May 25, 2007

Memorial Day and Good Music

Category: News — Ira @ 7:30 pm


Memorial Day is upon us, which means summer has arrived, although one wouldn’t know it from the weather we’ve had lately (except this week, which has been flawlessly beautiful). Memorial Day to most of us means a long weekend, and for many in these parts, a trip to the mountains for a few days. But it would behoove all of us to remember and reflect upon the reasons behind Memorial Day and what we are commemorating. And for those of us who have moved on from our Anabaptist roots, flying the American flag would be a fitting and respectful tribute to our Armed Forces and our Veterans.

Regardless of our backgrounds, and many of my readers have a solid foundation of strong, doctrinal teaching of nonresistance, we would be wise to remember that many thousands have died fighting in numerous wars so we could (at least arguably) retain the freedoms we have. Blood is often the price of freedom, and too many Anabaptists cannot or will not recognize that fact. Worse, many (especially the activist pacifists) are aggressively condescending and arrogant about their beliefs, which naturally does not go down well with those who have fought or lost loved ones in war. I can easily understand why there is resentment and hostility against those who freely harvest the bounties and rewards of freedom, but refuse to defend it and despise those who do.


My father was a conscientious objector during WWII. He worked in camps and helped landscape the Pennsylvania Turnpike while others his age were off fighting overseas. I am not proud of that fact. But I’m not ashamed of it either, and I respect him for it. It is to this country’s credit that it has historically (at least since WWII) made provisions for COs to serve in noncombatant roles during war. The USA and Canada are among the few countries in the world where nonresistant sects can worship and live as they see fit, relatively unmolested by government. If that ever changed, and real religious persecution prevailed, I believe the Lord would unleash His wrath upon the land.

In her comment last week, Rosie asked what kind of music I like. I never grew up with music and so am very ignorant of what is “supposed” to be good. I don’t much like contemporary Christian music at all. I appreciate some classical music (Handel’s Messiah, etc.) and enjoy symphonies, although it’s been awhile since I’ve attended one. Of all musical genres, rap and some hard rock are the only ones I cannot tolerate.

I like classic country: Waylon, Willie, George Jones, Johnny Cash, etc. and when I was a teenager, I worshiped Tanya Tucker. I don’t care for today’s country music, too touchy-feely. Men whine and cry and are not manly. The women screech and moan and coo and writhe. Dwight Yokum is one of the few current country singers I respect, and he has been out of production for a few years.

I also love classic rock: Fleetwood Mac, Bad Company, Tom Petty, The Eagles, Peter Gabriel, ZZ Top and others. In my opinion, the Eighties was the most productive decade for rock. Some particular songs that always move me include, among others: “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” by Bad Company, “I Ain’t Missin’ You at All,” by John Waite, and “I Need You Now,” by one-hit wonder Alias.

I also like Celtic music, especially Enya’s mysterious and haunting lyrics. Loreena McKennitt’s lilting “Mummer’s Dance” always evokes deep and strong emotions and stirs long-buried memories of childhood reveries.

Then there’s jazz. I like almost all classic jazz and a lot of the more modern smooth jazz, and all jazz that emphasizes the saxophone. No particular artists come to mind, but I often have jazz on as background music while writing (when there’s no baseball game to keep an eye on). Jazz is the only form of music that I enjoy more when performed live.


I recall a funny incident involving music (or, to be more accurate, musical tastes). In the mid-80s, while on the wheat harvest with Dean Wagler of Daviess County, IN, we stopped in the Hutchinson, Kansas area for the weekend. The Kansas Beachy youth at that time (fairly or unfairly) were considered a tad progressive and, shall we say, liberal. In the brief time we were there, I remember overhearing earnest and solemn conversations like, “what do you see yourself doing in five years, etc.?” (Such discussions were nonexistent in my circles. I was lucky to think or plan ahead five weeks.) Don’t get me wrong, the Beachy youth were kind, although mildly patronizing, to a long-haired, uncouth, jeans-clad bumpkin like me.

Then, for no particular reason that I could discern, a nice clean-cut young man (So help me, I don’t remember his name. He wore Kakis and had a shiny new belt.) asked me what kind of music I like. I never could figure out if he was trying to trap me, embarrass me, or just having a benevolent conversation with an obvious misfit. After stuttering a bit, not used to such a question, I stammered that I liked Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” a popular, then-current, completely rollicking but generally sense-less rock song. Shocked silence ensued. Gasps were hastily stifled. A delicate Beachy-youth lady or two may have fainted. You could have cut the disdain with a knife. Later I overheard the nice clean-cut young man comment that he would like to see Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” a very “in” movie among Hollywood’s liberal elites. His friends nodded that they would like to see it too. A healthy glow returned to the wan faces of the delicate ladies who (may have) fainted, although the timely application of smelling salts may also have contributed to their recovery. (Unfortunately, fainting couches were already out of style back then.) I said nothing, but thought to myself that I probably would not want to see the movie. I never did. That was 20-plus years ago. Today I regularly hear “Sledgehammer,” a now-classic rock song, on the radio and at the gym, while “The Color Purple” has been unceremoniously dumped into the ashbin of occasional late-night (interpretation: no one watches) channels on TV. The test of time has spoken.


The subject of salesmen seems to have overrun last week’s Comment section like a windswept wildfire. So, while there may be some danger of stirring the embers into an inferno again, I will exercise my prerogative as editor and opine with what I trust will be the last word on the subject.

There are good salesmen and bad salesmen. Our perception of salesmen depends on our experiences with them, and our perceptions, whatever they are, are completely valid. More than once, years ago, I was approached by a well-dressed man in suit and tie, who had a “distribution” or “consulting” business, who wanted to discuss an outstanding business opportunity with me. Always he stated how he was impressed with my bearing and personality and how he could see I had much potential. Always, without fail, after the little chalkboard was set up and many diagrams scrawled about its surface, the man turned out to be an Amway salesman with a pyramid scheme. One such salesman even trotted out a set of cassette tapes, which I took unwillingly, and then could not understand (after I had dutifully listened to them) why I would not leave law school and sell Amway. After the second or third such experience, it never happened again, because I nipped the approach in the bud before it could blossom. Once, while I was working as a waiter during my college years, a customer proudly told me that he owned a worldwide import/export (where are you, George Costanza?) business, including a base in the Netherlands. I was impressed until he handed me his card, which had his name, the Amway logo, and several countries printed on it (including the Netherlands). He did not tip well, either.


That’s the negative. The positive is that there are many good salesmen, and we all need them. One salesman we deal with a lot at Graber Supply (step up, Ethan) is the epitome of what constitutes a great salesman. He represents an array of vendors and knows his products inside/out and upside down. He is always only a phone call away and responds quickly to any problems, be they logistical, quality control or backlog. He is service oriented, cheerful and resilient. We trust him. He knows his market and keeps abreast of the latest developments in the field. For what he does, because of how he does it, he is probably one of the top, if not the top, salesman in his field in the country.

But there are also other harsh realities. When approached by a salesman, we have no obligation to believe him (or like him) or to purchase anything from him until he proves that #1: he is who and what he claims to be, and #2: his product is what he claims and we are convinced (by him or ourselves) that we need the product more than the money required to purchase it. We actually have absolutely no obligations whatsoever to the salesman. We don’t have to give him time from our busy day; we don’t have to listen to him, respect him, or even be polite. We owe him nothing; respect must be earned. The market has no feelings and a salesman must understand this or he will fail (or have a nervous breakdown). He must simply move on to the next opportunity. Other than having no feelings, the market has one other very basic, but critical rule for salesmen: Sell or starve (or get into another line of work). So the pressures can be intense. “And that,” to quote Forrest Gump, “is about all I got to say ‘bout that.”

PREAKNESS NOTES: Some may wonder why I get so excited about the Triple Crown races if I hate horses so much. It is kind of strange, come to think of it; maybe it’s the $1 million-plus purses for the winners. In any case, last Saturday’s Preakness was absolutely the most exciting horse race I’ve ever seen. Calvin Borel, the jockey for Street Sense, rode a perfect race, lurking unconcernedly in the middle of the pack until about three-fourths of the course was run. I was getting very nervous for him. But then he unleashed Street Sense and surged through the crowd and easily took the lead. He passed Curlin, another favored horse, as if he was standing still. But then something happened that I have never seen before. Usually when a horse gets passed, especially if the pass is quick and effortless, as this one was, the passed horse just gives up. Curlin did not, but suddenly flattened his ears and moved into super-high gear. Calvin Borel (who reminds me of a tenant I used to have upstairs, who will remain unnamed) glanced back and could not believe it when he saw Curlin bearing down. Curlin kept surging, and at the finish, it was too close to call. I thought Curlin had won, and he had, by about two inches. Had the track been ten feet shorter, Street Sense would have won. It was wild, I tell you. The Belmont Stakes is next month, and that will about do it for my horse-race fever for this year.

Random Notes: I have managed to maintain my weight at between 199 and 200 pounds. (I know such wild fluctuations are not healthy. I should probably cut down on my ice-cream bingeing, but every life needs some little sinful joys.) My last weigh-in at the gym last Monday was 199. I’m very happy about that….If the weather holds over the weekend, I want to hike on Monday. I may do one of the State Parks in the southern end of the county. Safe holidaying to all.

A sign of the times…..


May 18, 2007

Christian Snipers

Category: News — Ira @ 1:07 pm


A few weeks ago, a close friend made a comment that I have mulled over ever since. He said the Christian Army is the only army in the world that snipes at and takes out its own wounded and fallen soldiers. I was simultaneously intrigued and appalled at the statement. But is it true?

In modern warfare, an army will go to almost any lengths to rescue its own soldiers who have fallen, wounded but alive, or have been captured by the enemy. The Marines have a savage and historic code of honor, stained with blood over many years; they will not leave behind their fallen wounded, period. Last year, Israel waged a weeks-long battle against Hezbollah, a terrorist army entrenched just across the border in Lebanon, because Hezbollah fighters popped over the border and captured two Israeli soldiers. After the battle was over, almost an entire city lay in ruins, hundreds of lives were lost, and Israel’s national confidence was greatly shaken. But the point is, two of their soldiers were captured alive by their ancient and sworn enemies, and the country wagered a tremendous amount of prestige, blood and treasure in a high-stakes gamble to get them back.

What about Christians? What happens when one of our own falls, wounded, or is captured by the enemy? Do we do what Israel did and wage an all-out battle to get them back? Or do we set up our own sniper posts, and take pot-shots from great (and safe) distances to further wound and/or kill a person who, only a few short months ago, we called our brother or sister?

I know for a fact that in Amish and Beachy and Mennonite-land, there is some sporadic public buzz and clamor about the unfortunate circumstances in which I currently find myself embroiled. Some of this is inevitable and not all bad; prayers and support are necessary components in the aftermath of such dramatic events. But I also know from very recent, impeccable sources that there is a tremendous amount of vitriol and destructive criticism being spewed from people who are not remotely connected to the situation (as opposed to those who are connected and are involved), who have no business inserting themselves. The clanging chatter of their abrasive talk and the corrosive poison of their corrective judgments pierce ever deeper into existing wounds, creating even more mayhem and pain in the shattered lives of already defenseless targets. Where’s the love in that?

There are concealed sniper nests next door, in the next church, the next county, the next state and a thousand miles away. From these anonymous and hidden posts, from high-powered verbal sniping rifles, deadly bullets are flying thick and fast and true, and are directed, not at the enemy, but at our own.


A few final observations, and I will let it rest. In the current circumstances surrounding Ellen and me and others, there are no innocent adult parties, including myself. It’s time that fact is recognized and accepted. It’s time the burden of the bitter harvest is shared in accordance with the fault, in proportion to the blame, and not just borne by the most visible and easily-targeted actors. And it’s high time the field commanders in the Christian Army shut down the sniper nests, or at least get them pointing in the right direction, at the enemy.

Each Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian, the children’s choir sings a song or two just before the sermon. Last Sunday the choir was accompanied by a children’s bell ensemble. The little group performed the complicated (to me) movements very well. I was impressed and moved to see these young children, between the ages of 6 and 12, performing and singing with the practiced ease of many hours of repetitious training. When I was a child, it would have been as foreign to me as going to Mars, to consider such a thing as formal training in voice and/or instruments.

Last Tuesday (5/15) a giant pillar of the Christian Right, the Reverend Dr. Jerry Falwell, passed on to his reward. For decades, Dr. Falwell has been a punching bag and boogeyman for the Left, and also, sadly, for many Christians. More than once I have heard an “evangelical” preacher scorn and scold him for something he had said that was considered intolerant. I have seen Dr. Falwell many times as a guest on some TV show or another, and he was always the model of decorum and integrity, usually right after an opponent on the previous segment had savaged him as a bigoted, dogmatic yokel. Dr. Falwell always responded with grace and good humor and spoke with clarity and vision. He was not afraid to say hard things in a diplomatic but firm manner. Without fail, he always unabashedly proclaimed his faith in Jesus Christ. Although I did not agree with him on some theological points (premillennialism, for one), over the years I learned to respect him highly as a man of God and perhaps a prophet. He labored tirelessly for many years in the vineyard of the Lord and he will be missed in the national arena.

Primary election day has come and gone, and again my choice of candidates failed to win. Same old song, different dance. Heidi Wheaton was pretty soundly trounced at the polls as she tried to buck the local Republican machine for the office of County Commissioner. There are likely many reasons that she failed, among them some missteps made on the campaign trail. But I believe that if one digs deep enough, the real reason she lost is that the conservatives of Lancaster County simply cannot bring themselves to vote a woman into an office of real power and influence. Maybe they all need a new version of my bumper sticker (see last week’s post) stating, “Unless you are a man, you can’t be County Commissioner.”

NASCAR NOTES: Dale Earnhart Jr. recently shook up the racing world by announcing he is leaving DEI Racing, his late father’s company. Apparently Dale and his stepmother, Theresa, don’t see eye to eye on the company’s vision for the future. Strange thing is, I actually like Dale, Jr. as much as I despised his father. Old Earnhart, the famous #3, was a mean and dirty driver and a cantankerous man. But for some reason, I like his son. He is genuine, and a clean driver. Now if he could only manage to beat Jeff Gordon once in awhile…….

This weekend I am at a trade show in Ringoes (Flemington area), NJ (That’s why I’m posting a bit early this week, since I will be gone.). I call it a trade show, but it’s actually some sort of horse gathering at the fairgrounds there. Graber Supply will have a vendor booth at the event. We usually do three or four “horse shows” during the winter months; this is our first at this locale and our first this late into the year. I enjoy getting out and look forward to doing something different for a few days (although in this case, I’m mildly grumpy because I’ll miss the Preakness on Saturday). But usually by Sunday evening, when it’s over, I’ve had about all I can take of horses and horse people, some of whom are as loony as bats. The amount of money spent on horses, horse events, and horse barns in our area (MD, NJ and points east) each year is simply staggering. But if someone wants to buy a barn from us, I am happy to discuss all aspects of the horse; horse riding, horse racing, horse health, tack, horse training and horse barns, all with considerable knowledge and aplomb, until the cows (or horses) come home.