Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Cadillac and the Optimist

Definition of OPTIMISM

: an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome

The gleam in this elderly salesman’s eyes and the flash of his shark-like teeth as he hungrily appraised us revealed the heartless soul of a trained “closer”,  a man who would settle at nothing but a sale!!!  

Used-car sales people are not overly subtle, but this man’s appetite for a big sale was undoubtedly whetted by the comment of this prospective customer saying he wanted… what? TWO Cadillacs??!!!   Optimism and confidence radiated from this sales professional.

Standing in the Used Car Lot of a Huntington Beach CA. Cadillac dealer, I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake by revealing my intent too early in the game.  Having just returned to the United States after a number of years in the Middle East, we needed two cars, something really nice in used, low mileage vehicles.

My wife, Gail,  found a nice older Coupe deVille with low mileage, a butterscotch color… nice but not too exciting.   

That yellow two-door Coupe deVille hardtop with the brown leather interior, front and center on the car lot, had my name written all over it. I drooled over that car, the spotless paint job, its low mileage, obviously well-kept and probably driven by a little old schoolteacher who didn’t spend weekends as a NASCAR driver.  

The scene shifts, some time later a new position opened up and we would be moving.  On our initial driving trip from the Los Angeles area to Houston for a house-hunting trip we decided to drive my baby, the Yellow Dream.  Even after two years the car was still my dream car and it was running like a top.

On our second day of the trip, as we approached a small town just after entering  New Mexico she started running funny, intermittent misfires, engine losing power momentarily and then catching back on.   The stretch of Interstate 10 through New Mexico is rather long and lonely and we decided to stop and have the car looked at.  It failed one last time, gave its last gasp as I drifted in to what looked like the only service station in town. Matter of fact it, looked like about the only thing in town other than a small motel and restaurant just down the street.

The taciturn service station attendant, known as Eugene, the only person present, offered that he was the “mechanic on duty”.  “What’s the problem?” he asked,  with a remote indifference.   After a brief description of what we were experiencing, Eugene, slowly got up, strolled over to get a

mechanics “creeper” and and rolled under the car.  At that point I knew we were in trouble.  I had described the engine trouble we had experienced but Eugene and his trusty Creeper rolled under the back of the car to have a look.  I’m not an accredited mechanic but I do know  where the engine is, and it isn’t in the back of the car.   Things were not looking good.

Eugene finally got up and popped the hood.  After some poking, spitting tobacco juice, more looking, more spitting, a little scratching of the head, Eugene pronounced that we needed some “parts”, which apparently could only come from some far distant place and would arrive “tomorrow” on the daily Greyhound bus.  He recommended that we get a room at the hotel just down the street.  As we slowly made our way to our overnight lodging, we were alone on the deserted street except for the tumbleweed, rolling swiftly ahead of the dry, dusty, desert wind, the scene reminiscent of an old western movie..   Ever the Optimist, I encouraged my wife to see the bright side, we were safe, not stranded on the road and there was a small bar and restaurant next to the hotel.  I was sure everything would work out just fine.

Glowing with a renewed sense of Optimism we freshened up and walked next door to the restaurant.  The entrance led directly into the Bar and in the dim light it was hard to see clearly, but we could make out the features of the two swarthy, Native American men, large western hats shading their unsmiling, sun ravaged faces, both turning to give us a blank stare, as if to say, “What are you doing in our town”? 

We took seats a few stools away.   It was a very small place so we couldn’t get very far distant.  While Gail reached for the menu, I quickly refreshed my memory, going over one more time the recommended steps from the “Fight or Flight for Dummies” book I had read recently, just in case things went downhill.

One of the men slowly turned towards me and said, in a dull, unfriendly voice “What are you doing here”?  Summoning up my bravest command voice,  I replied, “Well our car broke down.  We won’t be here long.  We are driving to Houston, where I just got a new position at Brown and Root, an international engineering and construction company."  Well.... at that they both jumped off their stools and came over!   We became instant friends as we shook hands and they pounded me on the back.   In the Mother of All Coincidences, it turned out that they too were “Rooters”, a slang name for Brown & Root employees, and were temporarily assigned to this outpost working a project some miles south of town.  The tension broke, they hadn’t been mean thugs after all, and the fear and suspicion was in my own thinking!!  Optimism was renewed.   Now relaxed, Gail and I enjoyed a nice dinner.

The next day wasn’t good for Optimism.  Eugene had bad news.   The parts didn't make it onto the Greyhound and it would be still another day...  another night in the small motel, the one with the inadequate bed, inadequate shower and the 4" TV screen.

Greyhound came through, the necessary parts finally arrived, and Eugene "streaked" into action.  But, alas, the new parts didn’t fix the problem.  We don't know what Eugene did but it didn't work.  At this point a command decision was made to tow the car to Deming NM to an authorized Cadillac dealer.  The tow truck arrived and Gail and I took a very expensive taxi ride to Deming, since there were no car rentals in town. 

Well, apparently due to the things that Eugene had done to the car, when the Deming mechanic tried to start the car it burst into flames.  Now more parts were required, a new wiring harness and more electrical system components had to be replaced.  Sure, these were additional  delays but I was Optimistic that the Dealer would be able to fix things.   At least the motel here was a step up. 

Finally, on the road again, Houston bound, with everything fixed, Yellow Dream was running fine… for a while.  But then…    electrical system problems started cropping up… the electric windows weren’t operating properly, then radio quit working, turn signals… kaput.   As we pulled into El Paso Texas I saw a billboard for a Cadillac Dealer and decided to make a stop, no confidence in making it farther down the road.

As we pulled off the Interstate and drove into town Gail spotted the dealership.   As I turned to look,   I could almost see the sign, it wasn’t far, less than a block away, but somehow my vision was impaired… wonder where that smoke is coming from… NOOO!!  My beautiful car was  on fire... AGAIN.   Jumping out of the car as it came to a stop at the curb, my Optimism vanished.    My Yellow Dream was at an end.

We walked a half a city block to the Cadillac dealership and were met by a salesman as we walked onto the lot.  He had the same gleam in the eyes, same shark-like toothy smile, same Optimistic glow, apparently a standard uniform for salesmen of this particular brand of car.  Very humbly I said, “I need to buy a car”.  “Do you have a trade-in?” he asked politely.

Pointing down the street I said, as Optimistically as possible, under the circumstances, “I do indeed. Do you see the car on fire down there?  That’s her.”  So... with minimal credit for a trade-in,  we bought another Cadillac.

But about Optimism.  A month or so later, I received a call from… Eugene.   He wondered when I was going to pay the $128 charge I owed him for destroying my car at his shop.  

I took off my hat, bowed my head in respect… I was talking to a GENUINE OPTIMIST!!!   

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fifty Year History of an Important Letter - Do You Remember?

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." King was jailed for campaigning against racial segregation in Birmingham, in violation of an injunction against anyone "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing." His letter was written on the margins of a newspaper, scraps of paper that another prisoner gave to him, and then a legal pad that his attorney left behind. It has been an inspiration to millions of people; I am one of them. The letter was very long in its entirety, but here are some excerpts: 


I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly....

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet like speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiffly creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim;
….when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; 

…when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;

… when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Fun town is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky,

…and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;

…when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; 

…when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you;

…when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs.";

…when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience....

One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feet’s is tired, but my soul is at rest." 

There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience's sake. 

One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The entire, compelling letter can be seen at

As an American, this letter makes me shudder as I think back at the horrible scenes from our nation's history, the things I have personally witnessed, t
o name just a few

  • how even my own boss in the United States Air Force, Technical Sergeant Whitney, had to drive half way across the United States from California to Chicago non-stop because he and his wife couldn’t find a decent hotel that would let them stay; 
  • how one of my employees, dark sinned but married to a very pale white woman were refused service in a restaurant in Mississippi as he served an assignment for my company; 
  • how, while in charge of a small contingent of airmen on a trip from Texas to Mississippi I found the black men in my squad couldn’t enter a New Orleans, LA restaurant with the white men. Of course none of us ate there, but I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. 

The picture is somewhat better now, but still played out in some form or fashion all over the world to this day.
This Reverend King, sitting in a small cell, unjustly imprisoned, writes from the heart. How prophetic are his views of the changes that would take place in the near future and indeed the scenes have changed somewhat. 

The cast of players differs as black Americans are slowly gaining respect and equality, even now holding offices as President of the U.S.A., as influential members of Congress, heads of corporations, industry leaders and champions of social justice, but there still remain other horrible scenes similar to those as described by Dr. King.

Now intolerance has taken on new masks, those of religious intolerance, political antagonism to the point of hatred, mindless sexual abuse, discrimination against individuals due to gender preferences, and the ongoing threat of nation against nation. 

May we all quietly consider Dr. King's message, and consider how it relates to far more than racial injustice, and, as actively as we can, counter the tendencies toward hatred, intolerance and violence, through prayer and our own actions. His model of active resistance is one for us to admire and emulate. 

It appears that we need to respond with deep compassion and feeling to the question posed in the Bible: 
Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? Malachai 2 

And to its reassurance that: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galations 3:28

And religious pioneer, Mary Baker Eddy, in her Bible companion book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, encourages us to move forward in her statement:   "Jesus marked out the way. Citizens of the world, accept the “glorious liberty of the children of God,” and be free! This is your divine right.

For those who have inquired about the book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, referenced in some of my articles, here’s the information. This book is used in Bible study by students of Christian Science and people of many different faiths.

It explains the scientific laws behind the teachings and healings of Christ Jesus. From the first chapter, “Prayer,” to her exegeses of Genesis and Revelation, the author invites readers to deeply consider the allness of God, the perfection of man as God's spiritual creation, and how an understanding of these facts brings healing—just as it did in biblical times. For over 135 years, readers have testified that reading and studying this book has given them a spiritual sense of the Bible and their permanent relationship to God, and has also resulted in physical healing and spiritual uplift. For more information or to purchase this book, click here.

Monday, May 13, 2013


I could just picture Pastor Dave sitting on the plane, bouncing along in the turbulence, trying to keep his Bible and work papers on his lap as he sat strapped in his seat.

Dave, a featured speaker at our Toastmaster’s meeting was describing a recent flight to the East Coast from his home in California.   

As his story unfolded we found that he had been sitting next to an elderly lady, apparently on her first flight. He had engaged in polite conversation with her but after reaching altitude and heading out over the Rockies he opened his Bible and began to work on this sermon for the next Sunday.

We were captivated as Dave described how, after a short while, the plane began to rock in the turbulence, the vibration becoming stronger each minute.  Even though they were at cruising altitude the plane encountered very rough turbulence and began to shake violently. The lady grabbed Dave’s arm, held on tightly and seeing his Bible and paperwork said, Young man are you a minister. Dave smiled and said, “Why, yes, I am”.   She said, “Well can’t you do something about this turbulence?”   Dave responded patiently, “No Mam, you see I am in Sales, not Operations.”   Brief pause and everyone in the place collapsed with laughter. That Dave, quite a guy.

He had held us all in suspense as the story built and the  effect was lasting.  Haven’t we all, like the little lady,  had those “white knuckle” experiences?    Haven’t we yearned for the “Operations” department instead of the “Sales” department when we are in trouble?  

Oh, the Sales Force is all over the place.  “Here’s a pill that will fix you.”  “With painless surgery we can fix your back, front, head, toe, grow hair, eyelashes!!”   “This new plan can get you out of foreclosure.”  “Your baldness will disappear in two weeks.”   “Our new Dating site will help you find a spouse.”     I even once knew an automobile salesman that had a bright red tie with the words “TRUST ME” emblazoned on the front!!  But really, Whom do we trust?

Over the years I have flown a lot, sometimes several flights a week, and experienced those moments of concern, and frankly have come to rely on Operations more than Sales, the operation of God’s unfailing laws of good!!!

As I would leave the office on rainy, dreary days sometimes my colleagues would bemoan the weather and feel sorry for me because of the poor flying weather. “White Knuckle Day” they would say.    "Gee Pat, lousy day for flying.  I bet you hate it."  Whether raining or snowing, with dreary, low clouds, dark skies and even worse weather threatening...  I DIDN'T dislike it!!

I loved the anticipation, the  EXPECTATION of freedom, coming out "On Top".  I well remember the feeling I often had as the pilot released the brakes, engines spooled up and we took off, speeding down the runway in the rain or snow, climbing up into the dark and threatening clouds lowering over the airport.  I would be glued to the window, watching intently.    Then, all at once... BRILLIANT SUNSHINE  as we broke out On Top!!  WOW.   You know, it had been there all the time, beautiful blue sky all around, sunlight shimmering off of the tops of the clouds we had just climbed through, while below things had looked bleak, dark and threatening.   The expectation had paid off. 

I think the experience was a constant reminder that we will
 always come out “On Top” if we maintain that Expectation of Good, the Trust that our lives are governed by God, good.  Not a Pollyanna,  sense of goody-goody naivete , but a growing understanding that in reality, life is spiritual and that good only is going on.      

In life, we are often faced with turbulence, in our home and workplace, dark clouds of worry, a rainy financial outlook perhaps, fear for our health or that of a loved one,  and the feeling of being helpless or far from a solution.    We may be entangled in the fog of thinking that we are just mortal beings with a limited life span, fearing that there are  “no guarantees”, facing a myriad of uncertainties, limping along in a fragile temporary existence.  But when we begin to understand that, in fact, we are pure, spiritual ideas of God, reflecting His presence, right here and now, we can establish that trust that is promised in the Bible, in Proverbs where we are encouraged to:  ¶ ”Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. “ Proverbs 3:5-6.    

Now, is this counsel to TRUST or EXPECT good  just a few verses from an old book, or is it a living promise, a fact that was demonstrated thousands of years ago and countless times since then? 

The problems of Centuries ago were pretty much like they are today, some really “trying” days reaching from Abraham’s time through the period  when Jesus and his disciples lived, and up until today.  There were health problems, family squabbles, poverty, government oppression or failure, hunger, the ravages of sinful living, worries and responsibilities, all the dark and gloomy suggestions that the human situation can throw at us.

BUT… Jesus’ own understanding that life is spiritual, that we are not just clay objects with a limited mind,  but actually reflections of the Mind that is God, enabled him to bring healing and relief to those who came to him for help. 

Filled with expectation, folks that were deep in the dark clouds of dismay, fear and hopelessness came to him,  looking to climb out of the turbulent atmosphere to find healing.  Lepers came, and invalids, blind and deaf seekers, women with lifelong illness, even the desperate parents of dying children.  They came with Expectation, eagerly looking out of the window of thought, longing  to break through On Top, to see the sunlight, the beautiful blue sky of healing and happiness.  And they DID!! And we can too, as we look to the lessons that Jesus taught and lived. 

The Bible accounts of his presence, his deeply spiritual thinking, his understanding that we are spiritual beings, which prompted his Sermon on the Mount as contained in the book of Matthew, and  such quotations as: “The Kingdom of God is within you”,*  his urging to: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”**, and his encouragement for us to follow him in life practice:  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”***

It make take a little Bible reading and quiet thought,  but the answers to our problems are there for us, and they have been time tested and proven.

Current scientific research such as contained in the new book, “Biocentrism”****  by Robert Lanza, one of the most respected scientists in the world, is breaking old thought patterns based on a universe consisting of matter, and showing that spiritual life as defined by Jesus 2000 years ago is now becoming clearer to us in this day and age.      

If our flight today gets bumpy, let’s look out the window and Expect to come out On Top!  Take your seat next to the window and strap yourself in.   It’s gonna be a great flight!! 

The Bible References*      Luke 17:21                                                                               
**    Matthew 5:48
*** John 14:12 

**** Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe - Dr. John Lanza (Robert Lanza, a world-renowned scientist who has spanned many fields from drug delivery to stem cells to preventing animal extinction, and clearly one of the most brilliant minds of our times, has done it again. `A New Theory of the Universe' takes into account all the knowledge we have gained over the last few centuries ... placing in perspective our biologic limitations that have impeded our understanding of greater truths surrounding our existence and the universe around us. This new theory is certain to revolutionize our concepts of the laws of nature for centuries to come." Biocentrism will shatter the reader’s ideas of life—time and space, and even death. At the same time it will release us from the dull worldview of life being merely the activity of an admixture of carbon and a few other elements; it suggests the exhilarating possibility that life is fundamentally immortal.