Category: Humor (Page 2 of 27)

Short essays that I have written

Father’s Day

We speak metaphorically about the “Father of our country” and even about “Father Christmas.” The song, “Faith of our Fathers” wistfully refers to the founding fathers of our nation and was written by Frederick W. Faber, who lived from 1814 to 1863. The faith they had, Faber asserted at the time, is “living still, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword.” He reminds us that it is a “holy faith” and one that we should hold on to until we die. The song is also evangelistic: “we will strive to win all nations to thee; and through the truth that comes from God, we  shall then be truly free.”

Of course, all of our founding fathers did not have such a faith, although many of them did. Today, we pray that this stanza might be true: “Faith of our fathers, we will love both friend and foe in all our strife; and preach thee, too, as love know how by kindly words and virtuous life.” Imagine, if you can, men and women in our congress standing and singing this song. Sung with sincerity and intention, our nation’s leaders could signal repentance and love and we could see the kind of change that will promote justice in our society.

I became a father on April 11, 1959, a day before my own birthday, when our son Kirk was born. His entrance into the world took place in a jungle hospital in Papua New Guinea. Holding my little son in my arms, I dedicated him to the Lord. He didn’t know that for a long time, but he had a father (and mother) who wanted him to serve God in some way. He has, and three children and three grandchildren have blessed him and his wife Christine.

It is hard to evaluate one’s own success or failure as a father—and both will be true. Our children, bless them, tell us we did a good job, with some exceptions (too numerous to mention). We lived in villages and communities where the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” rang true. Many people in the villages and communities interacted with our kids and helped them to grow in a safe and healthy environment.

Due to a tubal pregnancy, Joice was told that she could not have children after Kirk, so  I would not be a father again. However, there are even medical false prophets and our daughter was born in 1965 in a different jungle hospital.

I don’t know what my father was thinking when I was born. It was during the Great Depression and, as the third child, he and my mom probably wondered how to survive financially. My father loved me but, if he ever prayed for me, I did not know it. Every father has a story and his was full of pain and surprises. But he was ordained by God to be my father and I am thankful for him. I don’t know, however, that I ever told him so on Father’s Day.

When our children praise me on Father’s Day, I could contradict them: I like to hear words of praise from them, even though I say “yes, but…” and remind them of some less worthy Father’s days.

Today, instead of seeing anything in the newspaper to remind me of the “Faith of our Father’s,” I read about sales and the “great gift ideas for dad.” Or a patriotic cap and a T-shirt inscribed with “Greatest Father in the World”?

If I liked fishing, they could get me a Shimano Stradic CI + Spinning Reel for only $149.97, marked down from $229.99. There are also numerous “hot buys” for dad: men’s offroad clogs, a wi-fi connected option to monitor the weather, or a S&W M&P Bodyguard 380 semi-auto pistol. I’m not off the road much these days and the weather forecast for the next three months is “hot, with a 10% chance of rain.” My bodyguard is a semi-automatic brand of deodorant, meaning that it has to be applied mechanically.

All the fathers (and mothers) who read this should rejoice in the relationship they have with their children. Hopefully, it can in some sense mirror the relationship Solomon had with the Lord, “by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David” (1 Kings 3:3).

Or, as Hallmark would say “Happy Father’s Day to the man of my heart, the father of our children, the love of my life.” “Thank you for all the ways you go above and beyond every day for our family. The kids and I are so lucky to have you.” Priceless? No, the card will cost you $5.99, on sale.

Father’s Day,
June, 2020

The New Normal

When I was studying psychology in college, one of my courses was “Abnormal Psychology.” Now I can’t remember much about it, so I went online to look at a university syllabus. I found the subject was related to clinical psychology and included client counseling, barriers, resistance to professional help, and repairing fractured relationships. Then I remembered: six weeks into the semester I wasn’t sure what it was like to be “normal” and if I had ever been that way. Some people who know me have speculated ever since.

Recently, a person wrote online that he did not like the expression, ”the new normal” because it indicated that things might not return to “normal.” But what is “normal” for us? Did things seem more “normal” because we knew what to expect from day to day? Did we know what would happen “normally” because we were in a routine, perhaps even a repetitious one? How is the “new normal” different from the old?

One major difference for many people is that, if they are fortunate enough to continue to work, it is done from their home. Also, when they go out, it has been alone or in small groups and they wore face masks and practiced social distancing. But, hopefully, all that will change. Will we then be back to “normal” again.

In the new normal, there will be surprises, just as there were in the old normal. Although we cannot know what will happen, we should prepare, to some extent, for the unexpected. We can pray for a mindset that allows us God’s peace in new circumstances, even when buying groceries, toilet paper. or obtaining food from a person not behind a barrier.

We talk about a new normal because COVID-19 suggests that we will function “differently” in the future. Despite our best hopes and dreams, experts inform us that the virus will not suddenly leave and then we will return to normal. Normality suggests the freedom of hugging and crowding, being calm around people not wearing face masks, walking next to strangers, buying fewer rolls of toilet paper, and seeing that gas is less than $3.00 a gallon.

If we have church outside, that will not be normal and if we have it inside that may not be normal either. Normal is what we once did on a regular basis without thinking too much about it. Now we think about washing our hands more than we used to, staying a little further away from strangers and probably buying more toilet paper than we need.

The new normal will be something like going to live in a different culture and learning a strange language. Depending on our motivation, we will either learn the new language and culture or we will become cynical and critical about it. We may complain and resort to our cultural practices and language. After all, we may think, “That’s not the way we used to do it,” or “We can say it better in English.” There are always things that shock us when we go to another country to live but, to make friends, we must observe and learn, even as we make mistakes.

Here is an example of an early language mistake that Joice made: the words for “man” and “husband” are very close phonetically in the language we were learning in rural Papua New Guinea. Culturally, in the village in which we were living it was not appropriate for a woman to say a man’s name, so for a few months, my wife called every male “husband” when she meant to say “man.” The people may have laughed when they got home, but they were tolerant in helping her because they appreciated her efforts. I made a lot of mistakes too, but that is another (longer) story.

We learned the West Kewa language (actually, East Kewa and Tok Pisin as well) because we were motivated to show God’s love and translate His word. Our enthusiasm and humor carried us through many tough spots. I would hope that the same thing will happen in the new normal even if we bump elbows or give a thumb’s up instead of shaking hands. We can also pray silently for people when we hear them sneeze or cough, instead of staring at them. And for those who wear face masks, we can learn to recognize their voices.

In time, the new normal may become normal again.

Karl and Joice Franklin
No longer counting the days and
Still staying 6 feet away from y’all

Isolation is not Incarceration

Isolation is not Incarceration

I have never been incarcerated, but I came close once. It happened when I was a young teenager. My brother, two years older than I, and another fellow comrade were at our farm in Pennsylvania when we heard a dog barking and watched as it chased a deer from our small game reserve. We quickly decided, quite unwisely, to shoot the dog, which was owned by men hunting on a nearby farm. They took us to court and my brother and friend were sentenced to a week at a juvenile detention center. I was left off the hook because there were only two guns and I, being the youngest, was last in line, so I never visited the detention center.

Years later, I needed a police clearance to get a visa for New Guinea, so I went to our town’s police station to ask for one. The officer in charge duly rifled through his 3 x 5 cards and pulled one out with my name on it. He looked at me with a smile and said, “Had a little trouble with a dog one time, did you?” “Yes,” I said rather sheepishly. He laughed and gave me the police clearance. I hope that the record wasn’t transferred later to a computer file.

Someone has used the word “incarceration” to describe the “shelter-in-place” order that we had. However, it doesn’t quite fit: we were not confined to jail or completely isolated from the general public. Nevertheless, because COVID-19 is a disease that is transmitted from individual to individual, we were told to avoid strangers, crowds and, if possible, stay at home: “shelter-in-place” is the polite terminology. But we were not really in isolation, incarcerated, with only bread and water.

However, during this pandemic, the word “isolation” and “quarantine” may engender feelings of loneliness, seclusion, and segregation. There are certainly cases of severe isolation. I recently saw a TV program about the history of West Point where the first African American to attend was “isolated” from his classmates during his entire four years. Nevertheless, he stayed at the school in virtual detention until he graduated. He performed an unusual but necessary act of bravery and paved the way for future “people of color.”

It is true that some prisoners not only face isolation but an extreme form of it: solitary confinement. We once visited a historical prison site in Australia where prisoners were led to church blindfolded and shielded from one. Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment that involves isolation to the extent that the prisoner has no educational, vocational, or rehabilitative programs. It is much worse than the isolation of “shelter in place.”

Seclusion can take extreme forms and some of the Desert Fathers and Mothers practiced asceticism by living in caves, cisterns and even trees. The most radical of the monks were the Stylites, the most famous of whom was Simeon, who lived on a small platform on top of his pillar for 34 years (some sources say 37 years). Despite his lifestyle—or perhaps because of it—crowds of pilgrims invaded his area to seek counsel or his prayers. No social distancing was practiced by the hordes of people who wanted his help.

Another famous hermit was St Antony, reputedly the first monk, who had to keep moving farther and farther into the desert for solitude. He ate little, wore itchy clothing, and rarely bathed. He is quoted as saying “Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells … lose the intensity of inner peace.” A fair warning to those of us who wander too far from our shelters.

We have heard of Francis of Assisi, but what about Clare of Assisi? There had been female hermits in the Egyptian desert and Clare was about 18 when she joined the movement Francis had started. Her order established the “privilege of property,” the right to own nothing. Clare’s primary contributions consisted of her writings, but she was best known for her poverty, humility, and charity. A good lesson for all of us in exile at the present time.

There is a very little difference between being lonely and being lonesome. A person who lives a lonely life has less emotional involvement with others than a person who is simply lonesome. A lonesome person may be depressed or sad because there are no friends to visit and no companionship. Sort of like having the “Covid Blues,” perhaps an appropriate name for a ragtime rendition that Monty could devise.

Jesus and his cousin John must have been close friends because when Jesus heard the news about John’s assassination he was distraught and went “to a lonely place by himself” (Matt 14:13). Sometimes, before daylight, or even all night, Jesus would go to a lonely place and pray. He did not want to be distracted in his prayers.

We should have time to pray during “lockdown,” but sometimes praying is not that simple. C. S. Lewis notes that, although there are passages in the NT that seem to promise the granting of our prayers, this cannot be what they mean. For example, Christ himself prayed three times that the cup of suffering (his death) would be eliminated, but it was not. “After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed” (in Fern-seed and Elephants (and other essays on Christianity), edited by Walter Hooper, p. 98).

In other words, simply praying that coronavirus will go away will not work. We do need to practice isolation, social distancing and take the necessary precautions to help stop the spread of the virus. I may be tired of washing my hands and not touching my face, especially when I need to itch my proboscis, but I am trying. I don’t want my name written down on another 3 x 5, or showing up as a COVID delinquent on some computer file.

Sheltering, for the most part
Karl and Joice Franklin

Show Me the Scars

When I was young and a member of the 4-H club and Future Farmers of America, I decided to build a chicken coop. Due to my deficient carpenter skills, I sawed through the thumbnail and skin of my left thumb. For a long time, there was a noticeable scar and I could point to it and tell my chicken coop story. But now it is gone. and I have no physical evidence to show.

The apostle Thomas is known as “the doubter” because he was unsure of the resurrection of Jesus so he wanted to see the scars on his hands and his side. He wanted physical evidence before he would believe that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:25).

Recently I was listening and watching my son expound on this passage at his church (online of course) in Melbourne, Australia. He briefly told of two large vertical scars on his left forearm, the result of an accident in Papua New Guinea years ago. “If I told you the story,” he said, “you might find it hard to believe, but If I showed you the scars, you would have to take the story seriously.” The scars were the proof of the accident. The story, if described in gory detail, would tell of “donor plates,” complications from the PNG operation, surgery later in Australia with a bone graft, eventual healing, and the resulting scars are hideous. He has the evidence engraved on his forearm.

There are also scars that are not physical, and we are reading about them from the coronavirus pandemic. They are not just the physical, but also emotional, social, and economic. A COVID-19 death leaves a “scar” in the family when a member of the family dies and only memories remain. We can look at a picture of the person, but it is like looking at a scar because the picture reminds us of an individual we knew but is now gone.

There are terrible scars in our world: those of genocide, ethnocide, famine, alcoholism, war and post-traumatic stress, and the list goes on. Great scars where once there were thriving social groups and communities, men and women who had hopes of a happy life.

Some of us have particular physical scars: I have two indentations, where drainage tubes were inserted when my appendix burst when I was about 10 years of age. I also have a scar on the back of my left cheek from sledding. It happened when I inadvertently tried to go through a barbwire fence. However, behind—actually underneath—every scar is a story, usually representing something that was traumatic at the time, although later we may make them into enjoyable (and hopefully, believable) tales.

I probably would have been like Thomas, so I can’t blame him—I would have wanted evidence. However, once Thomas was convinced, he went on to accomplish great things.

It takes a while for a scar to form: the healing process takes several days or weeks. The scars in Jesus hands and on his sides would have been fresh and there were no sutures to close the wounds. Thomas may put his hand on a healing wound, with scar tissue still forming. It might not have been a very pleasant experience.

We are going through a scarring process with COVID-19 and it seems to be taking a long time for the disease to heal. New cases keep cropping up and some people die, leaving a void, a different kind of scar.

We don’t make a wound heal by continually examining it, or by picking at the scab that is forming. The body wants to heal and so do most communities and societies. However, we want matters to hurry up so we can “get on with it” and “get back to normal.” It will be a new and different kind of “normal” with scars to remind us of what it was like.

Following a physical wound and its healing, we should be able to use that part of the body again. But not always, we may have crippled ourselves or have continuing pain. Similarly, we need to be realistic and know that things are different now and the coronavirus pain may linger on. The pandemic will end, but the scars will be there. They can remind us of the disease, but also of God’s mercy and the body’s healing power.

Sheltering in Place
Karl and Joice Franklin

Zooming In and Out

Like many people, we are learning to “Zoom.” On Easter evening our Aussie and Texas families had a “Zoom” session. Eighteen of us appeared in mass and talked, mostly in turn but sometimes all at once. We were in our own homes and we looked great, despite being in “isolation.” I my be paranoid because, after the 6th person signed in, I went and washed my hands.

We were from many different backgrounds: Live Oak high school students (2), a Baylor student (sophomore), a Baylor professor, a medical doctor, an architect, a midwife, a senior mission executive, a book room manager, a videographer, a counselor, a special education teacher, a graphic artist, young boys and two old retired missionaries. Lots of stories and experiences—much like in any extended family.

Two wonderful features of Zoom: you can turn your sound or video off and disappear for a time. Unfortunately, they will observe you doing this and ask if you are “alright.”

On the one hand, it is too bad that it takes a virus to make us communicate this way. On the other hand, maybe our joy can spread out better and faster, like the virus, and we can build up antibodies against future isolation—perhaps we can contribute to a pandemic of love and caring for each other in ways that we have not previously done.

It is wonderful to have family and friends in other countries because the internet extends our worldview, making us conscious of the joys and difficulties that others have. There are several Papua New Guineans that email and “message” us, that reminds us of another life we once had. Another friend from New Zealand called to wish me happy birthday, as did over 70 or so others on Facebook. It may not be fun getting old, but it is enjoyable to hear from so many people.

Much of the world is in isolation now, due to the pandemic COVID-19, and we are learning new ways to communicate with those we know and love. Technologies like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout and others are on the market and have allowed thousands of people to stay connected. The program Zoom is the most popular, although it was only founded in 2011 and went public on the Nasdaq in 2019.

If you are tired of Zoom or Skype, consider other alternatives: “BlueJeans” can handle up to 15,000 participants in meetings and should be big enough for even the largest Waco extended family. If you know what the I-cloud is, you might want to try “Lifesize Video Conferencing,” where you can see up to 50 participants in living High Definition video. Another program, “WebEx Meetings” can host up to 40,000 people, big enough for even the largest Waco church. “GoToMeeting” can work on any device and features “business messaging, smart transcription, one-click meetings and more” (there is always more).

I knew that my grandchildren were technocrats and users, but I was surprised to see how up-to-date and helpful my daughter is. With the work-at-home order in place from Baylor, she has had to teach her Medical Spanish and Spanish Linguistics courses online. She has tried to teach me, too, and I have learned a bit—like making sure the mike is muted when I burp.

In our family Zoom session, we could look at each other, being careful not to mention wrinkles or blemishes. The current technology allows you to zoom in and enlarge them to the size of Mt St Helens. We can even show what we were currently working on—our granddaughter displayed a blanket she had just crocheted. Husbands and wives were sitting next to each other and learning that their spouses were quite interesting and nice people. As family entities we were all obeying the “social distancing” and not gathering in groups, which is bit difficult because, if followed according to the letter of the law, it would mean creating a fake zoom person next to everyone.

Microsoft Word has a dropdown menu called “view” and one of the choices is “zoom.” I like it because it allows me to grow the font size large—150% in my case, so that I can see better. That seems to be what the Zoom program does as well: it enlarges our vision and ability to go across the ocean and meet with family, assuring us that we are interacting. But be careful, no nodding off or looking at your phone—you will be noticed by a whole band of people.

Some people can’t Zoom, and we should be aware of them. They might not even be able to get within 6 feet of their family or friends. They may be homeless, vagrants, immigrants without access for help, or someone shutout by society and shut in by sickness. However, we can “zoom” in on them (up to 6 feet) and pray for them.

Well, I had better click on “leave the meeting” and sign out now.

Karl and Joice Franklin
Many days isolated, but not counting carefully
April, 2020

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