Tuesday, June 19, 2012


It’s been a week since we had Jack euthanized. The pain of loss is slowly subsiding.
Ever since last Saturday I’ve been trying to get my mind back to the routines of earth, thanks to our Sheltie, Ranger.
Nancy often tells me I’m a man of routines. She’s right. With Jack gone, the routines have changed a bit, but they are routines nonetheless. I get up at 5:00. I make the morning coffee, prepare food for Brudder the cat, check my e-mail, read a chapter or two from the NIV posted on Bible Gateway's internet page, take a peek at the Gazette’s web page, and read a couple of op-eds from the Real Clear Politics website, one politically left and the other right (Paul Krugman and Victor Davis Hanson, for example). Then, by 6 o’clock, Ranger and I are out the door for our morning walk. We spent the next thirty minutes or so wrapped up in our respective worlds. Like me, Ranger is a creature of habit. Each morning, he turns right as soon as we get to the north side of 12th and Rural. I don’t have to gently tug on his leash or issue a command. He just seems to know what to do and when to do it. When we get to the university he makes his way over to the fountain, circles around it, and heads back home. The only interruptions to the routine are the frequent stops to pick up the scent of some wildflower or a beagle who’d passed by earlier.
While Ranger is engrossed in his routine, I’m winding my way through my own little world. I don’t spend any time wondering about local issues. There’ll be plenty of time later in the day for that. As I followed Ranger around this past week I’ve given a bit of thought to my buddy, Jack. Where is he right now? Has he become nothing more than a bunch of disconnected atoms? Was he ever even conscious of his own existence? I’ve concluded that he’s cavorting around paradise right now. I don’t have any great philosophical or theological reasoning to bolster me. It just seems right. Jack did alright in this life. In fact, he did a lot better than some of this world’s’s high and mighty. If they can claim paradise, so can he.
If there are any professional theologians reading this they’re probably apoplectic right now. “You blockhead!” “Did you ever see your dog pray?” Did he ever discuss eschatology with you? Did he ever read Tillich or Altizer?  I have to admit I never did see Jack pray, nor did we ever discuss theology. He never read theology because he had far better things to do with his time, like chasing squirrels or barking when the doorbell rang. Jack led a pretty simple life.  He never did bite the hand that fed him, which is more than I can say about some of the theologians and self-appointed gatekeepers I’ve met in my time. About the only time I’ve seen some high-degreed theologians pray is when they crave public attention and adoration. I’ve heard them at public coronations of politicians or important civic events. While the rest of us are silently praying they’d shut up, they’re droning on with meaningless phrases like, “Oh thou ground of all being.” If I read Holy Writ correctly, their words just bounce off heaven as if it were impenetrable brass.
A dog’s mortality or eternal destiny is one thing; human mortality is something else. Most of us are floundering around, trying to find our way back home. Jesus recognized this and simplified things. “Come unto me if you’re weary and burdened,” he said.  Unfortunately, these same paragons of public virtue are about as much help with people as they are with dogs. They prefer slamming doors to opening them. Jesus was right about them – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

Now, it’s not my place to deny them a mansion or a doghouse in the sky, but I think it would be poetic justice for these paragons of public virtue to see Jack and Balaam’s donkey, along with humanity’s riff-raff, social misfits, and the rest of the welcoming committee inside the pearly gates.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


It’s said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But, an old dog can teach a man a very valuable lesson about life.
I knew a year and a half ago that the day would come. Jack was living on borrowed time. The enzymes Floyd Dorsey prescribed back then to keep Jack’s kidneys functioning were only stop-gap measures.
The blood tests done on the 9th revealed what we intuitively knew. Jack’s kidneys had shut down. There was really no choice for me but to have Doc end things as mercifully as possible.
Once the decision was made it didn’t take long. First there was a sedative. It took about 12 minutes for it to take hold, which gave me time to say goodbye and thank Jack for being such a loyal friend. Then came the intravenous injection that ended his life. Within 30 seconds, Jack twitched a few times, let out one last gasp, exhaled, and everything stopped.

Jack died peacefully.
The pain of loss is still with me. Our mutual bonds of affection were strong.
I didn’t think they would be almost five years ago when Nancy tried to convince me that our Sheltie, Ranger, needed a playmate. She’d noticed a dog named Butterball at an animal adoption fair being conducted by Wayside Waifs at the River Market in Kansas City. For Nancy and Ranger it was love at first sight. It wasn’t for me. He was the ugliest dog I’d ever seen. He was obese. He grunted. He was ding-toed and his eyes bulged in his head. His legs were spindly. For the life of me, I don’t know how they supported his body.
In the end I was out-voted. Ranger and Nancy wanted him and Butterball himself seemed quite pleased with the arrangement. So, Butterball became Jack. 

A lot has happened since that morning at the River Market.

I came to love the sound of his tap dancing as I prepared meals for him. We taught him how to sit on command. He learned how to give a gentle “high five” in exchange for a dog biscuit. As soon as he heard the sound of his leash in the morning he’d scoot along the hall runner and howl with excitement. He loved neighborhood strolls and chasing squirrels.

Last summer we took Jack to Poochapalooza and he won the ugly dog contest. He was quite proud of himself. I’d occasionally tell him, “Oh, Jackie, you’re soooooo ugly.” He’d wag his tail with delight. If it hadn’t been for his weight he might have taken off like a helicopter.

Jack wasn’t above the occasional practical joke. His favorite was to sit quietly between Nancy and me while we were watching TV. Then, without warning, the odor of sulfur would fill the air. Feigning innocence, Jack would then ease his way over to his bed. It took us a while, but we finally figured out that it was Jack’s little “gotcha” game.

What was it about Jack that I found so endearing? It certainly wasn’t the tricks or his good looks. It’s taken me a while, but I think it had much more to do with my own self-image than it did with the things that Jack did to amuse me.

A few days before Jack died, I told Nancy I’d come to see that in life we often project what we’d like people to believe about us through our possessions or titles. There are times I like to think I’m a Ranger kind of guy. I’ve seen people’s reaction to him as I’ve walked around town with him. “Oh, what a beautiful dog.”  I sometimes feel the urge to take credit where it isn’t due. “Thanks, I made him from some spare parts I found in the basement.” The reaction to Jack was usually different. “What an interesting looking dog.” I never knew how to respond. Did they think that Jack was born on the rings of Saturn? Couldn’t they see that Jack was a creature of the earth who simply delighted in being himself? Isn’t that what we all should be?

If Jack had been a person he would have been an “everyman.” He wouldn’t have needed a title to make himself feel important. He would never have worn a mask to hide what was really going on inside. He wouldn’t have been pretty, but he would have been real. He’d have been known as a guy who was limping his way to the Promised Land.

Jack left a valuable life lesson. We’d be much better off if we took of the masks and shed the pretenses.  The titles we like to hear along with our names, the images we project for the sake of public consumption and the alter egos we adopt in life are no substitutes for the real thing.

Monday, June 11, 2012


“One day a countryman going to the nest of his goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it was as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played upon him. But he took it home on second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became rich by selling his eggs. As he grew rich he grew greedy, and thinking to get at once all the gold the goose could give, he killed it and opened it up only to find nothing.”
    From Aesop’s Fables (The Goose with the Golden Eggs)
As with many fables, this one has many lessons that can be drawn from it. For instance, the good people of Lyon County could easily be viewed as the golden goose. The countryman could represent political leadership. Seen in that light, it’s not too hard to discern that there are times when political leaders, in their haste to exploit resources, go too far.
I should feel flattered that some are accusing me of inciting an electoral riot. The truth is, all I did as get out in front of the parade that formed in the wake of the County Commissioners’ vote to approve the extension merger.
I’m also accused of not promoting facts. The truth is, some pro-extension folks seem to believe they have an exclusive reign on the facts.
It’s interesting how anger sometimes wells up in the heat of battle. I’m reminded of a whistle stop Harry Truman made in Harrisburg, Illinois during his 1948 campaign. As he started to speak, one of his supporters shouted, “Give ‘em hell, Harry.” Harry responded, “I don’t give ‘em hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell!”
Pro-extension folks say they want facts. I’m delighted to oblige:
Fact: My property taxes have more than doubled since my wife and I moved here in ’99. It’s been like death by a thousand cuts.
Fact: There are 52 entities levying taxes against the people of Lyon County. That amounts to a lot of people wanting to get their hands on your money, and mine.
Fact: Emporia and Lyon County have extremely high poverty rates.
Fact: Our average incomes are well below Kansas, and national averages.
Fact: If the merger is approved, the new district will be an independent taxing agency, with unlimited taxing authority.
Fact: Politics is the realm of the ambitious. If given authority, politicians will use it.
Does that mean I believe that those who are pro-extension are evil incarnate? Absolutely not! They’re no better or worse than the rest of us.
Some facts from the history of western civilization are now in order. I’ve been accused of being a self-anointed expert. The truth is, I rely on experts that history has deemed reliable. It was Adam Smith, for example, who outlined the basis for free market economics. As a moral philosopher he was a keen observer of humanity. He saw that people almost always act in their self-interest. John Locke, another keen observer of humanity observed that “The great and chief end therefore, of Men’s uniting into commonwealths is the preservation of their Property.” Western economists take that to mean money as well as land and homes. His work also became foundational in the framing of our representative (note the embedded word “represent) form of government. It was James Madison who learned through experience that men aren’t angels, whether they’re being governed or doing the governing. He put it this way: “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Our commissioners aren’t angels. They don’t always represent our will. They didn’t in this case. Therefore, we have the right to exert some external control over the things they’ve done, through petition, peaceful protest, and the ballot box.
Finally, I’ve been accused of fear mongering. That’s poppycock. All I’ve done is what I’m entitled to do as a citizen.
We’ll all get to decide this issue in August. I’m not afraid of the outcome. I’m not the one who’s hinting that only the “enlightened” and “informed” should be voting on this measure. We’ve been victims of that paradigm far too long. Have our leaders become so arrogant that they believe they’re the county’s only gatekeepers? As I said, I’m not afraid of the outcome. People can vote for or against the merger for whatever reason they like.  There are no gatekeepers. There are no enlightenment or social status tests. There’s no Jim Crow. The only requirement is citizenship. Therefore, when August comes I’m going to cast my ballot and I encourage every eligible Lyon County voter to do the same.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


The countdown of my objections to the Extension merger continues. I’ve got a long way to go. As Franklin Roosevelt said during the 1936 Presidential campaign, “We have only just begun to fight.”
Extension proponents have tried to convince us that a merger will produce efficiencies and economies of scale. They seem to be laboring under the assumption that saying it often enough will make it so. But, that’s not the real world. I spent part of my professional career as a member of a team whose primary task was developing and implementing economies of scale and operational efficiencies. It was something we could never undertake in a willy-nilly fashion. Anything we developed had to be fully justified before it was implemented. We had to quantify personnel savings. There had to be demonstrable operational cost savings and they had to be significant. And, we had to develop a plan that would measurably improve service to internal and external customers. If/when upper management approved, the implementation had benchmarks to be re-measured at 30, 60, and 90 day intervals to ensure that what we’d meet our promised objectives.
The proposed Extension merger isn’t even remotely close to being an economy of scale, nor does it create efficiencies.
Extension has also claimed that the consolidated district would enable cooperative effort. I couldn’t believe they’d said when I first heard it, but they’ve said it more than once. About the only thing missing was the marketing slogan – “Consolidate to Cooperate.”
Is it true that it will take consolidation to produce cooperative effort? If so, what’s getting in the way of cooperation now? Distance? Good Lord, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone 136 years ago. I don’t believe we’ve so underfunded them they’ve got to resort to tin cans connected by miles and miles of string. They’ve even got computers to work with. And e-mail is this wonderful administrative tool that’s been around for a while.
I actually think more highly of Extension personnel. I believe they’ve got it in them to cooperate. If Extension leadership is saying it’s going to take consolidation to make it happen, they’ve got some really serious problems, problems that no amount of money will solve.
Some Extension proponents tout the benefits to the public, including volunteer income tax help, support in raising kids/parenting, Kansas PRIDE, etc. Now, who could be against that? I’m not really against those things, but there are already far better agencies involved in those things. The I.R.S itself provides free income tax support to taxpayers. So does our local chapter of the A.A.R.P. We’ve got plenty of family support professionals. We’ve got a lot of churches and plenty of competent pastors and support staff who provide outstanding support to families. The county is also blessed with a wealth of civic organizations who volunteer time and treasure to help their neighbors through difficult times, including Lions Club, Habitat for Humanity, Kiwanis, the Salvation Army, Sertoma, and so forth. There are a lot of caring people in Lyon County.
Extension also has been talking up its slate of youth activities. Those of us who are against the merger believe these things are great. But, keep in mind that these activities have been supported thanks to the generous allocation Lyon County has given our local Extension service. A no vote in the primary election wouldn’t change that. We’ve been generous. We’ll continue to be generous.
There’s something else to consider. As with other activities, there are other organizations here in Lyon County who support youth activities. A few months back Lyon Countians were graced with visits from Girl Scouts making their annual pitch. We love seeing them. I don’t know the names of the girls who visit you, but for Nancy and me it was Sidney Baldwin and Makayla Gray. Their marketing skills and charms seem to have grown exponentially over the years. By the time we’d placed and received our orders this year we had enough cookies to fill a cupboard to overflowing. We’re glad to do it. It’s our voluntary way of supporting wonderful youth activities.
One of the things we’re especially grateful for is the fact the Girls Scouts have never levied taxes against us. They learn. They market. They sell.  They succeed.
Of course, it never would have come to this if the County Commissioners had listened to the people. When it came time to vote, Commissioner Martin said public opinion in his district was fifty-fifty. Commissioner Walters said opinion in hers was against the merger. Yet, they voted for the merger. The public might have understood if there was some moral reason for their doing so, but there wasn’t. It was politics at its very worst. There was nothing wrong with things as they had been. And, there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t stay that way.


Nancy and I spent a couple of weekends in May away from Emporia, one in Kansas City and the other in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Eureka Springs is one of our favorite places on the planet. We arrived on Friday evening, checked into our downtown hotel, and went over to the Czech-German restaurant. We had a great time there, as we have since we first ate there twenty-five years ago on an anniversary getaway. There are many things that have changed over the years, but, thankfully, the food at the Czech-German hasn’t. The sauerkraut is still to die for. The sauerbraten and red pickled cabbage are still wonderful. The spaetzle is just right. So are the potato pancakes. And even when there are new offerings on the menu they reflect the tried and true that have made this restaurant so wonderful. Nancy tried one of the innovations, sauerkraut soup, and it was absolutely incredible.
On Saturday, we spent most of the morning in and out of the downtown shops. Nancy bought a hat and I bought a pair of tennis shoes (at her insistence, mind you). As we strolled along we passed the storefronts that reflect the eclectic nature of Eureka Springs. There were jewelry stores and tattoo parlors, diners, and shops cluttered with incense, crystals, plastic Buddhas, peace symbols, and wooden crucifixes. Walking along the streets, one gets the sense that he or she is in a place that has somehow managed to find the delicate balance that facilitates co-existence between the traditional and new age.
We stopped in Eureka Springs’ only Christian bookstore before returning to the hotel. We bought a CD – Jon Foreman’s “Limbs and Branches” and a book – Brennan Manning’s “Ragamuffin Gospel.”
Later in the afternoon we went to a wild animal preserve, Turpentine Creek. There are more than 200 large cats housed there, including tigers, lions, ligers, jaguars, leopards, and bobcats. The overwhelming majority of them have been rescued from families who had purchased them believing that the cute little cubs they were looking at would somehow remain forever young and cuddly. It was either that or a purchase made as a hedge against neighbors complaining about loud music, un-mowed lawns, or moldy old sofas sitting on front porches.
Before we left on Sunday morning I snatched Nancy’s I-Pad away from her and took a quick peek at the Gazette’s opinion page. I read Floyd Dorsey’s piece, “Miracles,” and spent a few minutes reflecting on my fragile foothold on knowledge and wisdom.
We got back to Emporia late in the afternoon. I was tempted to say we got home, but I resisted the urge. It’s not that Emporia’s such a bad place. I like things here. It’s just that I’m a bit unsettled these days. I really want to go home and I’m learning that Emporia is just a pit stop along the way. I think one of Jon Foreman’s tracks best expressed the way I feel. It’s almost as if I can hear the whistle of a train that’s headed “home” in the distance and I have a longing to get on board. Foreman put it this way:
“So I’m lookin’ out the window and I’m driftin’ off to sleep
With my face pressed up to the pane
With the rhythm of my heart and the ringin’ in my ears
It’s the rhythm of the southbound train.”

In the weeks since we returned the news has taken on increasingly ominous tones. About a week ago, some guy in Miami under the influence of a new drug called “bath salts” was shot by a policeman while he was in the process of eating a homeless man’s face off. In Canada, a porn star mailed severed body parts to legislators. In Syria, the Bashad regime has been shelling cities and massacring women and children while Kofi Anan dithers. In keeping with our national pre-occupation with marriage, a woman in North Dakota got married to herself.  In Seattle, a young woman protesting the gentrification of the city got married to a building on the corner of 10th and Union.
The Church, which should be an institution of stability and sanity, is becoming increasingly polarized and politicized, left and right. Political positions, twisted into religious dogma, have become the prevailing theological measuring rod. On one side it’s anything goes. Michael Bird, who lectures on systematic theology at Australia’s Crossway College, recently described this group as “Nero’s chaplains.”  I think he may be right, which I suppose would make their right leaning champions of rigidity ‘Cromwell’s captains.”
Like the other Dylan¸ I’m wondering if it might be time to “overturn the tables and disconnect the cables.” Maybe so, but I can’t make that happen.  I just need to go down to the station and wait for that southbound train.