The Coffee Cup

When I drink coffee at work, I have to choose from a variety of cups. Some are emblazoned with pharmaceutical advertisements, some are generic white, there is a Christmas cup with a snowman on it, and a pink cup with a heart. There is writing in the heart, but I have never read what it says. Then there is this little olive green old school vessel.

This is a 70's throw back. It reminds me of cups my grandparents had. Now you could probably find partial sets of them in Goodwill Centers, hunting camps, and anywhere misfit or otherwise outdated kitchen ware is traded.

What you drink your coffee out of says something about you. I do not want to drink out of a Diflucan cup. What would people think? Who wants to ponder yeast infections when they are drinking coffee? I won't even mention the masculinity implications. Drinking out of a generic cup, unless they are the only ones clean, scream, "I'm not interesting, please do not notice me." I might add, most of the generic cups are chipped around the rim - I hate that.

For me, it is the little olive green cup. It is so ugly that it is actually beautiful. It means something. It holds my coffee and causes a percolation of memories in my mind. I always think about my grandpa when I see this cup. His rickety brown kitchen table - standard mobile home issue comes to sharp focus in my minds eye. I think about one of our many conversations, over coffee or iced tea. A cup of coffee has become a pleasant stroll back in time.

It is funny how a little cup, ugly to anyone with good taste, can be so powerful and even loved. If it is crazy at work and there is no Calgon to take me away, this little cup will. It will take me back to happy memories of being with my grandpa. Like the little cup, he was one of a kind.

Sweet summoned memories, conjured by a little coffee cup someone no longer wanted. That is just another wonderful thing about life, one can find good things in unexpected places. Blessings, beauty, and food for the soul can arise from anything and anywhere. 

Until the next time

John Strain


Can't see the forest for the trees

It is easy to be drawn into the political debate of the day, but I want to pull back a bit and look at what is happening in the United States. 

It does little good to take a side and hurl zingers at the enemy and fend off the incoming assault of pointed words with a skillful perry. The end result is the same - two closed minds reassured in their own point of view.

I for one would like to see politicians who take their responsibility seriously. I would like to see them conduct themselves with honor. It would be nice if they would study, present ideas, listen to other points of view, and work towards compromise in order to create a "more perfect union." 

History shows us our politicians have not always lived up to the ideal I stated above. The above photo depicts an incident in 1856 when Massachusetts senator Charles Summer was beaten by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks over insults and differences of opinion about slavery. You can read more about the beating here.

Our representatives have behaved badly in the past. They are ineffectual now, and I have little hope for any positive change. Each new President campaigns on this issue and promises bipartisan cooperation, but it has not happened yet.

I am a conservative, but I will not simply blame the Democrats for this problem. That is only perpetuating the problem. If our country was run like an National Football League team, the Administrative and Legislative branches of government would have been fired long ago. The NFL expects results. Politicians need only promise results and then blame the opposition to keep their jobs.

The typical politician, with good intentions gets to Washington and learns quickly to play the game or be ejected from the machine faster than the #4 Mexican platter is ejected from a person with dysentery. That metaphor may be gross, but it is quite appropriate if you think about it.

I am tired of listening to corrupt politicians beating their chest taking credit for something they should be imprisoned for. It irks me the media has stopped being the gad fly and has become the cheerleader.

What we need is principled politicians who observe the concepts of public service, honor, accountability, hard work, dedication, and fairness. We as citizens should elect on this basis. When these people get to Washington and the good ol' boy network gives them marching orders, the new politician holds true to their ideals. They call out the corruption and name names. We the electorate then vote out the unprincipled sort and elect the opposite. Eventually, we will have assembled a body of citizens who will conduct the business of our nation with honor, humility, and gratitude.

This is not a pipe dream. It is a real possibility. Our citizens need to wake up and see what is happening. They need to demand better. 

We are a compassionate people and providing healthcare for all is something most of us want. However, price matters. Those who are charged with making our decisions need to approach the debate with open minds, and good ideas. Debate should be respectful. Fact checkers should keep people honest. 

Ideology is killing us. What will save us is higher ground. If we could transcend ideology in the absence of a 9/11 type event, great things could happen.

Remember this the next time you vote.

Until the next time

John Strain



On Monday, President Obama yelled to a crowd, "We need courage." Courage for what though? Courage implies risk. What is the risk? Who must take the risk? What is the threat one needs courage to overcome?

A bit of self-disclosure. I am a conservative in this current environment. I am not a fan of our President and I did not vote for him. I hope you read on and consider what I say if your politics are different. Our country is suffering from a lack of real debate. Ideology is trumping good sense. Rodney King's plea, "Can't we all just get along," could also be seen as a challenge. 

I am very concerned about what I see as a degeneration of the process of government. Democrats are writing a whole new chapter in the book - By Any Means Necessary. That book title is metaphoric, I don't think there is a real book by that title.

All the stops have been pulled. Never mind what polls tell us the American People want. Never mind the election in Massachusetts that wrested "Ted Kennedy's seat from Democrats, and never mind party leaders have to bribe their own to get them to vote for this bill. It does not matter. The President and the Democratic leadership want this bill and must think they know best. 

These folks are being true to their ideology. I have come to the conclusion that they are not evil, they just believe that they are right and are going to pass this bill, by any means necessary. It still feels pretty condescending though.

This irks me, because I do not believe in the "means justifies the end" philosophy. I do not think the Founding Fathers of our Nation did either. They set up a process to determine what becomes law and our current leaders are violating the spirit and intent of these methods. Loopholes are seen as found treasure instead of a siren's song.

Mr. Obama has gone "all in" with healthcare and it has fallen flat. The bill has major problems that are not even debated, because its 2,000 pages have been adopted with more devoutness than is the Bible to a Christian. The bill has been advertised not unlike the snake oil selling hucksters of yesteryear, "It's good for what ails ya." The bill was handed down from on high and was not the result of bipartisan collaboration.

That brings us to the call for courage. Our President went to Ohio to peddle his ideologic Pandora's box. He had props - someone with a health insurance horror story. The pep rally gained steam and seizing from someone's shout in the crowd, President Obama, said "We need is courage." Who is we?

We is the Democrats coming up for reelection. They know their vote is the "pushing of the red destruct button" on their career. So what is on the line that is so important? Keeping one's job. It all comes down to self-interest. Obama is saying, "Go ahead, risk it, this cause is worth it, show courage."

Why not water down another powerful word in the English lexicon. Awesome is now the way to describe good tasting french fries or a new tattoo. Now courage can stand for a selfish politician clinging to his job as a person clutches a winning lottery ticket. Long forgotten is the service to one's country the job stands for. The voters who put that individual there are gone in their minds and only staying in office remains to motivate.


When I think of courage, I think of our military men and women, who for ideology will risk their very life. Contrast them to a politician weighing the risk of a yes or no vote and I think most will agree we should use different words to illustrate those two kinds of "peril."

If our politicians had a little of what our military folks have in abundance, maybe the process would be on a higher level. True honor, courage, and patriotism has been replaced with opportunistic power grabs, and underworld tactics. 

Mr. President we really do need courage. Each American needs courage to do what is right. Courage helps us overcome our fear and confront intimidation, but we need substance. I am speaking of honor and respect for a process of government. We need to move beyond ideology and discuss what is best for the country, not what is best for one's political career.

Many have died to get us where we are now. We should ask ourselves this question. Does your life honor their sacrifice?

Until the next time

John Strain



Spring has sprung

Spring comes to CovingtonIt is a beautiful thing, especially after many dreary, cold (for us), and damp days. The arrival of spring is very welcome to this southerner. I will not try to match my winter experience with my northern friends. I concede the point that you have suffered more. Nevertheless, I dare say our spirits would soar to a common plain when we both absorb the first whisperings of winter's end.

Spring is more than a relief, it is hope of better days. Flitting memories of springtimes past are gently stirred and their memory washes over me like a warm caress. Spring is possibility and renewed energy. God's beauty explodes through the splashes of new color, sweet fragrance, and the sounds of creatures singing and scurrying about.

These things are captured in one of my favorite poems taught to me by my mother.

The Year's at the Spring

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven— 
All's right with the world! 

Robert Browning

What else can you say, except, Praise God.

Until the next time

John Strain



Lucky / Blessed

Often when people ask me what I do, they will say, "How do you listen to people's problems all day? It would drive me crazy."

That is a fair question and if I worked with battered women all the time or dealt with child abuse, I would wonder the same thing. The overall feeling I get though from dealing with people's problems, disorders, and misfortunes is gratitude.

Take unemployment for instance. When I talk to a person who lost a job and cannot find work and are experiencing the horrors of no money, the perceived problems of my own job diminish. I realize how fortunate I am to be working. I am not dealing with foreclosure. I do not have to go to food banks. I do not have to feel the pangs of not providing for my family. But for the grace of God go I. I know that my employment is possible because I worked and prepared myself, but the world is full of good people who have sacrificed to get an education, climbed the corporate ladder only to be flung off by forces beyond their control.

Sometimes people are unemployed and are in a poor position to get hired. Things like not completing high school, police records, no support, single parent, and bad credit create seemingly insurmountable barriers. For these folks I try to encourage, to inspire, to give them enough hope they respond with effort.

Many politicians pontificate about social problems, then walk back behind the curtain to wallow in luxury. They see their duty complete with reading fine speeches crafted by professional wordsmiths. The media employs pundits to argue the talking points at high decibel levels. Two people preaching to two separate choirs. The person going to the news media for education is instead entertained - or attempted to be.

The amazing ability of technology to show real time events anywhere is a blessing and a curse. The long time affect to us the viewers is insensitivity. We can watch hungry Haitians as we stuff down a pizza delivered after a few clicks on our couch side laptop. We may feel a pang of pity for them and may even text a ten dollar bill if the guilt rises high enough, but all we have to do is flip channels and we are carried away into the life and death decisions that really matter - like American Idol and Survivor.

We all decide how to help those around us. We donate money to causes or to our church, and even help people out when we see the need.

Some people feel guilty because of their wealth and want to assuage it by making everyone do what they think should be done - I am thinking about redistributing wealth. 

Here is my suggestion. Enjoy your wealth, but realize how lucky you are. Even if you worked your ass off to get it, just remember the guy working at McDonalds is working off his ass as hard as you ever have for a lot less money. So you are lucky and you are blessed and the natural response should be gratitude and humility.

Then give some of your profits to those in need and deserving of help. A clarification about help. Help is doing something for someone who cannot do it themselves. Enabling is doing something for someone who should have done it for themselves.

I do not hear politicians making a distinction between the people who have aggressively screwed up their lives through laziness, procrastination, and bad choices. They need help, but it should not be in the form of a handout. They require an opportunity. They should be shown a path, that if they travel it, will lead to the promised land.

There are people who have done everything right and still fall on bad times. It could happen to you. In the twinkling of an eye, your life could change. An accident could take away your ability to work and things could come crashing down. Your industry may fall on bad times and you could lose your job. There are good people in need there are people who hastened their demise, but are still in need. They all need help, but different kinds of help.

OK, end of rant / sermon. Enjoy peace if you have it. Be grateful, be thankful, be humble, and be charitable.

Until the next time

John Strain