Posted by: Norm | August 12, 2014

Requiem for a Broken Soul

We aim our orgasmic hallelujahs at the comedian.  We wish he would never stop making us laugh, the show is always over too soon.  We are not afraid when we are with him.

The greatness of some comes from a broken soul seeking relief.  The manic contortions, the incessant jocularity, are embellishments to keep himself and the rest of us occupied and we’re grateful.

No one said it better than Robin. “Comedy is acting out optimism.”

Comedians live for the stage and yet, it’s like a disposal, ready to consume their latest, best reach for “normalcy”.  You can’t tell the same joke to the same audience twice.

Accolades and hallelujahs are so public, they sometimes never reach the privacy of a man’s soul.

I believe most funny men are broken in need of repair. He walks back and forth between depression and laughter, not knowing quite where he belongs.  To varying degrees we all share that journey.

I am reminded of, and am impressed to send along, these words from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard.”

The Epitaph

Here rests his head upon the lap of earth
A youth to fortune and to fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy marked him for her own.


Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven (’twas all he wished) a friend.


No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.
Rest, dear friend, dear Robin . . . may peace, at last, be your friend.
Posted by: Norm | May 21, 2014


I’ve pretty much given up making lists.  If something doesn’t fall in the three most important things I need to do today, it doesn’t get listed or remembered for that day.  I call this mental efficiency.  I’ve always been a sucker for efficiency.  Get the most done in the least amount of time.  Laziness is the mother of efficiency.

I used to have up to a dozen motivational or instructional books on efficiency, getting things done and prioritizing on my shelf. I read them, marked them for future use and even taught coworkers.

Procastination has set on my front doorstep all my life, unless the task was something I loved doing.  I had to beat it with a stick to keep it from coming inside.  Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t.  I know my grades would have been a bit better in high school and college if procrastination had stayed on the porch. My mom was always frustrated with me because my energy level was a bit below her “we lived through the Great Depression” energy level.

Since retirement I’ve been faced with deciding the difference between procrastination and laziness.

Merriam-Webster says procrastination is to put off intentionally and habitually something that should be done.

From the same dictionary there is this definition for lazy: disinclined to activity or exertion;  not energetic or vigorous.

I guess I can finally admit:  I’m procastilazy.  There aren’t as many things on my To Do List nowadays.  I like it like that.  Some things get put off; some get forgotten.

Do I wish I had all the nervous, flamboyant energy of yesteryear as a pastor?  No, I’d wear myself out at my age.  It suited me then, but not now.  I used to be able to just about keep everyone in the church happy, most of the time and still get important things done.

Do I wish I still lived and died by the Franklin Covey Planner as a church fund raising consultant?  No way!  If you live by the FCP, you could die by the FCP at my age.  I was so good at filling that sucker with commitments, sometimes I travelled to 5 different cities in 5 different days.  I still marvel at all the airline miles we used for vacations in those years.

Do I long for those days when grieving families seemed to appear at the funeral home door in droves and I would swallow all their emotions, fears and complexities and return them as calm and order and a path to follow in the very short term?  No, not really.  I have to admit, I simply don’t have that kind of emotional or mental agility anymore.

Three vocations in one lifetime.  All of them highly stressful.  Some people would carry all of that into retirement and find ways to keep creating the nervous energy it takes to be all things to all kinds of people.  I’m not that guy.  My life has been so full of expectations, skills, planning and leadership that I’m ready for some procrastilazy.  It fits me just fine.







Posted by: Norm | May 14, 2014

An Intimate Fellowship Among the Wounded

My daughter Kimberly’s, best friend was  diagnosed with cancer in March of 2011.    It is a situation that has gripped Kim, her husband and their friends for over three years now..  This is a letter I sent to her on the day she called me and told me of the diagnosis, trying to help make sense out of it all.  Tammy, Kim’s friend, has just experienced a very difficult three weeks.  We have prayed often, looked hungrily for reports of her situation.  Her husband has been the man God and Tammy need him to be.  We’ve wept with them.  What follows is simply one father’s response to a daughter’s  suffering and that of her best friend of many years.
I know your friend Tammy’s diagnosis and suffering is hard to take.  When we love deeply, we grieve deeply.  I’ve always contended grief begins with the diagnosis, not the death.
So what you are feeling is the natural response of love, respect, tenderness and compassion I would expect of you.  And I expect it because I’ve seen it before in you and I also, many years ago, I asked God to give it to you.
First, by our very nature, we are curious human beings and our curiosity launches spaceships, discovers remedies for disease and a million other things when we ask the question, “Why?”  If it weren’t for that curiosity, we’d still be somewhere sleeping in caves and hunting/foraging for food several times a day.  Our curiosity and our desire to discover answers to the smallest and greatest of life’s challenges have held us in good stead over the centuries.   “Why?” is a question that meanders through all of life, not just the heart-breaks. That you are asking shows you are a part of a suffering humanity.
Second, a very small “Why?” may emerge when something tragic happens thousands or even hundreds of miles away.  We on the West Coast did not feel the catastrophe of September 11, like they did in New York City.  I have this on good authority from a priest and friend of mine whose plane flight was cancelled for three days in Boston.  And, as long as it’s a tsunami in Japan, we are separated from the personal horror.  Even the pictures nowadays of any disaster seem to lose meaning because we’ve seen so many of them.  We notice, but we go on with things on Thursday pretty much the same as they were on Wednesday.  We lift up a prayer, perhaps, but the tragedy is not personal enough to make us drop what we are doing and have questions.
Then there is the “Why?” that comes with a personal sense of unfairness.  We believe if we do the right things, treat people fairly and believe in God, we ought to be exempt from the more hideous challenges of life; the cancer, the murder of an innocent, the DUI guy that takes out most of a family, earthquake or drowning in a family pool.  And when they come, to us or a loved one, it’s unfair and we demand the right to know why us, why my friend, why now?  We take it so personally because we have basically been good and done what we believe is required of us.  Jesus told his friends the rain falls on the good and bad alike.  Peter told loved ones, fellow Christians, to not be shaken by the persecutions among them, in a culture bent on stamping out the early church.  Your baptism does not separate you from tragedy.
Several years ago, I read a short blog by someone suffering with an illness.  I could tell they had done some processing of the whole “Why me?” question.  He simply came to this conclusion, “Why not me?”  Why should I think that I am so special in the eyes of God that misfortune cannot strike me?  Am I so selfish to believe harm should be given to another, other than me?
A woman in a church I served who had a disease that only six other people in the United States had.  She was gone from our midst for long stretches of time due to the radical complications and pain associated with the illness.   Our people rallied to her, loved her and cared for her family at times she could not.  I remember standing in her presence one day in the sanctuary.  An aquaintance  came to her and said, “Fran, I wish I had your faith.”  This dear suffering woman replied, “And I wish you will never have to go through what I’ve been through to get it.”
I am reminded of Henri Nouwenn, the author of many good books on suffering.  My favorite was always The Wounded Healer.  The title itself begs the question, doesn’t it?  It was his contention we do not reach our greatest potential or usefulness in ministering to others until we ourselves have been wounded.  I don’t know what all of his life was like, but he ended his life in Montreal caring for aged priests; emptying their bed pans, wiping the saliva from their chins and feeding them on their death beds.  Before that he was a professor at Princeton, I believe, and a much heralded author.  It was his choice to go to Montreal to suffer with his brothers.
Tammy, and you loving people around her, have been ushered into an especially intimate fellowship with the Father.  A place unseen and unknown to all of you until now.  It is in this fellowship you each will do a portion of your doctoral work in mercy, grace, compassion and perseverance.  Because we spend most of our lives avoiding or denying the right of tragedy to enter our lives, we tend to keep such fellowship at arm’s length.  It is this denial that is breaking down in each of you now and you are being offered a glimpse at a reality far beyond what most people want to know.  In her suffering each of you will meet Christ the Compassionate, Christ the Sufficient.
My love, do not fear the mystery that is now yours; the fellowship with the unknown.  Embrace the disorder, the calamity, the tears and the “not knowing.”  I pray for you all; especially Tammy and Dean.
I’m sure we’ll talk of this again.
Posted by: Norm | May 11, 2014

I Don’t Want To Leave Her Now

Dean Martin could do no wrong.  She has every song he ever sang, I think; on CD’s no less.  I almost lost her to Deano.  (“Ain’t That A Kick In The Head”)

Roger Whittaker, famous to his fans, unknown to most of  America, he was a folk singer from Kenya and lived in Great Britain for many years.  I’ve lost count how many of his concerts we attended in a variety of venues over the years.  I almost lost her to this whistling Kenyan. (“The First Hello, The Last Goodbye”)

Don’t laugh at this, this was before we knew some of the things we know today.  Being a pianist herself, she absolutely loved Liberace; his ability to transform a song, to be a grand showman.  I almost lost her to Liberace one night in Vegas.  (“I’ll Be Seeing You”)

She loved Sinatra. He had something that grabbed her deep down.  The rest of us men have no idea what it was.  I almost lost her to Sinatra. (“Something”)

Frank Sinatra said this was “the best love song written in the last 50 to 100 years”.


Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I don’t need no other lover
Something in her style that shows me, yeah
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

You’re asking me, will my love grow?
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around now it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know

Something in the way she knows
And all I have to do is think of her
Something in the things she shows me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

                             George Harrison  

I can say, without fear of contradiction, these men would have been better men if they had known her.  I say that because I am the better man for having known her for over 50 years.  Gorgeous, you are a delight and the reason I can’t wait to greet each new day.


Posted by: Norm | April 3, 2014

A Hero to the Few That Matter

Last week we placed the remains of a man who was a true hero; in life, in war, to his friends and family.  As the service proceeded I took time to look at the collage of photos provided by the family.  Funny thing was: I’d never heard of him.  Outside his sphere of influence, he was an unknown.  But his story was one of heroic proportions, especially his record of service in the military.

I sometimes muse on what my family might put together in a collage or eulogies to tell my story.  It’s usually a very short self-discussion.  I don’t find myself remarkable in any way.

For most of us there is no big fire engines or parade of police cars or a long progression of dignitaries in limousines to the cemetery.  Most of us have lived quiet lives to the rest of the world, even to the neighbors down the street.

But let me tell you what lifts my spirits most as I have attended well over a thousand funerals over the last 20 years in the employ of Bobbitt Memorial Chapel.  What encourages me is the words I hear and overhear from spouse, a child or a grandkid.  They’ll mention a man who worked hard, quietly sacrificed and made sure his family was cared for.  A daughter will mention how mom as an example of goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control.  A grandchild tells the assembled mourners how “Grammy” always had Vienna Sausages, Spam, Bon-Bon’s or Strawberry Lemonade, just for them.

Camping in the backyard with grandparents is a big deal for kids.  Popcorn, movie night and staying up late are etched in sons’ and daughters’ memories.  Cousins mention “card night” or “taco Tuesday” at Uncle Joe’s and Aunt Mary’s.

The body we place in the ground is the one that never missed a Little League game, a ballet recital, a choir performance or a homecoming parade.  Countless “pick-ups” and “drop-offs” were made at the movies, library and sleep-overs.

It’s all pretty normal stuff for responsible spouses, parents and grandparents.  These things are the fabric of a life well-lived and as we look back, those of us who grieve, know we have been in the presence of a significant man or woman in our lives.

Posted by: Norm | January 20, 2014

The Mountain Has Lost An Extraordinary Man

I had the privilege today to speak at the graveside service of a good, good man.  He was well-known and loved in the community of Lake Arrowhead, California.  His benevolent work among many of the charities there was remarkable.  The entire community mourns for the family.  The local Mountain News ran this article about John in last week’s issue:

John Franklin Wood

Graveside Service ~ Riverside National Cemetery

January 20, 2014

We gather, because he would have wanted us to.  John would have wanted friends and loved ones to find support in one another.  I have no doubt he is as much a part of our gathering as we are.  His spirit is among us as we say his name.  His very nature is among us as we tell his stories.  John will not be gone from us for a long time to come.  No one is ever gone until we stop saying their name and stop telling their stories.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to invite Thomas Wood to come and remark on his Dad.

(There will be a Celebration in John’s honor tomorrow in Lake Arrowhead where friends and family can share their own stories of John)



. . . and so began the tribute to John Franklin Wood in last week’s edition of the Mountain News.

People are not born exceptional.  To become the uncommon person one must view himself as remarkable in a certain way.  John was that kind of man.  The talents, the world-view, the demanding rhythm of John’s life, began early and built one upon the other throughout his life. From snagging a job with AT&T out of high school, to relocating to Florida alone to await the Draft, to excelling in Boot Camp and being chosen for OCS, to leading the small arms instruction of countless infantrymen during the Korean Conflict, to hitching his future to the vagabond art of the auctioneer, John was no ordinary man.

He is one of the heroes of our society.  The kind of man who is counted on to do the right thing.  These are the people who have a vision for family and society.  They remind us of the mores and relational customs on which a culture is built.  He was a person who tirelessly loved and cared for others and the vision of others.  He was always happy to jump on someone else’s dream and help them along.

John will not only be missed, but there will be a hole left behind.  That’s why I challenge each of you to take his place; in your own way and in your own time.  There is a bit of John in each of you.  He loved you and lived among you for decades.  Find the best of John in you and offer it to others.  That is the best gift you can give to him . . . and to so many others who loved him and weep for his passing today.

An untitled poem by Della Doane Mockridge

‘Twas a cold afternoon as the neighbors were gathered
At a farm in the country to hear
As he stood with his cane atop an old wagon,
The chant of an old auctioneer.

As he auctioned his wares, so slow and precisely,
He’d tell of their usefulness yet.
Through perhaps they had served more than one former owner,
Still he worked for the price he could get.

An old rocking chair, the rockers worn flat,
the leather all off from the seat;
Yet, to a mother and sleepy-eyed child,
It still was a precious retreat.

Old kettles and pans, so blackened and worn,
But someone could use them, no doubt,
For out in the crowd were a scattering few
Who before had been going without.

An old cultivator, a wobbly plow,
A hayrake grown rusty with age,
A couple old forks and a battered old hoe,
For “the book” they had written a page.

These various things, to the old auctioneer,
Were but items to auction away;
To get for the owner the best that he could,
Thus completing his task for the day.

But to those who were selling, there wasn’t a chance
That a payment received would compare
With the value of memories held in their hearts
Of the old auctioneer and his wares.

John was the kind of man who “valued the memories held in their hearts.”  No auction was ever ordinary to him, no person he ever met was common, and no service he ever provided was ever mundane.


Father, treat us openly and equally today as people who need you so very much as we grieve the death of both a husband,  father, grandfather and friend. 

We’re not praying through a church, a pastor or a priest.  Each one of us is coming to you right now on our own.  We want to believe you are listening and will answer our prayer.

        Be with Cheryl in the quiet of the night when her mind is filled with questions.  Wrap your arms around her and remind her she is not alone.

        Let the kids know that you are a Dad too; that your children are loved worldwide and specifically as well.  Remind them they can cast their grief on you and you will walk come to their aid.

        The grandkids need to be reminded often of granddad.  Lord, remind us he watches over them.

        The rest of us, Lord; remind us this family needs us today, tomorrow, next month and next year. 

        Thanks for listening Lord.  I believe you’re going to answer these prayers.  I also believe each of us feels a bit closer to you for having prayed.


Posted by: Norm | October 25, 2013

Pin-Up Girl

His gnarled hand he placed on the crown of the casket.  Immobile, it held a tension only his eyes and tears would reflect.  For a moment he almost touched, once again, the face of 65 years of faith and love.

Later, he showed me her photo.  She was ‘pin-up’ beautiful.  She should have been discovered at a drugstore at Hollywood and Vine.  Instead, she built this life with him; never wanting anything more, disdaining anything less. He will see her just as she was then when he nods off at night and when he wakes at morn.

The broken and painful body has been given away.  She’s again young and fine and dancing and as giggly as she ever could be.  Dating and Christmas’s and births and savory aromas of a kitchen fueled by love will be his confidants in days to come.

This new hero of mine, deeply into his eyes I see.  This man who loved her well for all those sixty years, the decades melt away.  His body is broken, just as his beloved’s was.  His is supported by sheer tenacity and a humble cane.  But those glistening eye, tell me and the world, once more, she’s healed now.

Posted by: Norm | October 25, 2013

Kindergarten Suffering

Some people say suffering is a relative thing.

I have friends who have died of malicious cancers, so ugly and cruel the memory of them still affects me. I’ve seen the results of homicide and stupid decisions in automobiles that have forever altered families. I’ve wept with moms and dads and brothers and sisters at graves dug deep to hold the child of suicide. There is no end to the occurrances of suffering.

And then some fella comes along and says something like, “God must been on vacation yesterday, I burned the oatmeal at breakfast, got off late to work and lost my favorite parking spot near the door, forgot my lunch and had to nibble on yesterday’s half-a-sandwich, I was told my bonus check won’t be here ’til next Wednesday, the cleaners was closed when I got there and my car didn’t start to get me home. So there I sat, in the dark waiting for AAA to come and help. Yeah, there are times God doesn’t care.”

It’s not suffering that’s relative. It’s our definition of it. Most of what we “suffer” over is a self-diagnosed case of inconvenience.

Posted by: Norm | October 12, 2013

Hood-Spencer and Hart, Shaffner & Marx

I had several suits growing up.  All were from J. C. Penney and were functional.  Suits were worn to church, funerals, weddings, junior high dances and an occasional visit to my old-maid, great-aunt Effie’s Victorian home where tea and extremely small cookies were always served in late afternoon.

These suits were always purchased under the watchful eye of Mr. Sutton at J. C. Penney’s.  The manager, and member of our church, Mr. Sutton always wore a suit to work.  My mother trusted him to lay out a couple rudimentary choices and make sure they met our budget.

One day, around Christmas of my Freshman year in college, my dad announced at the dinner table, “Ena Fern, it’s time Norman had a good suit.”  Of course mom offered, “He hasn’t outgrown the last one yet.”

“Tomorrow morning,” dad replied, “Norm and I are going down to Hood-Spencer to get a Hart, Shaffner and Marx.”

Dad had one.  It had replaced another HS&M several years earlier.  He viewed a suit by this manufacturer as the best suit money could buy.

Just the thought of entering Hood-Spencer Clothing was a brain rush.

The haberdashery always smelled nice.  I would learn later it was the aroma of a cologne for men.

There ought to be more to this tale, but there isn’t.  The most I can say is this.  Hood-Spencer Clothiers was a benchmark on my way to becoming an adult.  Following that first experience, I entered the domain of “the best” many times again.  Eventually Mr. Hood and Mr. Spencer would become friends. I would stop by when back in Junction City for years to come.  I will always remember them as the gentlemen who welcomed a boy to their shop and sent him out as a man.

Posted by: Norm | October 12, 2013

Getting Away With It

I remember once saying something to Johnny Hubbard and he smacked me in the face.  We tussled for all of 20 seconds before a teacher broke up the fight.

I guess I carried that with me for a long time.  It certainly came to mind from time to time when I was wont to make a smart-ass remark to someone.  It also came to mind when I told my boys not to fight someone who was enraged.  You most likely won’t win if you have to fight someone who has good reason to be mad and good reason to take it out on you.  I once saw a little guy, but more importantly a jealous husband, deck a big fella at a Little League baseball game over touching his wife.

One night, perhaps a decade or so ago, after the Chiefs had soundly beaten the Raiders, I went to the Kansas City blog  and watched the fans go toe to toe with Raider fans.  Since I had never been on such a chat before, I was AMAZED at the way people were talking to one another.  It was war in the trenches.  No logic, few facts, but plenty of character assassination.   Someone said something I thought I had a smart-ass response for and it took me a minute or so to work up the courage to type it in.  Then I did and actually held my heart in my throat waiting for someone to lambast me, diminish me and put me in my place.  There were a few yucks.  But mainly I got away with it.

That’s the worst thing that can happen to a person in such a situation.  I got away with it!!  No consequences; no being held up to any sort of standard at all.  I learned the first terrible lesson of the chatroom, the blog or a personal response to articles and news.  There are little  (99.99% of the time) or no consequences to being and showing yourself to be an ass.

Therein lies the reason why millions of people, daily, talk trash to one another.

In my opinion, the internet has done more to dismantle a genteel society than any other social event in the history of the world.

If Cain killed Abel because Abel worshiped  God better than he . . .

If Grog  killed Mord for spilling Grog’s yak milk . . .

If a Pope sent more troops to Jerusalem because the Muslims defiled the Holy City . . .

If the Master of the Orphanage rapped Oliver across the knuckles for asking for more gruel . . .

If Billy the Kid shot a man dead because the man called him a liar and horse-thief . . .

There were immediate consequences.

Today the Bullies show up in chat-rooms and say what they like and there are no consequences.

You can’t take it seriously.

You can’t take it personal.

Older Posts »