blog if it were regular and dependable.  I have now posted or written 700 blogs counting this one.  I confess that I have recycled several blogs and either edited them or expanded them as upon further thought, I decided they needed more work and could be republished.  I have written at least 500 new blogs on time over the past 3 years.  My readership grew from about 400 “views’ per month to about 3,000 views per month.

I do have some confessions to make.  Would it were only one.  However it would not be fitting or just to close my final blog without being honest.  I had thought of ending this blog many times.  Often I would write and ask for comments or feedback. I even posted polls and surveys and seldom if ever did any readers respond or reply.  It was very disappointing.  I constantly questioned the value of what I was writing and saying.  I was on the verge of quitting many times when out of the blue I would get a comment or remark from a reader with some insights, praise or questions about my blog.  This single comment out of nowhere would reenergize me.  I would decide to continue writing.  It was sufficient that at least one person knew I existed and depended upon my blog for some inspiration or motivation.  I often decided that even if only one person in the universe read my blog, I would continue writing it.  Over the years, the number of comments trickled in and it was enough to sustain me. 

My sorrow and regrets are somewhat mundane. I had selfishly and egotistically wanted my blog to grow to at least a million readers a month.  I had secretly nourished a hope that I would be “discovered” and a talk show, movie and many You Tube videos would all trumpet my talent and creativity to the world.  The days turned into weeks. The weeks turned into months and the months turned into years and here I am.  Still unknown!  Still unheralded!  Still not a celebrity!  Many others with what seemed to me much less talent and much less to say were feted and lauded every single day.  From Donald Trump to Sarah Palin, fools like these make millions on talk shows, speeches and lectures.  Is value truly determined by the quality of what we have to say?  Dr.  Deming and many of my other mentors all sent a message that quality was more important than quantity.  Have I been lacking in some intrinsic quality that is necessary in order to find fame and fortune?  Have I been too mean spirited to the gods above or perhaps not offered Zeus the right sacrifice?  Why have Oprah and Sally and Jay and Barbara not called upon me for advice and recognition? 

One of my other friends cautioned me.  She said “write about things that uplift people.  Do not write negative ideas and spend your time criticizing or harping on the evils of the world.”  She said, people will take more note and value from your writing if you spend more time on the positive side of life than the negative.  For the most part, I agreed with her and I would say that I have tried to write inspirations and motivations to help others. However, I decided that there is also a role for me to speak out against what I perceive as the evils and injustices in the world.  I reasoned that a little lecture would not turn off to many readers and might just help to mobilize others against injustice. 

One of my most proud efforts is my series of blogs on immigration.  I was worried that many people would take offense at my opinions.  Living in Arizona, I was even advised that it might be dangerous to write about this subject when the tensions and feelings are running so high.  Nevertheless, for many reasons I chose to speak out against the anti-immigration forces.  I truly do not know whether my comments made one iota of difference to anyone but it seemed the right thing to do.  I am constantly reminded of the quote by Edmund Burke (1729-1797) that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Thus, I have taken the negative road several times over the years to speak out against what I thought were evils in the world.  If you hated or loved these blogs, it really did not matter to me.  My faith was that somewhere on this planet, I might make a difference to someone who felt hopeless, unloved or unlovable. 

Jesus in his ministry consistently noted that we must help the poor.

John 3:17 –  But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him–how can God’s love be within him ?

John 3:18 –  Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.

I will end this blog with the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

I don’t pretend to have the depth or piety of Jesus or Dr. King, but I have hoped that over the years some good would come to the world from my writings. 

But difference or no difference to the world, it is time to move on.  For those of you who have been faithful readers, part-time readers or sent comments and feedback, I want to thank you. Go and do likewise.  This blog is finished.

A Sign of the Times

Zeitgeist is a German word that roughly translates to “tempo of the times or the sign of the times.”   A sign of the times may be “tribal tattoos” or SUV’s, or black Fridays.   I can see a list developing here, some of the things I associate with the “Times” today are:
  • Greed is good
  • Shop till you drop
  • He who has the most toys wins
  • Serial killers
  • Pedophiles
  • Helicopter moms
  • Sports scholarships, sports stadiums, sports salaries
  • Astronomical college tuitions
  • Non-stop news, sports and stupid sit-coms on TV
  • Billionaire Ponzi schemes
  • Increased  gas prices
  • Decreased water resources
  •  Global warming, climate change, swarms, tornadoes, hurricanes, fire storms and more storms
  • Casinos, lotteries, pull tabs and scratch offs
  • Ridiculous lawsuits, ridiculous litigants and ridiculous lawyers
  • Celebrities, royal moms, TV Stars, Movie Stars and more celebrities
  •  Smart phones, Facebook, LinkedIn and IPads
  • Travel leagues, T-ball, gonzo fans, gonzo coaches and gonzo parents
  • Crooked politicians, stupid politicians, partisan politicians, despicable politicians
  • Outsourcing, off-shoring, insourcing, global competition
  • Designer jeans, designer dogs, designer homes, designer weddings, designer funerals, designer people
  • Aging, retiring and dying baby-boomers

A “sign of the times” may be the poor attitudes of teenagers today.  But wait, wasn’t that a sign of the times during the days of Socrates?  A quote attributed to Socrates holds that:
“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Perhaps a sign of the times is the “great recession” that we are either coming out of or still in.  Maybe a sign of the times is the increased unemployment or maybe the “war on drugs” or maybe the increased road rage or maybe our attack on immigrants and immigration.  Maybe it is our shift to the political right and the increased influence of evangelicals and Republicans.   A sign of the times is an expression used to denote something that seems symbolic or emblematic of the era we are living in. “Sign of the times” was a phrase strongly related to Roman Catholicism in the era of the Second Vatican Council.  It was taken to mean that the Church should listen to, and learn from, the world around it.” (wikipedia.org) 
The problem is we do not have any good reference points to compare our times to.  Most of us do not have a very good knowledge of history or of what happened even a few years ago.  We all tend to forget how things really were. So we think: crime is worse today, teenagers are worse today, life is harder today, etc. Then we say: “it’s a sign of the times.”  However, it could easily be a sign of many times and eras gone by.  What then are the dependable and predictable signs that would allow us to say with certainty that our times are different (for better or worse) than past times? 
Very few things really emerge that make good signs of the times.  Rising costs and rising taxes have been true forever.  War, famine and pestilence were frequent during the days of the Pharaohs and are still with us today.  Disease kills millions yearly and people do not really seem any less or more happy than in days gone by.  Is life easier or more difficult today?  You would probably notice that it depended on who you asked.  How then can we find a true and accurate “sign of the times?”  Bottom line is you will probably not. The idea sounds good on paper but it is just too subjective.  There are few signs that exist today that could irrefutably tell you what year or even decade it was, without the value of hindsight.  Twenty years from now, it will be possible to look back at today and say things about it with some certainty but the present is never certain.  That is why the past cannot predict the future. 
We seem to dwell on the “bad signs” but maybe you can think of some good signs of the times.  For instance, income levels are rising across the world and many diseases have now been eradicated that plagued humanity for centuries.  We should make a list of all the good signs.  I think it would probably be longer than the list of bad signs.  What do you think are the signs of the time today?  How would these compare to your signs twenty years ago?  Do you think your signs would hold up if you went back two thousand years?  Will these (my list and your list) still be signs five or ten years from now? When do signs become obsolete?  Do your signs tell you that things are better or worse today?

Letter to My Grandson

Dear Sam,
I hope this letter finds you well and happy.  I hope you are honoring and obeying your father and mother.  You have great parents who love you very much.  Grandma and I are looking forward to visiting you a while when you are in Korean Camp this summer.  You always seem to be having so much fun there.  When I was young, I went to camp for one week at a Boy Scout camp called Camp Yawgoog.  My parents could not afford to send me more than once and I was always jealous of the kids that got to go back or could spend more than one week. 
I am writing to clarify something I said when we were having dinner on Mother’s Day. Grandma told me later that you asked if I thought you were stupid for spending time playing baseball and other sports. I was surprised at the question and disappointed that you misunderstood what I was saying to your mom.  I had no intention of hurting your feelings by what I said. So let me explain a bit.
I think sports are great. I think most athletes are dedicated, disciplined, hardworking people.  I think it takes a great deal of determination and effort to be successful in sports and that those individuals who succeed are truly gifted individuals athletically.  In life, we are all given gifts.  Jesus said:  “But he that knewnot, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beatenwith few stripes. For unto whomsoever muchis given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”  (Luke 12:48).  He also said “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Mark 4:25).
These comments by Jesus mean that we are all given gifts and if we use them, they will be increased in us.  Many would commonly say “use-them or lose-them.”  This means that if we don’t use them, they will be lost to us.  Unfortunately, many lazy people wait around to get FREE gifts by winning the lottery, gambling or suing someone.  They do not realize that gifts come to us through hard work, sweat and perseverance.  One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson said “I have noticed that the harder I work, the luckier I get.”   The great Roman philosopher Seneca said that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”   It is clear to me that we must find those gifts which we have in life and use them to the best of our ability.  It takes determination and hard work to develop them.
My concern with sports and my problems with the way sports are handled today is that for too many people, they have become almost like a drug.  More people will watch the average football or baseball game than will listen to a presidential debate.  We pay the average NCAA Division 1 football coach 1.47 million dollars a year (USA Today, 2011).  This is more than most college presidents make and much more than the average college teacher.  Colleges continue sports programs that are high budget and high maintenance despite the fact that most do not make money for the school.  High Schools that cannot afford art and music programs nevertheless keep their sports programs. 
Writing in Forbes magazine, Steven Salzberg notes:  “The football-industrial complex has too much power over our universities. Nothing else can explain how we spend so much money and time on football, which contributes almost nothing to students’ education, while academic departments are cutting faculty and staff. The culture of football worship has gotten so out of control that I think the only solution is to get rid of it entirely.”

My feelings are not exactly as strong about football and other sports as Salzberg’s but I question why we need so much emphasis on sports and so much less on other areas.  The great Greek philosophers all said that the secret of success in life was “all things in moderation.”   However, even Aristotle counseled that moderation needed moderation as well.

I think sports have a definite place in our lives. However, in America today, people have become so obsessed with sports that we have created a cult of sports worship.  Ironically, the greater this worship has become, the fatter most Americans have become.  I give you great credit Sam for participating rather than becoming a couch potato as so many others have and sitting idly by on Sundays watching the latest sports event.  However, there are also other things in life we need to try in order to find that balance that the Greeks talked about.  There is no telling what other gifts you might have if you could explore some other options.  Perhaps Sam, you are a great artist, writer, musician, sculpture, actor, singer or scientist waiting to emerge.  Maybe your true gifts are not in sports but some other domain.  Only by spending time and energy on other activities can we know what we are truly destined in life to do. 

IMHO, spending too much time on any one activity at too early an age is not a good way to find your gifts.  I wish my parents had encouraged me to do more things and to try more stuff.  If I could go back to high school, I would join band, the drama club and the writers club.  I would take more time to learn Chinese and art.  I was not an outstanding student and I spent more time goofing off then really learning anything.  I did love athletics though and taught myself surfing, tennis, handball and scuba diving.  I always loved the outdoors and being active. I have raced canoes, bicycles, cars, motorcycles and completed several triathlons.  I did not do these for money, but simply because I wanted the challenge to see how good I was.  From these activities, I learned that athletics while fun and exciting were not where my gifts lay.  However, I am still able to enjoy many sports because I have taken care of my body and not abused it.  I still run, canoe, bike, roller-blade, swim and occasionally do a local race.  I believe we should all stay active.  


One good thing about individual sports as opposed to team sports is that I do not need a coach, referee or twenty other guys to go out and get some exercise. The sports I pursue are things I can do my entire life and they are not things that will usually cause great harm to my body unless I am very careless.  I can’t control a 300 pound blocker trying to hit me but I can control the speed I bike or roller blade.  There is risk in any sport and that goes with the game.  However, the intelligent person balances risk with rewards and does their best to minimize risk.

I have been teaching since 1976 and I have taught every grade from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs at the University of Minnesota.  I find that whenever anyone has a true passion for what they are doing, they will more than likely be successful at it.  If your true passion is sports, then you should follow your passion.  Sean John says “Life without passion is unforgivable.”  However, passion needs purpose to have an effective life.  We need to balance our passion for things, with a purpose for doing them. The greatest purpose in life is to help others or to give back to the world some of the gifts it has given to you.  Maurice Turmel writing in Boxingscene.com asks:  “What is Passion without Purpose?  A car spinning its wheels perhaps?  An electric motor running out of control, with nowhere to go?  Passion needs purpose to be attached to, to be drawn by, to be enlivened by and directed towards.  If we have no purpose, then how can we have passion?”

School is a place to learn, to grow and to try new things.  You will often hear college students being told “Wait until you get to the real world.”  I try not to use this phrase because I think that college is real as well. I could not have been teaching college for the past 15 years without feeling that college is real.  However, college does permit more learning than you might find in the work world and that is the beauty of college and all schools as well. They are places where we can try new things without expecting to be punished or penalized if they do not work out. You can join the band, or art club, or student newspaper, or the glee club and no one is going to throw you out as long as you put in your effort and share of the work.  You do not have to worry about a pay check on Fridays or a boss firing you.  Effort in school is perhaps more important than results and this gives us a lot of leeway to try new things.  I may flunk Chinese but I may also find out that I am just not very good at languages or perhaps I will find that languages are something I have a real passion for.  I once had a friend who knew 13 languages. I was always envious.  Of course, I did not want to study as hard as he did.

So, to finish this letter to you Sam, I hope I have explained my thinking and ideas to you some about sports and life as well.  Perhaps the best advice I can leave you with is the famous Hamlet dictum : “To thine own self by true.”   Do what you find passion in Sam, but keep your heart and mind open to other opportunities.  Try as many things as you can when you are young.  As you get older, you may have fewer opportunities to try things.   Adulthood brings responsibilities that often limit the choices we can make.  One of my friends died and at his funeral, they all noted that Harold always said he had no regrets.  Even when he found he had less than six months to live and he was dying of pancreatic cancer, he said he “had not regrets.”  Not a bad way to live a life.  I hope I can say the same thing when I am on my last breath.  I hope you will be able to as well.

See you soon,
Grandpa John,

Famous Last Words

Down at the Frederic library yesterday, the Cucumber Guys were discussing the purported last words of Voltaire and the discussion meandered into the last words of other famous people.  Jerry, Ken and I could all think of some comments made by people on their death beds.  Most of these comments are very interesting, perhaps because you don’t think anyone is going to lie when they only have a few minutes to live.  Or perhaps, we are fascinated because of some irony that these last words provoke.  Voltaire is supposed to have refused to repent his sins because “He did not want to make any more enemies before he died.”  He was referring to the fact that Satan would be upset if he now recanted on his lack of belief in religion or Christianity.  Socrates last words were:  “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”  (Asclepius was the Greek god for curing illness, and it is likely Socrates’ last words meant that death is the cure—and freedom, of the soul from the body.) (Wikipedia reference) 

Regardless of the reason for our fascination with these “last words”, there is no doubt that many of us find considerable inspiration in the last words of others.  I am going to share some that I like in the rest of this blog today.  If any of these motivate you, please feel free to send me your comments on why they inspire or excite you, or simply send me some famous last words that you like.  I may post again on this subject if you can send me enough inspiration. 

·       Adams, John (1735-1826) “Thomas Jefferson–still survives…” (4 July 1826. Jefferson died on the same day.)
·       Barrymore, John (1882-1942) Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.
·       Eastman, George (1854-1932) “My work is done, why wait?” (His suicide note.)
·       Marx, Karl (1818-1883) “Go on, get out. Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
·       Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973) “Drink to me.”
·       Runyon, Damon (1884-1946) “You can keep the things of bronze and stone and give me one man to remember me just once a year.”
·       Stein, Gertrude (1874-1946) “Just before she [Stein] died she asked, `What _is_ the answer?’ No answer came. She laughed and said, `In that case what is the question?’ Then she died.”
The above list of my favorites was taken from a much more extensive list that can be found at http://www.mapping.com/words.shtml Real Last Words from Famous People.

So as you ponder my list, will it provoke you to think the obvious or maybe not so obvious?  Is it too early to wonder or maybe even plan what you will say for your last words?  My friend Harold was reported to have said “No regrets.”  I wonder what my last words will be.  We may not have a choice over our last words now but we can decide now what we want written on our tombstone.  Will you go out simply with your name and date of death or will you leave some inspiration for future cemetery wanderers?  What would you like written on your tombstone?  What do you want the world to remember you for?  This is something we do have a choice over.   What would your epitaph be?  Are you living it now? 

What can Blue Grass music tell us about time and life?

“I am a man of constant sorrow” This line is from the song in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  John Hartford wrote the lyrics to the song.  Some credit the music and the film with a rebirth of Blue Grass and Old Time music in the USA.  It is hard to believe that one movie could have so much impact.  I am inclined to think that this claim is somewhat exaggerated.  Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the movie did spark a renewed interest in Blue Grass music particularly among people with whom it was not a familiar genre.
The most popular song from the movie was “A Man of Constant Sorrow.”  This haunting song resonates with us somewhat like hearing a drum beat.  Deep in our hearts we somehow identify with these lyrics.  Nevertheless, I continue to wonder what it means to be in constant sorrow.  What events or episodes in ones life could create constant sorry? What would anyone be like if they were in constant sorrow?
“For six long years, I’ve been in trouble
No pleasures here on earth I found
For in this world I’m bound to ramble
I have no friends to help me now.” 
(From “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow”, John Hartford)
Did so many people really like this song because it resonated with their own sadness and melancholy?  Can it be that many of us have: No friends, no pleasures, no home and no one to help?  What could be sadder?  Would this be enough to induce constant sorrow? Constant means never ceasing, not changing or varying, uniform, steadfast.  Constant means to have a feeling with you 24 hours a day, everyday of the week and every week of the year.  A Man of Constant Sorrow would be a sad person indeed.
 Do we all sometimes feel this pain and sorrow from the daily toils and doubts of life?  I think many of us do. There are too many depressed people in the world for it not to be true.  Most of us get over it though, but what of the people who do not? What do you think it would be like to live in constant sorrow?  Do you know anyone who you think might? What could you do to help this person?  How can we all help make sure that no one in the entire world lives a life of constant sorrow? Is this an impossible dream?  

Why so fast? Are you moving at the speed of light?

Have you ever felt that you were moving at the speed of light?  Do you understand what time and speed have in common?  If you are familiar with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the theory says that as speed increases time slows down. You might remember the famous paradox about the space traveler going away on a long journey and coming back younger than his or her parents.  How can this be true you might say? Well, according to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity it is true.  As we approach the speed of light, time slows down. Wouldn’t it be great if we could we use Einstein’s theory to help slow our day down and get more done?  If we could move at the speed of light, time would just about stand still.  Just think how much stuff you could get done.  However, if everyone moved at the speed of light, then relatively speaking, time would not move any slower for you.  This technique would work only if you or a few others were moving faster than everyone else.  
In practice, we all seem to be working on the presumption that if we could just move fast enough we could get more done.  This negates the overall benefit and we become like rats on a wheel. All of us are running and running and just staying in the same place.  Target company has a motto or credo that says something like “Fast, Fun and Friendly.”  How many workers do you know who are moving fast and feel like they are having fun?  And if they are not having fun, do you really think they are going to be “friendly” to the customers. More like, “get out of my way jerk, I have things to do and my boss says I better move faster.”  
We move faster and faster and faster but paradoxically we seem to get less and less done. I took a class in motorcycle racing once and the key message of the instructor was “You must first learn to go slow before you can go fast.”  Most of us think that by going faster we can accomplish more.  In many cases, we only accomplish less since our haste results in more rework and having to do things over again.  Most of the organizations that I have met that do not have “real” time for their customers eventually perish or they become second choice to the consumer. 
Today, concentrate on moving slower.  Forget the speed of light.  See if you can study your motions; watch your body move more slowly, exert less effort and try to move at the speed of a snail.  What differences could this make in your life? Can you do this for one whole day? Why not? What keeps you moving at the speed of light?  

This won’t take long!

This won’t take long!  How often has someone said that to you or you have said that to someone else?  A few years ago, I bought my first gas grill.  I had never owned one and Karen and I decided it was time.  To save a few bucks, I ordered it through the Internet. When it came, it was in one huge box which I had a hard time moving into the garage by myself.  I vaguely remember something about it only taking fifteen minutes to put together.  Well, it took me 30 minutes just to lay all of the parts out. Three hours and forty five minutes later, I had finished putting my grill together.  Except for putting the batteries in backwards, I was able to fire the thing right up and do my first outside grilling at the age of 60. I was thrilled except when I thought how long it took me to put it together.  I was even angrier the next day when after going to Home Depot, I found the same grill assembled.  I could have purchased it there pre-assembled; with delivery and it would have only cost me 25 dollars more. Thus, my savings did not even come close to paying for my time, not to mention my aggravation.
We often underestimate the length of time it will take to do things.  Sometimes we are misled by advertisements but often by our own misconceptions.  The thought “this won’t take long” should be a red flag for most of us. On reflection, the phrase is seldom true. They say anything worthwhile takes time.  We can do the worthless fast, but those things that are really meaningful and valuable will take more time.
What things and events do you most often underestimate?  What jobs or tasks do you rush through?  What work do you have to do today that you should allow more time for?  What areas in your life should you spend more time on?  It is a lot easier to be less frustrated and to do a better job when you can allow the right amount of time needed for the job and not worry about it “taking too long.”  

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