Sunday, December 18, 2011

When Necessary, Use Words

One of my favorite teachers, St. Francis of Assisi, is credited with the saying “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”  While he first uttered these words over 800 years ago, the truth contained in them is immortal regardless of whether or not you follow his Christian teachings.
I believe that if we were to boil the teachings of the gospels down to their basic element, they could be summed up through an answer Jesus delivered to the Pharisees when asked which was the greatest commandment in the law.  Jesus’ response was love - first for God, second for everyone else.  This is what St. Francis implores us to do.  Absent communicating the messages contained in the gospels with our mouths, our actions demonstrate exactly what is in our heart.
Too often, I find people straying from this ideal, particularly during the holidays.  For a season that is supposed to focus on joy and goodwill, many people succumb to the stress of holiday shopping, overwhelming crowds, and over spent budgets.  As we look forward to whatever vacation we have managed to plan, we end up loathing the time we spend at work.  Our stress causes us to sleep poorly and we turn into grouchy, unpleasant people.  Happy Holidays everyone!
Our unthought actions, typically reactions to how we are feeling on the inside, reflect where we are in relation to Jesus’ teaching.  The unhappy person who cuts us off in the mall parking lot deserves our love.  The screaming baby in the restaurant and the parents who appear to ignore the grating noise deserve our love.  The homeless man who approaches your window with the a bucket of water and a squeegee deserves our love.
Now, imagine yourself in any one of these situations as either of the participants.  No matter which one you are, you have the power to change the other person depending upon your response.  You can make their day better or you can make their day worse.  St. Francis would implore you to reflect on the gospel message and act through love, reflecting the teaching of Jesus.  Perhaps in any one of these situations, your love could infect the other person, helping to spread love through their interactions as well.
Or you could spread the opposite of love; it is just as infectious, and too often the easier, quicker choice.  
St. Francis’ message applies all year round, not just at Christmas time.  I understand how hard it is to stare down rudeness, selfishness, and even hate, and respond with the most truly loving (and not sarcastic) reactions.  We are usually so eager to protect our ego that we tend to sink to the level of our attacker instead of raising them up to our level of love.  But imagine how different this world would be if we could do that.  How many ego driven actions did we take today that could have easily been derived from love?  How differently would you feel right now had you chosen to respond with a smile instead of a grimace?
American culture is a paradox of sorts.  From an early age we see that being the best is rewarded the most.  We practice as much as we can, putting others down, creating victories where there is no competition just to say we are the best, generally acting without love.  But, America claims to be a Christian nation, espoused in Christian ideals.  If this were true, wouldn’t our first choice always be love instead of ego?
I think if Jesus or St. Francis were to see the America we have created, they would be severely disappointed in our efforts.  Instead of a nation built on the Christian ideal of love for others, we have built a nation focused on loving ourselves, which was not the answer Jesus provided to the Pharisees.  Well, not unless we have usurped the throne of God and placed ourselves upon it.
The beauty of this world is that we can change it.  We can use love to guide our every action, reflecting on the teachings of these wise men.  Our influence can spread beyond our own lives, beyond our own communities, spreading love everywhere.  So today, as you go about your business, reflect on your actions towards others.  Are you living up to the expectations set for you many centuries ago?  I hope so.

Frank Chambers

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Death and Texas

There is a saying - the only certainties in life are death and Texas.  After living in this great state for the past 30 years, I can say that it is true.  Texas is more than just a place, it is a state of mind.
When you are driving down the road and some giant truck fills your rearview mirror, urging you to get out of its way even though you are in the slow lane.  That is Texas.
When you are at a restaurant and the waiter asks if you would like the small chicken friend steak or the large and you order the large.  That is Texas.
When you shoot a Coyote during your morning run because it was in your way.  That is Texas.
Texas is about big.  It is about tough and rough.  It is about over doing it, and then doing it some more.  Texas is about how much, how often, and how long.  Texas spelled backwards is Saxet.  Don’t mess with Texas because Texas knows where you live. Texas wears spurs while asleep.  Texas is.  Texas does.  And Texas did.
Walker, Texas Ranger is Texas, which means that Chuck Norris is Texas as well.  Nothing can compete with Chuck Norris.  Looking at Chuck Norris is like trying to have a staring contest with the sun.  You lose.
Texas is football.  It is band and cheerleaders, drill team and pep squad, costumed mascots and live animals.  What do people farm in Texas - linebackers.  Our Gross Domestic Product is measured in rattlesnake skins.  Texas has a National Beer - Lone Star.  Every morning, millions of students say a pledge.  To Texas.
Texas is the home of the Alamo, remember that?  We say “Y’all.”  What are y’all going to do about it?  Nothing.  I thought so.
As Davy Crocket told his friends - “You may all go to Hell and I will go to Texas.”

Frank Chambers

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rinse and Repeat

Most of us are familiar with laundry.  We wear the clothes we like, we wad them up and deposit them into a basket (or the floor), and when we run out, or it is laundry day, we wash them.  This cycle continues constantly throughout our life, with only the clothes varying.
There are many cycles in our lives, some larger and over arching like the seasons, others subtle and hidden.  We perpetrate cycles without ever knowing it, running certain habits and behaviors over and over again.  Many of us are often familiar with our cycles and welcome them like old friends come to visit.  Some of us detest our cycles, yet still we succumb to their familiarity despite our loathing.

Much of the content in Being Frank can really be summed up in one idea - break the negative cycles.  We are too frequently the victims of a vicious cycle of abuse we commit against ourselves; I see the results of my own and others’ cycles rear their heads all too often.
Amazingly, every single cycle we allow ourselves to fall into can be broken.  All it takes is a simple decision.
I use the word simple weighted with as much sincerity and seriousness as I can muster.  The idea of simple would imply that the the action of breaking the cycle is easy, which it is not.  The decision is the simple part.  We make up our mind about issues constantly during the day, choosing behaviors to manifest our experiences.  Making a decision is easy.  Following through is hard.
In a way, this is a cycle as well.  We decide we want to change aspects of our life, we craft a plan to enact the changes, we fail to follow through.  The next time around we do the same thing, accomplishing nothing more than creating frustration.  If we can find a way to break this cycle and others, we will find more fulfillment through our existence.  
One of my friends, Roland, recently exposed a cycle I have fallen into for the past couple of years.  I, like many Americans, complain about my weight, my fitness level, and my overall health.  Roland, who I have written about before, called me out.  He pointed out that while I have a goal, I don’t have a goal. Simply wanting to lose weight, even having a desired weight goal, is not enough.  He is right.  The most productive I have ever been with fitness training was while training for the Houston marathon.  While a knee injury prevented me from finishing my training, I dedicated myself to the program because I had a goal.  Roland told me I needed to set a goal, an end date, at which point my obligation would be complete.
This is certainly not the only way to break a cycle in your life.  First you must make the decision and second you must follow through, but having checkpoints along the way that motivate you to work and to change certainly helps.
Don’t succumb to the repetitive nature of our being.  Identify the cycles you no longer wish to repeat.  Make a decision and follow through.  Break the cycle.

Frank Chambers

Sunday, December 4, 2011

No Respect

Rodney Dangerfield used to complain about not getting any respect.  His entire career was built on this bit, driving every joke.  No one respected Rodney - his parents, his wife, even his dog.  Sometimes I feel like that about the University of Houston football team. 

As a University of Houston alumni I have followed the Cougar’s football exploits over the years, cringing at the bad and cheering at the good.  If I didn’t already bleed red, I would bleed red.  As a student I survived the 0-11 season and now as an alumni I enjoyed cheering the Coogs along to 12-1 (as of this writing).  I have to tell you, the Cougars have never received the respect they deserve.  They are the Rodney Dangerfield of college football.
If you follow FBS football, you might wonder how I can suggest they get no respect, be it that they were ranked No. 6 in the nation before losing the C-USA Championship game.  It comes down to this - the nation’s sports writers, bloggers, and pundits always seemed to grudgingly give UH some credit while eagerly waiting the day they would fall from grace.  Now, after being thoroughly out-played in their last home game, the national “I told you so” will begin.  The BCS system has taken a collective sigh of relief.  The lack of respect will continue.
Despite the grudging national attention, the Cougars have held their heads high the entire season, playing with class.  I have seen games where they kneeled the ball on the 5 yard line three times in a row to avoid running up the score, where the coaches subbed the starters early in the fourth quarter to avoid embarrassing an unmatched opponent, I have seen class from Coach Kevin Sumlin and the players alike.  I have respect for the University of Houston.
Unfortunately, some of the excitement I felt at attending the C-USA championship game was muted by the actions of others (not the disappointing football performance by my Coogs, though).  Our seats were great, on the 35 about half way up the visitor side.  We were surrounded by a sea of red - it was awesome.  I have never heard Robertson Stadium so loud.  
Then, the drunks started up.  Mixed into the true-hearted Cougar fans were the slovenly drunks eager for nothing more than to shout obscenities at everyone.  I didn’t realize that college football was more about how many beers you can spill on an 8 year old boy than it is about cheering your team on.  I heard many words spew from the mouths of these men (not college boys) that I hadn’t heard since I myself was an undergraduate.  Did I mention the 8 year old boy?  Did I mention the 6 year old girl sitting with her parents dressed like a UH cheerleader?
After halftime, the young boy and his father did not return to their seats.  I assume they were tired of showering in a mix of beer and spit.  The parent of the little cheerleader spoke up during halftime to one of the men.  At least he had the grace to realize how offensive he had been and promptly sat down, falling into an embarrassed slumber for the third quarter. 
There was a tussle where one of the drunks wanted to smoke a cigarette in the stands.  He had already smoked one.  This time the other drunks corralled him.  He disappeared a little bit before the cops came by.  Another drunk was reprimanded for his language by security.  He slowed it down for a little while, but started back up not long after they left.
I will take solace in the fact that, as far as I could tell through their conversation, most of them were not UH alums, because their behavior demonstrated that they had no respect for themselves or for the Cougars.  As a result, I have no respect for them.
Then there were the fans who walked out on their Cougars with eight minutes remaining in the game.  Sure, they were down by 21 at that point, but this is when a team absolutely needs their fans.  Instead, the exits were filled with rivers of red, clogged with people who came only to see a victory, not with fans who came to support the University of Houston, win or lose.  It would appear that half of the 32,400 people that were at the game didn’t respect the Cougars enough to stay through to the end (or at least closer to the end).
During the fourth quarter, there were about ten players Southern Miss players who chose to heckle and ridicule the fans instead of supporting their team in a well deserved victory.  I know heckling is part of the game, especially in a stadium with seating so close to the bench.  But, these young men took it too far.  At one point a coach reprimanded them, but they ignored even their own staff to continue goading the fans.  They were apparently unfamiliar with the term “good sportsmanship.”  Their lack of respect for the University of Houston extends to their own school, for they were not representing their team very well.
Regardless of all the disrespect, I have to say it was not contagious; I still respect my Cougars, as do many Houstonians. Just like how Rodney Dangerfield earned the respect of his fellow comedians and fans, I am sure, as long as UH keeps doing what they do, eventually people will learn to respect them.

Frank Chambers