Archive for the 'Motivational' Category

“Follow My Path”

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I “got away from it all” this past weekend at one of the growing number of religious retreats organized and led by the lay members of congregations. For Protestants, “The Walk To Emmaus” is a popular program of this type, while Catholics may attend similar sessions called ACTS (for Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service). What these and other such spiritual getaways have in common are a peer-run opportunity for reflection and renewal. (Lev Shalom, which is Hebrew for “heart peace,” has a related goal, but is led by rabbis).

Over a period of 60+ hours, veterans of previous weekends who were otherwise ordinary husbands and fathers like me (the ladies go to separate gatherings) shared their insights and testimonies with us new guys – who are known as “retreatants” or “pilgrims,” depending on the program. All of the stories touched me, but none more than the farmer who told of the joy he found as a small boy, riding on the tractor with his dad. Ultimately the day came when his father made the first few circuits of a field, then moved to one side and invited his son to sit behind the wheel. The son asked “What should I do?” And the patient father pointed at the rows already sown and replied, “Just follow my path.”

Those four words had an immediate and tangible impact on the crowd, dads and Believers (or at least Seekers), all. Ironically, in the discussion that followed, I got the impression that our presenter may not have realized their profundity. To him, he was just quoting what his own dad had said.

But the truth is, our children, students, and those who work for us do follow our paths, learning by our example. The challenge for us is to be sure that the lessons we teach are good, and are the ones we intended. And for that, we have examples of our own to guide us. The Torah, Bible, Koran, and Tao each offer lessons in following our Father’s path. (in fact – one common translation of “Tao” is: “path.”)

Weekend retreats “out of town” aren’t required for re-dedication. But – sometimes – the best way to find the right path is to get off the beaten one. I am so glad that I did.

How A Melody “For Just One Night” Has Lasted 190 Years

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

190 years ago today, Father Josef Mohr had a musical/mouse problem. Rodents had chewed through the leather bellows of the pump organ at his tiny Church of St. Nicholas in the village of Oberndorff, high up in the Austrian Alps. The hymns of his Christmas Eve midnight mass would have to be sung a capella. The organ was going to be silent.

Unfortunately for Father Joe, he had chosen this particular Christmas Eve to write a poem which he hoped to have the church organist, Franz Gruber, accompany. When Franz told him about the busted bellows, the good father was so disappointed that Gruber made a very unusual suggestion for that day and age. It seems his wife had recently given him a guitar, and he could now – sometimes – play 4 chords (which, when you think about it, is more than Elvis needed for two decades.)

At Fr. Joe’s urging, Franz agreed to compose a simple little melody that would would suffice for this one Christmas Eve. Next year, when the organ was working again, he promised to create something lasting, grand, and glorious.

And so it was – on December 24th, 1818 – the congregation of the Church of St. Nicholas first heard Gruber’s temporary tune. It must have made a wonderful impression – the congregation has continued the tradition of singing the hymn to guitar accompaniment every Christmas Eve since.)

Over the next 25 years, the song spread, but not the story of its creation. Ultimately, it was published in sheet music form throughout Europe. But every version listed its composers as “Anonymous,” “Traditional,” or “Unknown.”

Then, in 1843, a music salesman stopped in at the tiny church in Oberndorff. Even after all those years, Franz Gruber was still the organist and choir master. As Franz thumbed through a folio of the salesman’s songs, he was astonished to see his melody prominently displayed. Only then did he learn that his simple little tune had become famous. And only then could we know that this beloved Christmas musical treasure was written at a moment when desperation and inspiration collided head-on.

And an organist with no organ to play (and only 4 chords on his guitar) lovingly crafted a melody “for one night” that we still sing every Christmas season: “Silent Night.”

Thanks To Henry VIII For A Christmas Not-So Favorite

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

One of the holiday tunes I have traditionally least enjoyed playing is “The 12 Days Of Christmas.”

Long before we ever get to those “lords a-leaping” and “maids a-milking,” I’ve always been pretty well ready to move on to “Deck The Halls.” But – it turns out – there is much more to this song than meets the ear.

Henry VIII’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn led the Catholic monarch to form a new, official state church cleverly called “The Church Of England.” After searching throughout his realm for someone qualified to lead his fledgling religious undertaking, Henry chanced to look in a mirror – saw himself – and knew he’d found his man.

Thus began 100 years of Catholic persecution in Britain. Many of the faithful left the country. But others went underground, becoming nominally Anglican (but really closet-Catholics.) In order to teach their children the catechism without being outed as “papists,” they wrote a ditty which carefully hid religious instruction between the lines.

The “true love” who bestows all these wonderful gifts is God. But why “a partridge in a pear tree?” Well – any bird will fuss if you come too close to her nest, but partridges will sacrifice their lives for their young. Picture Jesus on a tree.

The two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, three French hens (gifts fit for a king) are gold, frankincense, and myrrh, while those four calling birds are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

And on it goes, including the Beatitudes, faithful disciples, and Days of Creation – if you know how to decode the lyrics.

Now that I have a basic understanding of the inventiveness (and faithfulness) of these poor people whose only sin was being on the wrong side of Henry’s libido, I don’t have the heart to call their song my least favorite any more.

So – for now – that bumps “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” up to Number 1 on my Yuletide Yuk List. (That is, until someone convinces me that Grandma represents traditional values, while the reindeer stands for the crass commercialization of Christmas, run amok.)

“The ANGELS Make It Possible, Dad.”

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

As a kid growing up in North Texas, I had the great fortune to be in viewing range of what was then WBAP-TV, Channel 5. The weatherman at that station was Harold Taft. Every Christmas Eve, he would have the camera zoom in on the radar, where I could see that Santa – in an extremely low-tech sleigh – was headed straight for my house. It was magic, and is one of my many wonderful Christmas memories.

By the time our son Erik was born, that magic was gone from the local newscasts – a fact which became glaringly obvious to me the Christmas that Erik was 4. He and I were watching the evening news together, both snuggled into my easy chair. A Ted Baxter-type (which is a meaningless cultural reference for those of you too young to remember the Mary Tyler Moore TV show) began to prattle about a current wire service story calculating how little time Santa would have to stop at each house in the world – even if he used the time zones in his favor. As I recall, he claimed that St. Nick would have less than 1/100th of a second per house.

At this awful news, Erik got up from the chair and went off by himself to ponder the implications. Meanwhile, I contemplated the scathing letter I was going to write the talking head from TV. But soon, Erik was back, and he had experienced an epiphany – a “Eureka!” moment of crystal clarity – that made my wrath at the news anchor vanish completely.

“Dad,” he said. “Since Santa is friends with God and Jesus, and the angels work for God, I’ll bet that – at Christmas – Santa asks God if he can borrow His angels to help him deliver presents to all those kids around the world who would never get one if Santa had to work alone. It’s the angels that make it possible.”

I congratulated him on arriving at the only possible answer, and told him that he absolutely had to be right. I may have neglected to mention that the reason I was so sure of this was that the angels at our house need about 4 hours to put a bicycle together. (We’re not very good at that 1/100th of a second thing.)

I had thought the magic of the season was gone forever. But that’s because I’d been looking at Christmas through my eyes, not my 4-year old’s. Now that I know where (and how) to look, there is Christmas magic everywhere. So the next time holiday stresses rob you of your Yuletide joy, spend a moment seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child.

They see the angels all around us that you and I sometimes overlook.

A Thanksgiving Gift I Didn’t Deserve (But Surely Did Appreciate)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I’ve always been a bit of the absent-minded professor – the guy who can spontaneously discourse on the Second Punic War, with my zipper all the way down.

So it came as absolutely no surprise to me this week when I lost my wallet – again. I chronically leave my wallet and/or cellphone at the grocery store cashier’s stand, but usually catch my mistake before leaving the parking lot. Or I will be at the gas station or airport, only to discover my wallet is on my dresser at home.

This week, however, I outdid myself. For reasons too stupid to explain, I set my wallet on top of the car – forgot about it – then drove off. I made it to my destination, buy my wallet didn’t.

When I realized my boneheaded error, I flashed on all those radio ads offering protection against identity theft. (It probably doesn’t work after your wallet is gone.) I canceled all my credit cards, and was planning a trip to the driver’s license bureau, when my phone rang.

A construction worker had found my wallet, lying in a busy street. At some peril to himself, he picked it up. Not being fluent in English, he gave it to his supervisor, who then called me. Within the hour, I had it back – safe and sound.

So – the next time somebody tells me how rotten the world is today – I’ll respond that my wallet came back to me, thanks to the honesty of two guys I didn’t even know. Either of them could have helped themselves to a free tank of gas at my expense (or a trip to Australia). Or, they could have simply done nothing. Instead, not one, but two different strangers re-confirmed the brotherhood we all share. Their selflessness made this Thanksgiving extra sweet at our house.

I am one lucky knot-head. And even I can remember that!

Validation Is Always Appreciated – Even Belatedly

Monday, October 6th, 2008

As a kid, my every trip to the dentist resulted in the discovery of new cavities, which then required new fillings, which then led to a new guilt trip for me. Mom and Dad were pretty nice about it, but it was clear that they believed I wasn’t brushing and/or flossing properly often enough. In time, I came to believe it too.

Then – when I was in my late 20s – a more sophisticated, “big-city” dentist discovered the real culprit: enamel hypoplasia. My lower teeth, which had normal enamel, were grinding away my uppers – which had none. All the brushing and flossing in the world wouldn’t have made any difference – it was like granite rubbing against chalk (and my chalky uppers lost that battle, every time.)

I can’t tell you what a load off my mind it was to be told – even two decades after the fact – that I’d been a “good brusher” all the time. My childhood dentist simply hadn’t recognized the symptoms. (Of course – in the Gainesville, Texas of the 50s and 60s – enamel hypoplasia was not exactly routine.)

But I wasn’t mad at him, or at anyone. I was just so relieved to learn that I hadn’t been the source of the problem. While it would be a gross exaggeration to say that the number of my dental fillings constituted a major crisis for me, it was still very nice to be validated as a brusher, years later.

My wife Gina had a similar experience today. Without going into a lot of detail (it’s her story – if she wants you to hear it, she’ll tell you), let me just say that she also received a belated vindication regarding problems she had encountered with a co-worker at a former job. And – even though she has long since moved on emotionally from that trying time – I could tell that Gina found the validation to be sweet.

One of my favorite commercials of recent years has the now-middle-aged John McEnroe ringing the doorbell of a retired umpire, who had clashed with the “Bad Boy” of Professional Tennis back in the 70s. Somewhat lamely, Johnny Mac tells the wary ex-ump that “there’s a chance you didn’t blow that call” 30 years before. McEnroe then hugs his startled former-nemesis. It’s a funny spot, but it also catches an essential truth: telling someone “You were right, and I was wrong” confers a blessing on both the receiver and the giver.

What in life ever makes us feel better, than when we validate someone as a good person? It’s good for their soul, and for ours.

Rejecting The Three Big Rejection Traps

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

“The boy will come to nothing.” (Jakob Freud, father of Sigmund)

“We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.” (Decca Records, rejecting the Beatles in 1962)

“Balding. Can’t act. Can’t sing. Dances a little.” (Warner Bros. talent scout, on Fred Astaire)

Have you ever experienced Rejection from a loved one or colleague? If not, be patient – your time is coming.

I won’t go so far as to say that Rejection and I are old friends, but we are acquaintances of long standing. And if I’ve learned one thing from the experience, it is that you and I are making 3 big mistakes when we accept another person or group’s Rejection as a universal truth about ourselves.

Here’s what I mean: I have a beautiful wife and a wonderful son whom I love more than life itself. But I wouldn’t have known either of them these past two decades, if the first Mrs. Tanner hadn’t traded me in.

Nor would I have worked with the same group of musicians for the past 28 years, unless my previous band had kicked me out.

You see, just because I wasn’t right for somebody doesn’t mean that I’m wrong for everybody. So, our first big mistake is to give those who reject us the power to define how we view ourselves.

Our second mistake comes when – in order to forestall rejection – we attempt to become all things to all people. Or – as Bill Cosby so eloquently phrased it: “I don’t know what the key to Success is, but the key to Failure is trying to please everyone.”

When you decide against a particular pair of new shoes, they may simply be a bad fit. Likewise, we don’t fit in with every person or group. But that has as much to do with who the others are as it does with ourselves. All we can – or should – do is to be true to ourselves, while striving to always do right by others.

Does this mean we should not be open to constructive advice from the people in our lives? Not at all. But – as Donald Trump advises – “Consider the source. Should this person’s opinion matter to you? If so, take a few minutes to consider if you can learn anything helpful from the criticism.”

While you evaluate the gap between how you picture yourself and how certain others view you, try to avoid Mistake Number Three – selling yourself short. Remember the immortal words of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who said: “It is too early for a Polish pope.” (Two days later, he became John Paul II.)

My Role Model? Don Quixote!

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Most folks view Don Quixote, Cervantes’ skinny knight in rusty home-made armor, as an object of scorn and ridicule. Not me. I have known for years that he was actually the only one who was sane on the plain in Spain. Let others equate “tilting at windmills” with futility. I know better.

Why? Because Quixote – as performed by Richard Kiley in Man Of La Mancha – sang the words that changed my life:
To dream The Impossible Dream / To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow / To run where the brave dare not go…

And so on, all the way down to:
And the world will be better for this / That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage / To reach the unreachable star!

That’s powerful writing – especially considering that it came from the guy who gave us the immortal, “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.”

The Impossible Dream came into my life at a time when I was first beginning to consider a career as a performer. Full-time professional entertainers/role models were few and far between in my home town of Gainesville, TX (population 13,000.) Encouragement was in even shorter supply. Even my own mother – still scarred by growing up in the Great Depression – despaired
at my embarking on the pothole-filled road of a musician’s life. It would have been easy to grow discouraged and abandon my own dream as “impossible.” But Quixote/Kiley and that danged song wouldn’t let me quit. Forty years later, I’m still tilting at windmills (and I’m determined to get the best of them yet)!

I recently came across a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that I wish I’d known, all those years ago. She said, “The future belongs to those that believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Were you a Beautiful Dreamer once, until somebody talked “sense” into you? Or are you still one today – with as-yet unrealized hopes of learning a foreign language, or of playing the piano, or seeing the world? If so, then listen up: I followed my dream, and you can do the same! But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what some real achievers have to say to you:

Elijah Wood of the Lord Of The Rings movies says it this way: “Dream the impossible, because dreams do come true.”

From New York Life President Darwin Kingsley: “You have powers you never dreamed of. So do not think you cannot. Think you can!”

To which the ever-quotable Winston Churchill would add: “Never, never, never, never give up!” (“Never” 4 times in a row? – I think Winnie was trying to tell us something!)

But the Most Eloquent Spokesman Award must go to Christopher Reeve, who said: “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then improbable, but then – when we summon the will – they soon become inevitable.”

And that’s the recipe for inevitable success: Take 1 Impossible Dream, mix well with a generous helping of Will and a dash of Positive Attitude, then bake it with Persistence.

You won’t even need to add icing. It’s already the sweetest dish you will ever taste.

“No One Is Listening – Until You Make A Mistake!”

Monday, September 15th, 2008

As a professional speaker, I am only too well-aware of the bitter taste of my own toes. “Open mouth/insert foot” is a hazard of the trade for any of us who jabber for a living.

Case in point: Democrat Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden recently asked a dignitary in the audience to “stand up,” momentarily forgetting that the luminary in question is confined to a wheelchair. Some laughed at Senator Biden’s mistake. I merely offered a silent prayer of thanks that was not me who uttered that gaffe.

My verbal boo-boos over the years include citing the wrong book of the Bible for a quotation – to a group of ministers – as well as introducing featured vocalist Guy Mitchell (whose hits included Singing The Blues) as “Guy Williams” (who played Zorro for Disney when I was a kid.)

I have a lot of company. Senator Edward Kennedy stumbled over the name of a young colleague from Illinois, asking the crowd to welcome “Osama Obama.” And Depression-Era Texas Governor Miriam A. (“Ma”) Ferguson once thoroughly confused a group of journalists who wanted to know her position on bi-lingual education, by responding that her opposition was Scriptural: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas!”

My reaction to such moments is to want to crawl under my bed and never come out again. I always feel that my credibility is irrevocably destroyed. But George Bernard Shaw took a more benign view, saying “A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.”

Albert Einstein added, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Shaw and Einstein were considered to be pretty smart guys. So maybe you and I should give ourselves “permission” to be human (as in “to err is…”).

Cutting ourselves some slack can even prevent future flubs. TV’s The Apprentice”-winner Bill Rancic advises us that “Sulking about your mistakes only leads to future ones.”

Nina Coleman, editor of the Friar’s Club Bible Of Roasts And Toasts suggests that we go a step further, and act like the goofs were intentional. She says, “If there is a piece of spinach between your teeth or a scrap of toilet paper trailing from your shoe, pretend you know it’s there and you did it for effect. Works every time.”

Finally, take heart in knowing that the vast majority of our oral foul-ups fall far short of Harry Von Zell’s most famous blooper. On coast to coast radio in the 1930s, the young announcer had the honor of introducing no less than the President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. The normally unflappable Von Zell said into the nationally-connected microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, Hoo-bert Hee-ver.”