Thursday, August 17, 2017

We Can Do Better

Yesterday, something really cool and increasingly rare happened on Facebook. Nineteen people gathered in one spot to discuss/debate a very hot button social issue. These nineteen people brought with them a rather wide spectrum of views on the subject at hand. How wide? Here is a brief demographic breakdown of the participants:

A widely respected attorney from Bon Air, who once served as a groomsman at my wedding.

A newly minted young attorney who was once one of many knuckleheads in the youth group of my former church.

Some random friend of the Bon Air attorney.

My son, the shockingly opinionated young musician from Nashville.

My daughter, the gifted educator from South Carolina.

Some random friend of my son.

Another knucklehead from the youth group, who played college football.

Yet another youth group knucklehead, this one an architect, and brand spanking New father.

A CFO of a big hospital in Atlanta.

A new friend from church, wife and mother of two girls.

Hard working, African-American single dad who should have his own show on ESPN.

Some random friend of hard working African-American dad.

A Unitarian, Universalist minister and gifted composer/musician from Nashville.

My daughter's first college roommate, a hard working spitfire of a single mom raising an adorable daughter in Florida.

Yet another knucklehead from the old youth group(an inexhaustible supply), this one an unashamed Indians fan.

Young entrepreneur and accomplished businessman and former student of mine who is still primarily a knucklehead.

A financial software rep who claims to root for the Tenneesse Vols and eats barbecue like it's his job.

Recent college graduate and and adorable former neighbor of mine.

We went back and forth on the hot button subject of what to do about confederate statues in the United States. It went on and on for most of the day. We didn't agree. We came to no conclusions. Although I personally did hear some interesting ideas, I'm not sure any of us changed anyone's mind. So, what was so "cool and rare" about it? I'll tell you what was so cool and rare. The entire debate was carried off with no name calling, no insults, and large doses of respect. In America in 2017, this is no small accomplishment.

I look around at my country and I see a great unraveling, a vanishing civility. In our public discourse, we start from an assumption of bad faith, then everything becomes an accusation competition, and swiftly descends into dark places. I start these conversations on Facebook because I believe now, more than ever, that we can and we must do better than that. At one point in the discussion yesterday, a couple or three participants went from hearty disagreement to jokingly debating the merits of tacos vs. burritos without missing a beat. It was awesome.

So, it can be done. Every disagreement doesn't have to collapse under the weight of suspicion and anger. We can listen to someone on the other side of an issue respectfully, really listen, with our whole hearts. If nothing else we come away with a better understanding of their arguments.

At a time in our country's history when we seem to be governed by a middle schooler, it is critical that the rest of us learn how to engage each other like fully formed adults, even and especially when we disagree.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Heritage Argument

A brief follow up to yesterday's post about statues...

One argument I hear a lot from staunch supporters of the "statue status quo" is the notion that the Civil War and its rememberance is about honoring heritage.  It's about heritage, not hate, the slogan goes. This idea has some appeal for me. If the notion of heritage refers to the traditions, achievements and beliefs which are part of the history of a nation, then yes, I am all for holding my heritage in high regard. My own family's heritage is a perfect example of a history that I want to make sure gets immortalized for future generations of Dunnevant's yet unborn. There is much to be proud of in my family's name.

But the idea of heritage doesn't just highlight the best moments of history, it refers to all of the qualities, traditions and features of life from our past. This is where , I think, the heritage argument goes off the rails. Viewing the legacy of the Civil War only as honoring the gallentry and skill of accomplished generals personified by statues is an incomplete picture. A more healthy attitude about our heritage as a nation would also examine the mistakes of our past, the bad ideas, the low moments. The past is, above all else, a teacher. Yes, we look back to the past for inspiration, but we also look back at the past to learn from our mistakes. It doesn't make us weak to admit and examine error. A more faithful retelling of our history would honor our ancestors by telling the whole truth, not just the more romantic slices of that truth.

Further, some of the loudest defenders of the hands off our statues crowd I know are Christians. This is a mystery to me. My faith teaches me that my past isn't something to worship. In fact, often, the past is something that must be overcome. The baggage of the old ways, the old ideas are what holds us back from living in the grace and truth of the gospel. Our greatest loyalties aren't to our earthly heritage, no matter how glorious we might think it is. Our allegiances are to Christ, and to living a life of purpose and character in the here and now with eyes towards the future.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What About The Statues?

My assistant is well known for her blunt, direct assessments. Last Thursday, upon seeing me for the first time after my incident, blurted out, You don't look good! This morning, after a full week's recovery, she once again greeted me with, You don't look good! Some would be put off by such tactless honesty. Not me. Besides, if you dish it out, you've got to be able to take it. She's right though. I look tired, because I am. But, today has been a turning point. I have had no headache, for one thing, which always helps.

Having something scary happen to your health takes an emotional toll every bit as damaging as the physical one. You get reminded of your mortality, and for a few weeks every flutter of the heart, every dropped word churns your stomach in a knot. Before long you have become entirely self-obsessed. It is this self-obsession which is so exhausting. I know it will soon pass. It will dawn on me that not every symptom that I imagine is actually real. I will soon realize that every flutter is not the angel of death. Then, I will feel like myself again, and life can proceed on its way. 

Looking back on the events of the weekend, Charlottesville could not possibly have happened at a worse time for me personally. No one does their best thinking when they don't feel well. So, a very bad, shameful situation in Charlottesville seemed even worse to me, post stroke. I look back on some of the things I wrote and they seem, upon greater reflection, a bit overwrought. I was already wound tight, edgy and nervous from the trauma and new medications. Then I see a bunch of freaking Nazi flags flapping in the breeze up in C-ville, and I went a little crazy. Probably shouldn't have posted the picture of the redneck woman with the 20 gauge slung over her shoulder, along with the snide put down. Maybe I should have backed away from the poorly timed joke at the expense of UVA's football program. After news came of three associated deaths, a clearer head probably wouldn't have posted the First, they came for the Mosquitoes meme.

But, I haven't taken them down. They were mistakes in judgement, but they were honestly made, and I have no desire to whitewash my own history any more than I want to whitewash my country's history. Having said that, I believe there exists lots of room for compromise when it comes to historical statues. I'm for expanding the number of statues that tell a more expanded version of our shared history. Maybe some statues would be more appropriately displayed in a museum, than on a public street. Maybe additional statues should be erected along side Civil War generals, that testify to what that war meant to African-Americans who were in bondage at the outset of that conflict and newly freed after Appomattox. There are ways to address this issue that don't include lawless mobs tearing them down, as if their anger justified the destruction of public property. 

When it comes to this entire statues controversy, I am not an absolutist. Each generation should have some say in how they interpret history. Although I happen to believe that the Monument Avenue statues are astonishingly beautiful works of art, and think that they are a valid record of the fact that our city was, in fact, the former capital of the Confederacy, I also understand how they might be viewed differently by a rather large segment of the city's population. The legacy of the Antebellum south was one of human bondage, the buying and selling of human beings. This is a fact of history that for many Americans is something that can't and shouldn't be celebrated.



 I am conflicted even as I write this. For over my shoulder on the wall behind me is two portraits hung in my library, one of Robert E. Lee and the other of Thomas Stonewall Jackson. I studied each of these men extensively in college and found them to both be fascinating men, complex, and tortured, whose lives were shot through with great tension and contradictions. Jackson, perhaps the finest  tactician in the history of this country, also nearly was kicked out of his Lexington Presbyterian church for teaching a class full of slave children how to read. The ironies were overwhelming. But, I came away from all of that study with a profound respect for each man's character. So their portraits hang in my library. For some of you reading this, you might be nodding in agreement. Others might be scratching your heads. I get it. I understand the tension, and the disagreements that flow from different readings of history.

But, here's the thing. What would I do if I knew that a family of African Americans were coming over for dinner? And suppose that this particular family had just lost a child at the hands of a white supremicist mob. What would I do with the portraits? You know what? I think I would remove them before they showed up. Not because I no longer cared about Lee or Jackson, but because I care much more about the tender feelings of my friends than I could ever care about a couple of dead generals. This is the essence of my position on statues. Let's all be a little less entrenched in our own positions, and more in tune with the point of view of people who might view them in a different light.

Come, let us reason together.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What I Want To Hear From The Pulpit Today

Yesterday will not go into the scrapbook as a red letter day. First, we said goodbye to a couple of thirty-plus year friends who have retired and moved away, then that debacle of racist evil in Charlottesville, and finally Bryce Harper blows out his knee. And this morning, I still have a headache.

So, today I will go to church. While ordinarily I don't like any sort of political opinionating from the pulpit, today I want to hear a word about Charlottesville. For one thing, what happened there yesterday wasn't politics. It wasn't even protest, correctly defined. It was a violent outburst of hatred, of enmity one for another. Those who paraded the grounds of Thomas Jefferson's University carrying Nazi flags weren't making a political statement, they weren't airing legitimate grievances. They were attempting to start a race war. They used the fig leaf of a statue removal as the barest of coverings to gather together and celebrate their hatred. The man who plowed his car into that crowd was not attempting to persuade anyone, he was bent on murder.

So, I want to hear a strong voice from the pulpit this morning calling this assault against my country exactly what it is, and calling us to repentance for our apathy. I don't want to hear any mealy mouth temporizing, no moral equivalence claptrap. The entire sermon doesn't need to be about Charlottesville. The transcendent is more important to me than the temporal. But I'm not interested in having this swept under the rug either. Yes, there is hatred and violence coming from both sides in America. But not yesterday. Not in Charlottesville, Virginia, less than an hour away from my home.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Charlottesville

Maybe it's the fact that I've now had a headache for two consecutive days. Maybe it's because I'm still trying to recover from an upsetting physical setback from earlier in the week. Maybe it's because I'm a proud Virginian and can't bare to have this state's reputation dragged through the mud on nationwide television. As I watched it unfold, my first reaction was to make wisecracks on Facebook. It's my default reaction to repulsive ugliness...attempts at humor. But as the day has worn on, humor isn't working and no longer seems appropriate, even for me.

No, the sort of thing that's happening in Charlottesville is something for which I have lost all patience. What follows isn't a fair and balanced accounting of root causes. I'll leave that to more knowledgeable voices. No, this is just me getting a few things off my chest. 

For starters, the instigators of this protest seem to be a conglomeration of aggrieved groups which include white nationalists, KKK members, neo-nazis, white supremacists and others comprising the movement referred to as the alt-right. This is quite a target rich environment for my particular brand of snark, so I will pick one sub-set in this Petri dish of extremism for discussion...the white supremacists.

Full disclosure: I am white, so I feel fairly qualified to opine on the relative merits of my race, although in all honesty, I don't tend to view myself as primarily a person who has a race. If I were trying to describe myself to someone, the modifier white would be way down the list of words that would leap to mind. It would probably wind up like number 16, just before opinionated and right after handsome. But, if someone were to ask me to name some notable contributions made to civilization by my race, I suppose I could come up with a rather impressive list. Shakespeare leaps to mind. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, the guy who cured polio, he was white, I believe. Henry Ford. Thomas Edison. Thomas Jefferson. Galileo. Michelangelo. The Beatles. So, if I were the kind of person who draws their sense of self worth from their racial identity, these examples might give me great pride. I could think...I'm white, so was Michelangelo. That must mean we're like related or something! The only problem with this sort of thinking is that once you start going down the path of race identity, you must confront some uncomfortable truths. Jeffrey Dahmer was white. So was Joseph Stalin. Jack the Ripper? White. Paris Hilton? White. Justin Bieber? About as white as you can get. This race thing turns out to be an extraordinarily mixed bag.

So, if you decide to think that whites are superior as a race, then you have to also think that other races are inferior, which is fine if you spend all day looking at film footage of riots in Baltimore...look at those terrible thugs stealing cans of Pringles while they burn down their own neighborhoods!! But, then you hear Magic by Count Basie. You watch Denzel Washington on the big screen. You read Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. What's a white supremacist to do upon being confronted with such greatness? Of course, the obvious answer is that no self-respecting white supremacist would be caught dead at a Denzel Washington movie, nor would they ever be caught dead reading any book without pictures, and be honest, if you're a white supremacist who happens to be reading this, admit that you're probably right now Googling the name Alexandre Dumas because you had no clue he was black! Don't you feel ashamed of yourself for loving that book??

Seriously now. In 2017, after ten freaking years of Keeping Up With the Kardashians there are still people out there trying to sell white supremacy? 

I've just had it with people who show up at a political rally wearing cheap baseball helmets, dressed in army fatigues, carrying homemade fiberglass shields with shotguns slung over their shoulders claiming to be part of come master race. As far as Charlottesville goes, something tells me I wouldn't be writing this and you wouldn't even have heard about this alleged protest if the counter protesters had just stayed home and ignored them. All these alt-right people want is violence and attention. All the better to feed their persecution complex and paranoia. If nobody showed up at Emancipation Park but them, they wouldn't have had anyone to be violent with...end of story.

But, it is true that we have a long and storied history in this country of putting Nazis in their place, so it's hard to blame those who came out to stand against them. I've just had it. I don't care about turning any of this into a political pissing contest...Did McAuliffe do the right thing? Was Trump harsh enough in his condemnation? That sort of political bean counting is for losers. All I care about if finding the cretin responsible for plowing that car into a crowd of protesters, and locking him up for the rest of his miserable life.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Verbal Errors

Last night, the small group I'm a part of at Hope met at our house. The Bible study was from the 3rd chapter of the book of James, all about the destructive power of the tongue, how the words we speak carry with them great potential for both good and evil. Since earlier this week I had temporarily lost all ability in this area, the topic was especially relevant. It produced a memory from probably twenty years ago...

I was in Atlanta at a Million Dollar Round Table meeting listening to a very wise man give a motivational talk. Among many profound truths he dispensed was this bit about verbal errors, which I will attempt to paraphrase here:

How you say things is often just as important as what you say. Suppose you're talking to your spouse and what you meant to say was, "what's troubling you?"...but what you actually said was, "what's wrong with you?" That's a verbal error that might be tolerable for a newlywed, but ten years into a marriage is inexcusable.

It's interesting that twenty years later, of all the things that this great man said, this paragraph is still etched into my memory. The reason for this is because, as someone who is well known for his hair-trigger wisecracks and speak first, apologize later style, this thoughtful truth resonated. What's troubling you sounds like a question that comes from a place of empathy and concern. What's wrong with you sounds like an accusation. Later the man said that whenever he was about to have any delicate conversation with his wife, he made a habit of rehearsing every sentence in his head before allowing it to come out of his mouth. I would like to say that I have always put this into practice over the last twenty years. Sadly, not true. But it has never been far from my heart. After all, the last thing anyone wants to do is say something hurtful to those we love.

It is a great mystery to me why some things come flying out of my mouth when they do. It's like, sometimes I'll say something and then think, where did that come from? Sometimes it's something really smart and insightful, which is always a shock. But more often than not, it's some ill-chosen phrase with the potential for great harm to its listener. My Dad had a theory about such verbal errors which used to give me pause...What's down in the well, eventually comes up in the bucket! If that's always the case, then my well needs some work. I think it's more a case of just being too anxious to be heard and less willing to listen. If we would just give our thoughts a minute to organize themselves first, we could avoid a world of grief.

So, each of us has a thousand opportunities each day to speak both blessings and curses. Each of us are in a position to make someone's day or ruin it with a word. This is the power of the tongue. Use it wisely.

Good grief! Reading back over this, it sounds an awful lot like a sermon. My apologies. Probably just post-stroke stress disorder or something!





Thursday, August 10, 2017

Clam Chowder, Delayed

As the perky African-American girl wheeled my gurney down a long, narrow, largely deserted hallway, I watched the fluorescent lights pass overhead, wondering how I had gotten here. She left me directly under one of the lights, locked the wheel with a foot brake and tapped me on the shoulder...You're up next, honey. The light above had an inlaid cover picture of palm tree leaves against a Carribean blue sky. I remember thinking how the guy who came up with the idea of putting pictures in fluorescent light fixtures was an evil genius...genius for the idea, but evil for making it pictures that made the patient wonder whether he would ever see something so beautiful again. 

This was the fifth of eight tests I was to be administered in a bizarre 24 hours. The sign on the door said, vascular lab 2. Across the hall there was an echo lab 2. I was getting both. Another cheerful nurse joked, Mr. Dunnevant here is getting a twofer today! It has been my experience that medical professionals make the world's worst comedians, but their attempts are so endearing, it doesn't matter. A third woman in a steel blue uniform and a thick accent of unknown origin yanked me into vascular lab 2 unceremoniously. I will be administering this test, Mr. Dunnevant. Have you ever had this procedure before? She was all business. No, I answered. Don't worry, it is entirely painless. Good to hear. 

Quickly, without fanfare, she slapped a cold, slimy probe against the carotid artery of my neck. For what seemed like the hundredth time I got asked the question, So, what brings you to us today, Mr. Dunnevant? I began my well rehearsed answer...Well, about 5:30 yesterday afternoon I got home from a workout at the gym, suddenly for about five minutes I was unable to speak. I knew what I was trying to say, but just couldn't say the words...not garbled words or nonsense words, rather, no words at all. After five minutes, I was fine. My wife freaked out and probably overreacted by insisting on taking me to the ER last night...and now, here I am.

My coldly efficient medical professional, clearly in the early stages of developing her bedside manner, was having none of it. You're wife did not freak out, she made very wise decision. Sounds like you had a stroke.

No, no, the ER doctor said it was probably just a TIA, not a real stroke.

Did he now? 

Then it was on to echo lab 2 with its own slimy probe. I was growing weary of listening to the static sound of my own heartbeat and was releaved to be wheeled back to my room through the labyrinth of cold hallways and clunky elevators which is Henrico Doctor's Hospital. The results of each battery of tests were negative, making me more and more annoyed that I had allowed my wife to win the argument about coming to get checked out. In my mind I was calculating how much all of this modern medical technological advancement was going to cost me. By the time these eight tests were done, I was going to be presented with one of those insane bills that infuriate ordinary people. One baby aspirin, 81 mg...$28.

I was having a hard time processing the idea that it was even possible that I might have had a stroke. Strokes are things that happen to old people. Sick people. And yet, if true, I was about to add stroke to open heart surgery at the top of the list of medical conditions I've experienced prior to my 60th birthday. This is the sort of thing that might strip a person of their self confident optimism, if they're not careful. This is what I get for watching my weight and working out four times a week for most of my life? Not possible.

I had convinced myself shortly after my five minute "incident" that it was just one of those senior moments that everyone over the age of say 50 gets from time to time. We stumble around for words sometimes, that's all. Like when you suddenly, momentarily can't recall your child's name, or you can't remember the name of the place you had dinner a couple of nights ago, or what you had for breakfast this morning. The medical term is brain fart, I believe. And now, with each test result coming in negative, my diagnosis seemed correct. So I privately started to steam at all of the bother, fuss and expense.

The last test of the day would be the MRI of my brain, whereby I would be slid inside a giant tube, instructed to lay perfectly still for twenty minutes and almost immediately be attacked by a phalanx of killer attack ants laying waste to the inside of my nose. All the while these ants were busy brushing my nasal hair with tiny peacock feathers, another army of construction workers began pounding on the side of my head with a thousand jackhammers. As I lay there I recalled seeing the name Siemens emblazoned across the entrance of the machine. I thought, leave it to the Germans to have manufactured such a contraption. Then I thought of clam chowder. Pam was to have made homemade clam chowder last night for dinner. But I had to lapse into my Harpo Marx impersonation, and now I'm having an MRI. Funny how quickly things can change.

As they wheeled me back upstairs, I thought of Pam, alone in my room, and what she must have been thinking. My wife, generally speaking, is a glass half full sort of gal, so maybe she was searching for the silver lining. Of all of the bodily functions that her husband might lose to a stroke, speech clearly had an upside. She must have been dreaming about what it might be like not to have a husband who might at any moment blurt out something entirely inappropriate. What would it be like not to have to worry about your husband embarrassing you by saying something that, while perhaps being true, still should never be said out loud? What a relief it would be not to have to listen to another baseball story, political diatribe or horrible pun! Always look on the bright side, that's my wife.

When the results of the MRI came in, the news was delivered by a white-coated Neurologist, complete with the obligatory stethoscope dangling from his neck...So, the MRI confirms several acute infarctions in the front left lobe of the brain, all in a limited area and all recent indicating a stroke.

After this sentence pierced the air, he was all encouragement, citing all of my positive risk factors, talking about starting me on a couple of medicines that would fix me right up. But all I heard was stroke.

Within a couple of hours of the good doctor's pronouncements, I was back home...like nothing ever happened. I finally got my clam chowder. It was delicious.

Soon enough, I will get over this. By the time I'm in Maine, this will all be a distant memory. But for now, it's still fresh. Every time I have struggled over a word the past couple of days, my heart has skipped a beat, but this too will pass. We human beings have a remarkable ability to cast out bad memories, to blot out scary things. I will with this. In a week I can resume my gym workouts, and I will with a vengeance. Before you know it, there will be no more thoughts about strokes, no more obsessing over dropped words or mangled phrases. 

But, for now...you'll have to give me a few days to get over a weird 24 hours.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Gallows Humor

It's been a difficult couple of days. Things happen that stagger you, get your attention. But while so engaged, the world goes on its merry way. All of which leads me to Trump vs. Kim, our world's equivalent to WWE's Summer Slam.

While I was being distracted by private events, the war of words between the United States and North Korea escalated further, with President Trump chiming in with his Fire and Fury smack, as in...unless North Korea relented it would be "met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." My son welcomed me back into the real world with this clever text last night...

If Kim and Trump destroy the planet in fire and fury, at least the Republicans are off the hook for repealing Obamacare!

The game was on. This battle of mock headlines ensued...

Me: The day after, the NYT headline will be...PLANET DESTROYED!!!... women and minorities hardest hit!

Patrick: And Fox News will lead with...Trump's Nuclear Holocaust--strong and decisive!!

Me: Greatest. Apocalypse. Ever. (Trump's Twitter Feed)

Patrick: "Why aren't we talking about Hillary's email's??...Sean Hannity

Me: Google's Diversity Problems Solved By ICBM!!!

This is what is known as gallows humor, and its appearance in my life could not have come at a better time.

Thanks, son.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Counting the Days

It's now officially time to begin obsessing over the weather in Maine, specifically the weather in Searsmont, Maine, the nearest town to Quantabacook Lake, our September destination. In four short weeks we will be arriving...never having ventured this far north so late in the summer. We are rolling the dice, banking on a pleasant September experience, not the cold, windy, rainy September of legend.



Luckily, my iPhone has a weather widget that can provide me with instantaneous updates 24/7. I am a bit troubled by what I see this morning. This is August, right? That means, at least in Virginia, the hottest month of the year. However, for the next ten days in Searsmont, the average high temperature is to be 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Although, this is a truly beautiful number to behold, I am starting to worry that the State of Maine might be peaking too soon. And, isn't mid seventies a bit cool even for Maine in August?  Does this portend a trend of cooler than normal temperatures for late summer?



Of course, it should be noted that regardless of what kind of weather we will have, we will be here...




And, no matter how unseasonably cool it may be, when compared to 90 and humid, I'll take unseasonably cool if it comes with this...



I will still check on the weather every day from now until we pull out of here on the 7th. We will pack clothing for every possible weather scenario. Chances are we will get a bit of everything. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Promised Land

This afternoon, I broke away from the office and played a round of golf out at The Hollows. I wanted to go somewhere that I didn't have to wait and a place where they would allow me to walk. There's no better way to drop four pounds than walking 6 miles in 90 degree heat. Incidentally, it should be mentioned that I shot a 79, which is about as good as I can play...but that isn't what this blog is about. It was what happened after golf that compels me to write what follows. 

On the drive out to the golf course, it occurred to me that my trip would take me past my Mom and Dad's old place, The Promised Land. Believe it or not, it was to be the first time I've passed that old driveway since they moved out seven years ago. I hadn't been intentionally avoiding the place, it's just that my day to day travels never take me that far west on 33 anymore. As soon as I passed the South Anna River, I saw the old mailbox on the right. Without slowing down, I glanced up through the trees and caught a glimpse. I told myself that maybe I should stop by on my way home and take a picture of the place. The entire time I was playing golf, that house would creep in and out of my mind. I wonder what it looks like? I wonder who lives there now? 

 The Promised Land was a special place for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it was the only house that my parents ever owned in their 80 plus years on this earth, albeit briefly. Secondly, it truly was a family project. Although we employed a certified builder to oversee construction, many hours of sweat equity was volunteered into the building of the house by family members and close friends. It was a labor of love, the digging, grating, lifting, hammering, and hauling off of trash that occupied many Saturday's of our lives that summer. Once it was finished, it was an amazing thing to see my folks move in to the one place that they were convinced was a demonstration of God's faithfulness. I don't remember exactly, but I think they spent ten years in that house, before their failing health made the upkeep of such a spread impossible for them to keep up with. Besides, they had quite a bit of equity built up, and would need that money in their remaining years. But, what a wonderful ten years it was. As I walked alone down the green fairways of The Hollows, I thought about all of the Thanksgivings spent there...starting with a work day which involved climbing up on the roof to remove the sticks that had gathered and cleaning out the gutters. Then there were those long tables set up end to end decorated with cornucopias, acorns, and fancy placecards. So many memories of football games in the front yard, and Dad letting the kids take shooting and archery target practice under the power lines.

But, when golf was done and I got in the car, I started getting cold feet. Part of me didn't want to see it. Suppose the people who lived there were a bunch of weirdos? That's not how I wanted to remember The Promised Land, as a whacked out Prepper Compound!

When the moment of truth arrived, I slowed down and made the sharp left turn into the winding driveway. It seemed more narrow than I had remembered. Maybe the trees had grown fuller. Then I noticed the signs nailed to several of those oversized trees, blaze orange backgrounds with large black letters... NO TRESPASSING, and PRIVATE PROPERTY. There must have been five of them. Then several more menacing signs...NOTHING I HAVE IS WORTH YOUR LIFE, and my personal favorite...IF I FIND YOU HERE AT NIGHT, NO ONE  WILL FIND YOU IN THE MORNING. Suddenly, this trip down memory lane seemed like a terrible idea. But, by this time I was almost to the house, so I decided to press on. 

Everything looked different. The new owners had built a shed and a make shift carport underneath which were parked three late model cars. My heart was in my throat as I got out of the car and noticed all of the junk lined up against the saplings along the east end of the property. I felt like I was at Fred Sanford's junkyard, not the feeling I had hoped for. I made my way up the porch steps and knocked on the door. I figured that I better announce myself. The homemade signs weren't exactly welcoming, so I didn't want anyone mistaking me for a thief. After what seemed like an eternity, and older man with white hair and two large, unkempt eyebrows answered the door...

Hello...my name is Doug Dunnevant, I heard myself say. My parents used to live here. Believe it or not, I haven't been out this way since they moved out. They are both passed now. Anyway, I hope you don't mind, but I was just curious to see the place once again. If you don't have any objection, I'd like to take a picture of the house.

The old man seemed unimpressed, guarded. He looked me up and down a couple of times, then spurt out, Was Mr. Dunnevant your father? 

Yes! Yes, he was. Are you the same family who we sold this house to?

Seven years ago, he answered with a small smile.

Wow! I can't believe you remembered his name.

I probably wouldn't have ordinarily, he began in a thick foreign accent, but your father, he came to see me a couple of years after we bought the house. He was a very nice man, your father. I remember I had to help him climb these stairs, he was having trouble.

Wait, my Dad came to see you?

Yes he did. He, like you, wanted to see the place again. 

I talked with the old man as he took me around the exterior of the house, telling me about the changes he had made and the ones he had planned for later. He told me that his accent was Hungarian, that he had come to America in 2002, working all over the country in nuclear power plants. He travelled a lot and he and his large family always had to live in cramped apartments. He hated the apartments. This house was an answer to prayer. Your Father would have liked that.

He went on to tell me how very happy he and his family are to live here. They finally have a home, he said. From the looks of the place, he indeed was doing his best to make it look like some Hungarian backwoods campsite, what with the large cooking pit in the backyard where Dad's garden used to be. The fact that he so obviously loved the place was a great encouragement to me.

But then, just before I left, he said something that nearly made me cry...

When your father came to see me, he sat at my table and drank coffee. He looked around the room and seemed sad. He told me that he had never wanted to leave, but had to because he couldn't keep up with everything that needed to be done. But, he was a very kind man, your father. He was glad that we were so happy here...

I pulled away from the house, and back down the driveway and safely onto 33. There was a giant knot in my throat all the way home, and even now as I write this, it's a hard thing to contemplate. Never once did Dad complain about having to leave his house. Never once did he raise an objection. I totally missed it...and that's probably exactly the way he wanted it.



What's the Point?

I haven't had much to say lately. It's not that there's been nothing of interest to write about. Just yesterday, two issues about which I have rather detailed opinions, immigration and affirmative action, appeared in the news. I thought maybe I would write about those opinions. But then I thought...What's the point? Do I really want to wade into another political mine field? The fact is that since each of these issues were introduced by the Trump administration, substitive dialogue is impossible. Anything I will say on these matters will be judged through the great distorting lens of Donald Trump. I will either be viewed as an irrational NeverTrumper, who above all else is committed to his destruction, or I will be judged as unfit for having the temerity of supporting any position taken by his administration. Call it the Trump Effect, destroyer of rational debate.

So, I will keep my opinions to myself this time around. I'll leave the playing field open to the twenty-something meme kings, the guys and girls who reduce complex public policy to pithy cartoon captions. Why waste time trudging through the 37 previous versions of immigration legistlation in this country's history to discover what the give and take and tension has all been about when it's so much easier to be made an instant expert by watching a really hilarious John Oliver bit? Why run the risk of writing an opinion about the pluses and minuses of affirmative action law when, one false move, and half of your readers will think you're a racist and the other half will think you're a hypocrite? The Trump Effect.

These are the real world consequences of polarization. When someone like Donald Trump comes along with his giant personality and his huge brand, opinions about such a man tend to harden. Those who love him, love him completely. Nothing the man can do will ever be able to separate him from their affections. Those who hate him, are repulsed by him, hate him completely. There is nothing he could do, no legistlation he could introduce which they could bring themselves to support. This is what polarization does to people and to nations, it divides us into camps, segregates us into factions, draws lines in the civic sand across which we dare not cross.

There have been many polarizing figures throughout history, Donald Trump isn't the first. It only feels worse with Trump because of our media saturated culture. If the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle had been around during Teddy Roosevelt's day, that would have been a circus too. Big mouth, big personality, combative views...yeah, Teddy would have been a mess. But, it's 2017, we elected Trump and now we must live with it. Part of living with it is understanding that wading into the middle of every argument he starts is a fool's errand.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Anticipation



This will be our view...



From this lake...



In 40 more days...

Can't. Wait.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Unthinkable....Part II

Bblaagzzarrgghhhh..sob..Glllaaackkkkkkk!!!


This was the worst of all possibilities. Somehow, against all reason, all the remaining women of the household had awakened simultaneously, and in the dim fog of cognition, realized at precisely the identical moment that the house had no power and, in fact, yes...they were sweating. The gutteral groan/screech/ wail that they let out was amplified throughout the house in a stereophonic wave, some coming from upstairs and the rest from below like a rising tide of hot molten lava. Then the sound of thundering footsteps pounding the stairs. The men in the living room braced themselves for the onslaught.

Aunt Paula: I demand to know what idiot is responsible for this outrage! It is a thousand degrees in here. This is totally unacceptable! Someone needs to find the headquarters of this construction company and drive me there this instant!!!

Patrick had stumbled up the stairs, following the tumult and had his fully charged cellphone in hand.

Patrick: Looks like the headquarters is in Paramus, New Jersey, Aunt Paula...so that will be quite a long drive.

Aunt Pam: What about the food?? Has anyone checked the refrigerator?

Jenny: Wait...will there be no hot water?

Uncle Ron: Not only no hot water, but no coffee either.

An audible gasp shot through the room. Jenny, half dazed, began shuffling around in silence, her mouth agape, pondering the fresh hell she had woken too. After arriving at the snack table she began to weep, pitiful wails of crying ringing throughout the house...

Jenny: and the scotcheroos are melting!!

Suddenly, in a flash of fury, Pam darted across to the snack table, grabbing the tin of scotcheroos out of Jennyy's hands. Give me that, she hissed. She looked down into the sweating Tupperware container at the sad sight of melting chocolate and disfigured Rice Krispies all askew in a large clump in one end of the container. Her shoulders slumped, and she let out a long baleful sigh...

Aunt Linda: Bill, what are we going to do?? 

Uncle Bill: Listen people, this is certainly not how we all dreamed this vacation would go. Yes, no electricity will be a challenge. It will be warm in here, making dinner will require some ingenuity. But guys, we have to ask ourselves one question...what would Nanny & Papa do? What would they think of us if we all just threw up our hands and headed back to Richmond? I mean, honestly, I would have thought that this family would have been made of sterner stuff than this. Why, I can remember when we stayed in a rat-infested scrapheep of a rental house in Sandbridge with no AC. Am I right? Our forefathers wouldn't have tucked tail and scurried home just because of something as simple as losing power? Are we mice or men? Come on guys! Let's pull together and make this thing work! We've already paid the money, were all here...let's show the world how a real family comes together in a crisis! Tonight, we can all gather around here in this big room and feel the soft ocean breezes cooling us off. I'll make some popcorn and we will make some incredible memories together...and, 

Paul: That's a big negative on the popcorn. Microwave won't work without power.

Christina: ggrroocckkkkstagggargh, no popcorn?? That's it. I'm out of here...



The Unthinkable...Part I

The stories and pictures coming out of Hatteras Island are heartbreaking. There are scores of cars waiting for the ferry on Ocracoke, long, choked lines of cars crawling along the sandy two lane highway, headed for Nags Head. All because of an accidental severing of an underwater power line by a construction crew working on the repair of bridges taken out by violent storms a few months back. I read the stories and look at the pictures, all the while trying to imagine the hell that would have been unleashed if this unhappy accident had occurred just two short weeks ago, when 18 members of the greater Dunnevant family were on that beleaguered island for vacation. What follows is my imagination unleashed on that unthinkable prospect...

The thirteenth edition of the Dunnevant family Beach Week vacation is a mere two days old and all is well when 18 family members climb into bed on night two. Unfortunately, while they slept, electric power was severed from the entire island by a construction accident under a bridge thirty miles away. During the night, as our heros slept, the temperature inside the house rose from its perfect 71 climate controlled degrees to a stifling 82 by the time the first vacationer awoke. During that fateful night, two refrigerators full of meat, cheese, milk, eggs and a varied assortment of culinary delights now lay dead and reeking inside their stainless steel tombs. 

(Uncle Doug walks into the family room and sees Matt Hawkins sitting by the window doing his devotional)

Uncle Doug: It feel a little hot in here to you?

Matt: Now that you mention it, it is a bit warm.

Uncle Doug: You better turn that lamp on. It's not good for your eyes to read without good light.

Matt turns on the switch. The click seems ominously loud, and when no light is forthcoming, a feeling of dread invades the large room with the thirty foot ceiling.

Uncle Doug: Holy Crap....

Soon it becomes clear that something is dreadfully wrong. Uncle Ron and Uncle Bill enter the room with an expression of forlorn resignation.

Uncle Bill: Ok guys, we've got a problem. Pretty soon the women in this house are going to wake up and as all of you know, they are not going to be amused.

Uncle Ron: I don't want to even think about what is going to happen to Paula when she wakes up and realizes she is already sweating. I swear to you guys, I'm a dead man!

Uncle Doug: You're a dead man?? I'm married to a woman from freaking Maine!! If the thermostat ever rises above 70 at our house, she turns into a raging psychopath. 

Matt: Guys, guys!! Pull yourselves together!! Now is not the time to panic. Let's put our heads together and come up with a plan.

Uncle Doug: Yeah Matt. Great idea. A plan is what we need. Let's see...how about we have Ron here draw up some preliminary plans for building our own nuclear power plant!!

Uncle Ron: As fate would have it, I decided at the last minute not to pack my portable drafting table, so that's out.

Uncle Bill: Isn't that always the way it happens? The one thing you actually need, you never pack...

At this point, young Bennett makes an appearance, free from any worry or concern, secure in the cocoon of childhood oblivion.

Matt: Bennett, listen to Daddy. There has been an accident and there is no power, which means we have no food, there is no air conditioning, there will be no hot water, no way to charge your video games, and we will no longer be able to use the pool since the water pumps don't work...

Uncle Bill: (rolling his eyes at Doug and Ron)...Parents today...have they completely forgotten how to lie to kids??

Bennett: Uncle Doug, this is the best prank ever!!

Suddenly, Christina enters the room. This is the best of all possibilities, Christina being the only female in the house without a hair trigger temper and an instinctively violent reaction to high temperatures. Perhaps the men of the family can recruit her as an emissary to the still sleeping female contingent downstairs.

Uncle Bill: Sweetie...we have no electricity. Do you have any ideas on how we can break this news to your mother, sister and aunts without risking serious, permanent injury or death?

Christina: Dad, come on now. It won't be that bad. Sure, it's going to be a challenge, but isn't that half the fun? Just think of the stories we will be able to tell about this in our old age.

Uncle Ron: See, that's the thing that worries us...whether or not we will ever reach old age.

Christina: Oh come on now you silly gooses...

Bennett: Geese! That's silly geese. There's no such thing as gooses.

Matt: Well done, Bennett.

Christina: I'm sure the power will come back on soon. The important thing is...we will all still be together!

Uncle Doug: That's right Chrissy...we'll all be together. All 18 of us. In this ginormous house. With no air conditioning. Pretty soon it's going to smell worse than a Turkish bathhouse in here...and tonight it's our turn to make dinner!!

Uncle Ron: Don't worry about that Doug. You'll be cooking on the gas grill...


............... to be continued

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thinking About Things

It is an unfortunate fact of the human condition that so few of us can be persuaded to change our opinions. We decide what we think about something years ago for a variety of reasons involving education, training and experience. Then we have a tendency to cling to that opinion forever, despite evidence that might raise doubts about our original conclusion, even when that evidence becomes overwhelming. Basically, human beings suffer from an age old character flaw...pride, which makes it extremely difficult to admit error. This writer is no exception to this condition. But when we double down on long held ideas despite contrary evidence, we become that thing we hate when we see it in others. We become an ideologue, slaves to tribalism and dogma.

So, when many people who I respect start to call into question some of my long held views on politics, the role and nature of government, and economic theory, as a thinking person, I owe it to myself to reexamine those long held views. I do this out of what I believe to be my obligation as a citizen of a constitutional republic, but also out of the respect due to some very fine people in my life who I know, love and trust. I write this as an attempt to question myself in an organized and public way, and in doing so, I invite your responses, whether intended to encourage or correct.

First, some background. My views on government and economic theory have evolved partially out of my real world experience as a small business owner, but their foundation was built by three influential books I read 40 years ago...The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, The Road to Serfdom by Freidrich Hayek, and Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and these three books, all read within a stormy six months made a huge impression on me. It is from these three gentlemen that I formed my thoughts on public policy. Accordingly, I have for most of my life taken a very dim view of governmental attempts at economic planning. Stemming from that dim view grew the parallel fear and suspicion of the heavy hand of centralized power and its wretched record of totalitarianism. The fact that powerful governments corrupted both sides of political theory, Fascists and Communists, seemed to conform my fears. 

So, in 2017 some things have noticeably not changed. Unchecked centralized governments still tend to treat human beings in despicable ways. The question now seems to be, is my justifiable fear of muscular government blinding me to what its proper role in today's world could or should be? Are my fears overblown? Should I have more confidence in the ability and the motives of my government to do what is best for the people? Is my confidence in Adam Smith's Invisible Hand misplaced? Has a generation of pocket-lining plutocrats and crony capitalists poisoned the well of free enterprise and stacked the deck so overwhelmingly in their own favor as to demand a new response? These are the questions that I have been asking myself for quite some time now. Let's examine one such response that I hear frequently from people who I respect...the living wage.

Income inequality is the problem, my friends say. A very small ultra-elite at the very top of the pyramid are gobbling up far too large a share of wealth creation, often at the expense of everyone else, especially the very poor. Their preferred solution is some combination of  a surtax, or tax increase on these elites, in addition to either a big increase in the minimum wage or some sort of guaranteed income for all.

I won't get into the weeds of the specific numbers involved with the income inequality argument, but I will freely admit that it exists. The question for me becomes what, if anything, can be done about it that won't have an unintended destructive impact on the larger economy? It is my view that in any free, or even semi-free economic system, there will always and forever be an elite class of human beings who will grab an outsized share of wealth. This is due to the fact that while all men may be created equal, that equality doesn't last very long. Some of us are smarter, more disciplined, more energetic, more creative, more willing to take risk, etc.. Since those particular qualities are not evenly distributed among the population, we should not and cannot expect an equality of outcomes in a free society. But, are the rather massive concentrations of wealth seen today solely a function of these personality traits, or has what is a naturally occurring economic outcome been artificially juiced by horrible tax policy and the crippling power of oligarchs? This is a fair question, and I am increasingly thinking that something needs to be done to correct it. I have long argued that the number one source of power for crony capitalist and oligharchs alike is our ridiculously complex tax code...but that is a problem for another day.

So, if I acknowledge that income equality is a problem that demands redress, what about raising taxes, hiking the minimum wage or a guaranteed income for all as solutions? Here, I must do battle with my philosophical mentors.

Part of me can get on board with the idea of raising taxes on the rich, and for this discussion I will refer to the top 1% of taxpayers in America...those with incomes of over $470,000 a year for a married couple and $418,400 for an individual. They are currently taxed at a top federal tax rate of 39.6%. These people earn about 20% of all income earned in the United States and pay roughly 40% of all federal income taxes collected. But, taxes are collected on income earned, not wealth. And, guess what? If you jacked up the rate on these people to 70%, they would find a way to avoid the taxes by various deferral schemes, courtesy of our aforementioned ridiculously complex tax code. Contrary to your average John Oliver rant, wealthy people are not idiots, and even if they were they have enough money to hire out the brains of others to avoid taxes. But, just for a moment, let's assume that this new 70% rate was both collectible and enforceable. The problem I have with the logic behind a tax increase is the assumption it makes that what is ailing public policy in America is a lack of revenue to the Treasury. This is unarguably a false assumption. Our government is currently raking in record amounts of revenue. In fact, for the first six months of fiscal year 2017 (ending in March, 2017) we took in record amounts of both income and payroll taxes totaling $1,242,882,000,000. That's 1.24 TRILLION. However, despite this mind boggling haul, we still managed to run a deficit of $544,491,000,000. That's right, we went half a trillion MORE in debt, despite breaking all revenue records. This is the sort of unreported fact that blows the mind of an Adam Smith disciple like me. It would appear to me that our fiscal problems are not based in a lack of revenue, but too much spending.

Now, if you're still in favor of taxing the rich it would appear that you would need to admit that the payoff would not be an economic one but rather the more emotionally gratifying payoff of fairness. Fair enough.

As far as a national guaranteed income goes, I have warmed to the idea and argued as much in a previous blogpost ( http://doug-thetempest.blogspot.com/2017/03/a-plan-to-eliminate-povertyimmediately.html ). When one considers the massive amount of money this country spends on poverty-fighting programs, a national guaranteed income becomes more attractive as an alternative. It would in fact be a money saver, if, and only if, the other programs were replaced upon installation of the new plan. A brief look at the history of entitlements in this country does not bode well for that particular if.

I've listened carefully to all of the arguments for and against the $15 minimum wage. I've read the articles pro and con about the Seattle experiment. Again, my old views cause me to doubt the workability of such an immediate, mandated wage increase. But, as a tool to make it easier for entry level workers to become self sufficient as they find their way in the world, and considering the massive cash holding of some of the biggest complainers about such an increase, I am willing to lend some support for at least giving it a try.

Here's what I know. Right now, this country is as divided as I have ever seen it. No accommodation is being sought, or even desired across the political divide, by anyone, about anything! Our politicians are more interested in winning than they are governing. If this is ever going to change, it will have to start with each of us being willing to question ourselves, to be willing to examine our biases to see if we can discover common ground, common goals. Sometimes it will mean being willing to let go of a bit of dogma. Smith, Hayek, and Solzhenitsyn are still my heros, but Adam Smith died 227 years ago this month. Maybe, some things have changed these past two centuries that would allow for a few tweaks. I'm willing to tinker with all of this if it means finding workable solutions to what vexes us in 2017.

Are you?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dunkirk



The evacuation of Dunkirk was perhaps at once the most precarious few days for western civilization, while at the same time one of her most inspiring triumphs. The world will never know just how close the Allies came to total defeat and capitulation to Adolph Hitler. The miracle at Dunkirk was a combination of inexplicable unforced errors by the German high command, the finest hour of the French army, and the indomitable spirit and will of ordinary British citizens. Last night I went to see Christopher Nolan's film adaptation of this great epic story. I was disappointed.

First of all, the film was not without merit. Nolan is very good at filming and directing intense scenes of agonizing warfare. He did a particularly outstanding job of depicting the violence and terror of a capsizing ship, the claustrophobic horror of being trapped in an oil fire on the open sea, the anguish of a man swimming toward a ship to save himself, only to see that ship destroyed by a Stuka dive bomber. But, that's about all that you get from Nolan in this film. If you know nothing about what actually happened at Dunkirk, Nolan's story amounts to a made for television minis-series in three acts. He focused, rather randomly, on three short stories, a dogged British fighter pilot, one private rescue vessel and its father and son crew, and a couple of beleaguered British soldiers trying to escape the carnage. He plops the viewer down in the middle of this maelstrom with absolutely zero explanation of how it came to be that almost the entire British Expeditionary Force, all 13 divisions of them, found themselves standing in long lines, hopelessly exposed on a French beach, the future of the world hanging in the balance.

When I complained about this bizarre lack of context, my son, who attended the show with me, asked..So, were you expecting some sort of history lesson? The tone of his question suggested very much that the term history lesson was a pejorative. Well, no...I didn't expect a history lesson, but some small attempt at staging the story might have been helpful, some explanation of the great-how did they get here-would have made for a more coherent film. My criticism of the film owes a lot to my being a history geek, I suppose. Despite its flaws, Dunkirk was worth seeing, if for no other reason than Hans Zimmer's sledgehammer score which literally never stopped in the background, pulsing and pounding away, assaulting the senses, adding brilliantly to the gut wrenching tension on screen.

I read a Twitter review this morning where some guy opined that Christopher Nolan did an outstanding job of depicting the  futility of war. I thought...what movie did this guy watch??? Futility of war? Are you kidding me? What, in God's name was futile about 300,000 British troops being rescued from an exposed beach and certain death by a flotilla of over 700 private vessels, saving Britain from having to surrender to Nazi Germany?? Horrible? Yes. Tragic? Yes. War is, after all, hell. But we don't live in heaven, just a little east of Eden. And this side of Utopia, sometimes very bad people and states have to be vanquished. To do so often requires superhuman valor, bravery and sacrifice. There's nothing futile about that.


Monday, July 24, 2017

The Visit

On a sweltering evening in the summer of 1955, my mother stood at the sink of her small kitchen in a tiny house at 414 Dick Ewell Avenue in Colonial Heights, Virginia, doing the dinner dishes. My older brother and older sister, Donnie and Linda, were involved in some sort of mischief in the cramped living room, getting on my mother's last nerve. It had been a long day, middle 90's and terribly humid with nothing but a couple of table fans to circulate the heavy air.  My Dad was struggling to make the rent payments working a series of sales jobs that required him to be on the road for long stretches. Now that school was out, she found it harder and harder to get anything done during the day with two kids under foot and newly pregnant with my sister Paula. I was still nearly three years away from entering the world, but my life was about to be dramatically changed by a faint knock on the screen door.

I have often wondered what might have happened to the Dunnevant story had what follows never happened. Suppose Mom had just stepped out to go for a walk. Suppose she had been at the grocery store. What if Nathan and Dora Radford had not bothered to go visiting that particular night?

Mom thought she heard a knock at the door but couldn't be sure because of all the racket Donnie and Linda were making, so she turned off the water and dried her hands on a dish towel and gave a closer listen. Three soft taps on the ill-fitting screen door with the hole in the bottom screen that let in every stinging fly in Chesterfield county. How many times had she asked my father to get that fixed? Mom went to the door in an ill temper, not in the mood for the Fuller Brush man or anyone else for that matter. Yes? Can I help you?

There was the cheerful woman who would become my mother's best friend, Dora Radford, with her plump face and bright eyes and a smile that exploded out from her like it had supernatural powers.  Her handsome husband Nathan just stood there looking like a movie star. She introduced herself and explained that they were in the neighborhood inviting people with kids to come to something called Vacation Bible School . . . Do you have kids, Mrs. Dunnevant?

Despite the heat and her foul mood, my mother found herself inviting the couple in to hear more. The prospect of having somewhere to take the kids every morning for a week sounded potentially heavenly. The Radford's church was in southside Richmond, nearly ten miles away. What in the world were they doing down in a poor neighborhood in Colonial Heights drumming up business? Not to worry, they could send a church van to pick up the kids. My parents didn't go to church. They had been a few times growing up in Buckingham County when they were kids, but back then...everyone did. They weren't hostile or antagonistic to church, just apathetic and exhausted by the time Sunday rolled around. But this Bible School thing sounded like just the thing to get the kids out of the house for a week during that dreadfully hot summer and maybe give my mother a break. She agreed to let them go, on the condition that she be allowed to come along the first day just to make sure that this Kingsland Baptist Church wasn't some sort of cult.

And that was it. It was as simple as that. That was the day that changed the trajectory of the Dunnevant family in ways great and small. Even though I wasn't even alive at the time, my life story was altered and consequently the lives of my children. It is a mind-numbing exercise to contemplate the vicissitudes of life. Sitting around pondering the random collision of people and events in life is a recipe for madness. Some believe in fate, others call it chance. I have come to believe in the divine appointment.

Because of a seemingly random visit that humid night 62 years ago, literally everything changed for one small, poor, insignificant family in a run-down neighborhood in Colonial Heights. My mother would wind up being captivated by what she saw that first day of Bible School. She would attend every day. Both of my parents would attend the family night service at the end of the week, their first time in church together in years. They started attending regular services, and an adult Bible study class together. Within months, both of my parents became Christians and soon couldn't get enough of the church. They went to every class that would take them. They met new people their own age who welcomed them into the fellowship of a dynamic church. They immersed themselves in the place and soaked up the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. It transformed their thinking and the direction of their lives. After several years of discipleship and personal and spiritual growth, my father (for the first and only time) heard the audible voice of God calling him into the ministry while driving his beat-up Plymouth down Jeff-Davis highway.

This calling was ridiculous on its face. Back in those days, becoming a Baptist minister required not only a college education but also a seminary degree. Needless to say, my Dad had neither, and the prospect of getting either with little money and 4 children seemed like a pipe dream. Nobody in my dad's family had ever attended college. Heck, my dad's father had been a sharecropper at one point. The whole idea seemed impossible, and many questioned his calling. You're sure it was the voice of God, Emmett? Maybe it was the fan belt!

But against all odds, my dad persevered. He enrolled at the University of Richmond, becoming a 38 year old freshman. He had to quit the best job he had ever had at Allied Chemical (confirming his madness in the eyes of some) and take a job at Reynolds Metals working the graveyard shift at night (11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) and going to school full time during the day . . . with four hungry mouths to feed. He graduated on time and with honors. Then it was time to pack up his family of six in a Chevrolet Impala station wagon for the twenty hour drive to Louisiana to attend the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for three years. All of us lived in a two bedroom campus apartment with a barely working window air conditioner. Within two weeks of our arrival, we were welcomed to our new city by a raging hurricane (Betsy) which flooded the place and filled the streets on campus with poisonous snakes and alligators. We weren't in Virginia anymore. 

My Dad became a Teamster, loading trucks on the docks where the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico meet. Three more years of graveyard shifts in tropical heat and humidity, which made the summers in Richmond seem like the Garden of Eden by comparison. I don't remember ever seeing Dad during the week in all the time we lived in New Orleans. But again, he graduated . . . on time and with honors. Soon he would receive his first church job as senior pastor of Winns Baptist Church in Elmont, bringing the family back to Virginia.

Before the visit, the Dunnevant family was part of an uninspired demographic in America . . . poor, rural, lower class, with no education and thin prospects for advancement. Some did advance, and spectacularly so, but most didn't. But on a steamy night in 1955, everything changed for one such family. My parents went on to have four kids, nine grandkids, and four great grandkids before they passed away. In total, eleven college graduates, four with Masters degrees, all long ago having escaped poverty and the other pathologies that poverty breeds. In his 45 years as a minister of the Gospel, at least a thousand others were introduced to the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, transforming their family stories, the ripples produced by a single stone on the water seeming never to end.

All because a bright eyed couple went to the trouble of making a visit in a run-down neighborhood on a hot summer night 62 years ago.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Full Weekend

Every once in a while I have one of those weeks at the office that reminds me of what every week at the office was like twenty years ago. Tons of appointments, incessant telephone calls, mountains of paperwork, way too much interaction with customer service phone trees. It makes me wonder how I ever survived it all back then. It also makes me extraordinarily thankful that I did. This enterprise I have built over the past thirty five years has been rewarding, but today it looks very different than I thought it would look by this time thirty years ago. I thought that I would have a larger payroll and perhaps a few more pieces of beach/lakefront property. But, fourteen years ago, after surprise open heart surgery, my career ark was dramatically altered. Maybe it was an overreaction, perhaps I made a mistake, but that experience  kicked me out of the grow, grow, more, more club permanently. When suddenly, some strange man cuts you open and starts tinkering with your heart, priorities tend to become less oriented around the pursuit of wealth, and more towards the pursuit of life.

So, I dialed it back. I started taking fewer new clients. I centered my goals around taking more time off each year. The payoff has been a smaller portfolio, but a vastly larger amount of freedom. My business is not the all consuming machine that many private businesses become, so much so that when something like this week happens, it's the startling exception. Whenever I begin to complain about something work related, my wife reminds me of how fortunate I am. She's right.

Speaking of good fortune, my son and his girlfriend are headed to Short Pump from Nashville as I write these words. Patrick will be staying with us all of next week, working remotely, while Sarah will continue on to Princeton, New Jersey to attend a vocal pedagogy conference at Westminster Choir College. It will be the first time Patrick will have slept in his old room for an entire week since the summer of his sophomore year at Belmont! Finally, the kid's wing of the house will get some use. Lucy will be thrilled.

This coming Sunday we will be hosting a farewell party for two of our oldest and dearest friends, Rick and Linda Stroup. They have retired, and are relocating to the beautiful college town of Wake Forest, North Carolina. It will be difficult watching them leave. They have been a part of our family for 28 years now. Their daughter, Jessica, felt like one of my own children back in the day, and my kids considered her their sister. Friends are great, but every so often you make a lifetime friend. Those, you never replace. The fact that they will no longer live around the corner will feel like a loss. But, it's not like they are moving to Burma or anything...Wake Forest is just a couple of hours down the road. Still, we will miss them. So, they must be sent off properly. I am so thankful that Patrick will be here for the party. They have always loved my boy very well.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What Do Republicans and MJ's Glove Have in Common?




The Republican Party of 2017 reminds me of Michael Jackson's infamous single glove. Neither of them serve any useful purpose. As a political party they are a disgrace and have managed the nearly impossible task of making the Democrats look more attractive. Let me explain...

After Obamacare was passed, the Republican Party made a big show of their determination to repeal the odious legislation. In fact, in Janurary of 2016 the Republican House sent a repeal bill to the President's desk for his signature. Obama's signature. In other words, they sent a repeal bill to the White House in Janurary of 2016 secure in the knowledge that Obama would veto it and they would never have to face the wrath of voters. Now that many of them ran for reelection promising to repeal and replace Obamacare, and now that they have a President, ostensibly of their own party, who is ready and willing to do it, suddenly they can't get anything done. This, despite the fact that their party controls the White House and both houses of congress. Worthless.

Here's the thing. What few convictions the Republicans may have, they lack the courage those convictions require. Contrast their performance with that of the Democrats. Granted, as a liberal party, their life is made infinitely easier by the nature of their beliefs about the role of government. How hard is it to always propose the expansion of government? How difficult can it be to always be proposing programs that create entitlements for voters? How fun must it be to always be coming up with new schemes to confiscate money from a smaller, more productive class and distribute it to a much larger class of voters?  Don't get me wrong, I don't think that Democrats do this out of spite or rancor. I think they firmly believe in wealth redistribution and that their plans are best for the country...but come on, talk about your low hanging fruit...Vote for me and I'll take money from your rich neighbor and give it to you!! Not exactly a hard sell since there will always be fewer rich people, and there will always be human beings eager to spend other people's money. But, at least Democrats can be counted on to act on their principles. They are a dependable party. They exist to grow government and in doing so, advance the interests of the marginalized members of society...allegedly.

What about the Republicans? A very charitable reading of their charter would suggest that they stand for fiscal prudence. It is the job of Republicans to stand athwart a profligate, spendthrift government yelling stop!!! It is the job of Republicans to promote freedom, to take up the cause of the individual getting crushed by the demands and edicts of his out of control government. It is the job of Republicans to champion the free market and the notion that decisions about how to allocate resources will always be made more efficiently by a functioning free market than they ever will by a government committee. But, whenever the Republicans get their chance to actually govern, the American people get none of these things. What they get is the promotion of crony capitalism, tax cuts for people who don't really need them, and...squirrel!!!....Hey, let's go fight a war in the Middle East!

I have gotten to the point where I truly despise politics, every single thing about it. Each day brings fresh evidence of the cluelessness of the American ruling class. Politicians in Washington from both parties act as if we don't know that part of the reason they aren't in any hurry to fix our health care mess is because they have all exempted themselves from the mess. Their health plan is perfectly fine. Their tax burden made less burdensome by their well paid accountants taking advantage of escape hatches for the well connected. They don't have to fret about saving for retirement, their retirement plan is pretty sweet. They don't have to worry about illegal immigrants taking their jobs, or moving in next door...they live in gated enclaves. They don't have to worry about the crumbling public schools...their kids go to private academies.

So, going forward, here are our choices. If you want a government to provide more and more subsidies and welfare programs to make your life easier, vote Democrat. You know why? Because they will deliver. If you want a government that is less intrusive and does only the things clearly mandated to it by our Constitution, and does so without wracking up unfathomable debt, don't vote Republican because they won't.

Welcome to our Democratic future.