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Op-ed, blogs and columns

Minister’s Column-- What is Lent?

 

By Rev. Rob Bruce

Pastor at Tate UMC

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. At Tate UMC as well as some other churches we celebrated by the imposition of ashes in the sign of the cross on our foreheads while hearing the words, “You are dust and to the dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Lent is an important time in the church year. It is the time of year we reflect on our own mortality as we travel to the cross. Just as we cannot have Easter morning without Good Friday, we cannot be prepared for Easter without our time in the wilderness.

Where does the concept of Lent come from?

At Jesus’ baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from Heaven said, “This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased.” Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus hiked into the wilderness. Maybe he needed some time with God to sort through the major changes happening in his life. Maybe he was searching for direction and answers. Maybe he needed to get away from family, friends and the familiar routine in order to see God, and himself, more clearly. For whatever reason, Jesus retreated into the wilderness for forty days to fast and pray.  Lent is 40 days for us to fast, pray, and reflect as we make our way to the cross and resurrection.

What does Lent have to do with me?

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of work, school, relationships and family. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless TV, meaningless chatter, stimulants, alcohol or other things. We run from silence because we’re afraid of being alone with God. So, like Jesus, we need to take some serious time to pray and figure out where God is in our lives, and where God is calling us to serve. We need to re-focus our lives to be more in line with God.

How do Christians celebrate Lent?

Normally we give up something. However, this year instead of giving up something (which often becomes self-serving), I ask you to add something. I am asking you to devote some time each day to a quiet time with God. Do not be afraid of being alone with God. It is in the time spent alone with God that we become closer to Him and understand more about ourselves. This is a time that can be transformative. Pick up a copy of the Upper Room or other devotional guide that your church may offer and use it for a time of daily reflection.

Progress columnist offers tips on handling criticism

By Alan Gibson

Why respect your critics? They don’t respect you.

When someone says, “May I give you some constructive criticism?” I simply respond, “No, but perhaps you’d care to wrestle?”

Seriously, if you want to criticize, give it to me straight from the shoulder and let me decide how constructive it is.

Herewith a few typical criticism with wise guy responses, in case you enjoy being counterproductive.

Criticism: “You’re not giving me 100%.”

Response: “How about 86% plus lunch at Burger King.”

••••

Criticism: “You think you’re better than me!”

Response: “Only by any objective standard ever devised.”

••••

Criticism: A stern critic waggles a finger in your face saying, “Now look here!”

Response: Attempt to bite the offending finger. If you succeed, release. The point is symbolic.

••••

Criticism: “I’m sorry but you may not write your term paper on Bart Simpson. Pick another subject.”

Response: “Ok. Jerk teachers in our schools.”

••••

Criticism: “You should use self-deprecating humor.”

Response: “The trouble with self-deprecation is that it’s always directed at me!”

••••

Responses like these will soon silence your critics. They’ll also drive off your friends and put you on the fast track to alienation from all that’s worthwhile.

One way or another, the critics always win. On the other hand, there may be the odd instance in which critics praise you, which is harder to deal with in some ways than the negative stuff.

[Gibson hosts Pickens County’s Friday Morning Discussion Group. All attitudes are welcome. For info: 770-893-2578.]

High profile legislation responds to citizens' needs

By State Senator Steve Gooch

A number of high profile bills have been introduced this week that are aimed at responding to the needs of our state’s citizens. Georgians, along with voters across the nation, have told their elected officials loud and clear that they want smaller government and less intrusion.  Here at the state level, we’re working to meet that request.

As taxpayers, we all want to rest assured that our government is being a good steward of our hard earned money. The Senate and House have both moved forward on legislation that would require the General Assembly to justify every dollar it spends.  Georgia currently operates under a continuation budget.  Once a new spending program is approved by the General Assembly, it is automatically rolled over into the next succeeding budget under a single line item, called continuation. The budgets that we approve each year detail as little as 3% of the state’s spending; everything else appears on one line without any description.  Legislation is in the works to move to a zero-based budgeting method that would require us to justify all expenses, including those approved in earlier years. The Senate has passed a version of zero-based budgeting four times in the last eight years, and the bill enjoys strong bipartisan support. If we are to be good stewards of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, we must analyze and justify how every dollar is spent.

At a time when federal mandates and regulations seem to be encroaching on everyone’s life, the Georgia legislature is working to protect citizens’ rights. A bill has been introduced that aims to protect the gun rights of legally-carrying citizens during a state of emergency. Senate Bill 26 prohibits any additional limitations on carrying firearms during a state of emergency, including seizing any firearm not currently prohibited by law, or requiring the registration of a firearm that is not already required to be registered by law.  Legally-carrying citizens should be able to protect themselves and their personal property at all times, particularly emergency situations.

This week also saw the introduction of a bill aimed at restricting the massive influx of illegal immigrants into Georgia.  Senate Bill 40 enhances the use of the federal E-Verify system and allows local and state law enforcement officers to help federal authorities identify illegal immigrants in Georgia. The bill includes increased punishments on contractors who work on state projects but do not use the federal E-Verify system to ensure their employees are legal to work in the United States and mandates that private businesses use E-Verify. The bill also authorizes law enforcement officers to ask for immigration documents from a person who is stopped for probable cause of a crime, authorizes law enforcement to verify citizenship or legal immigration status by asking for government identification such as a driver’s license and allows them to turn over suspected illegal aliens to federal authorities.  The bill specifically states that race or country of origin cannot be used to determine if someone is in the United States illegally. Much of this bill is aimed at helping businesses and state agencies determine that people working for them are not in the country illegally.

Also this week we celebrated North Georgia College and State University Day at the Capitol, where we recognized the college’s softball team for their perfect 50-0 season in 2010, the program’s third perfect season in its 14-year history. North Georgia College stands as a beacon of excellence in education, and is Georgia’s second oldest public institution of higher learning. The college’s rich history is coupled with its national distinction as a leader in teaching and learning innovation, educating engaged citizens and contributing to regional development.

I’m excited to announce that I’ve been appointed chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee on Roads and Bridges, and look forward to using this appointment to help meet the transportation needs in the 51st Senate District and across the state. The subcommittee will be tasked with vetting specific transportation bills and resolutions assigned by the full Transportation committee that focus on this particular policy area.  In order to elevate our state’s transportation system, we must ensure that our roads and bridges are maintained to the highest standard. Providing quality, core transportation functions has a huge impact on our state’s competitive advantage, and it’s incumbent upon this subcommittee to examine any policy that affects that part of our transportation network.  I’m honored by this appointment and look forward to working with my colleagues to improve Georgia’s roads and bridges.

Expect the pace to quicken under the Gold Dome as we begin moving these and other bills through the legislative process. I remain committed to passing good legislation that responds to our citizens’ needs.

 

National Spay Day USA Feb. 22, Local vet urges responsible pet ownership

By Lyn Lewis

Wayside Animal Clinic

Tuesday, February 22 is Spay Day USA, which is a program put on by the Humane Society of the United States.  This program is done with the cooperation of local veterinary offices and animal shelters.  The program encourages spaying and neutering through discounts and other incentives.  This is a wonderful opportunity for the citizens of North Georgia to make a difference in the lives of our four legged friends.

Pet overpopulation is a big problem all over the country but in North Georgia I would say it is even worse.  Every day we get 2-3 new pets in our office that were former strays.  People keep telling me, who have moved into our area, about how they have never seen so many strays running around.  Nowhere is a better example of this than our local animal shelters.  I cannot imagine how hard their job is when people call in need of help and animal control’s hands are tied because of lack of space.  Nationally, 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year.  Other groups such as Gateway Pet Rescue, Second Chance, Pickens Animal Rescue, and Homeward Bound also are doing everything within their power to both shelter and adopt out strays.

It is amazing how quickly pets can multiply.  Female dogs can have 2 litters a year and on average have 6-10 puppies per litter.  Female cats on the other hand can have 3 litters a year and usually produce 4-6 kittens at a time.  Being conservative, if I have a female animal and she produces 4 females only once a year and each female has 4 females each year for 7 years we would have over 250,000 female animals.  This would not take into account the total males produced.  So, after just 7 years one animal was responsible for producing over 500,000 total offspring!  Unfortunately, this is a conservative number since I only counted one breeding a year.

Enough with statistics, I think I have made the point.  Now, what can we, as a community, do to be part of the solution?  First off, we need to be responsible for the pets we consider ours.  Please spay and neuter your pets before the age of 8 months.  Most females go into heat at around 9 months to 1 year old.  If you have a pure bred animal or an interesting mix that you really want to breed, that is okay too.  Have the responsibility to have found homes for the puppies you want to produce.  Now I am sorry guys, but we are one of the worst offenders.  We have all heard the term, “It takes two to tango” and that is very true; male animals are just as guilty.  When I talk about spaying and neutering in the rooms with clients men hardly every want to neuter their male animals.  They use the excuse that they are less manly, they will get fat and lazy.  Truth is, if they are neutered before puberty they will never know the difference.  Over 90% of the dogfights, hit by cars, and gunshot wounds I see in our office are un-neutered males.  Also, male dogs have higher incidents of prostate issues than human males do.  The only way to effectively control populations is to reduce the intact roaming males as well.

So in closing, let’s all be responsible, use your local veterinarians to help reduce pet overpopulation.  For people who are dealing with money issues there are many wonderful programs.  At www.humanesociety.org/spayday is a list of animal hospitals providing special offers for Spay Day USA on February 22.  There is also a statewide program through veterinary offices called the Dog and Cat Sterilization Program that can provide up to a $60 discount on spays and neuters.  Please spend time and go to the Spay Day website, it has wonderful information and contests to promote this important day.

 

From Hard-Head, with love

By Bettina Huseby

“Live and learn,” my Aunt Mary liked to say. It was one of my favorites. I’m approaching the half-century mark, but lately it’s teenagers who are teaching me stuff. I work shoulder-to-shoulder with ’em at home, at school and at my job. Nobody is particularly happy about it and it shows.

I was sanitizing in the Walmart Deli when a young colleague startled me, barking orders at high volume. I was indignant. She was not being respectful to me, her elder, and she frightened me so much I wet my Khaki uniform pants.

I can be loud too, and gave it right back to her, expounding on why I was right and she was wrong. For emphasis, I threw my cleaning bottle across the floor. My pitch was archived as evidence on the security camera. They didn’t call me into the office, but my scheduled hours were cut way, way down into the immature teens (those digits between 12 and 20) and they removed me from the Deli indefinitely.

This sort of thing has been happening to me since kindergarten. I’m playing nicely by myself when a bully strikes and withdraws. I react and get punished for my reaction while the bully gets off scot-free. Day jobs are for organized types, anyhow - people who keep their socks rolled in pairs and brush after every meal. I’m more of a night-job kind of gal. Maybe it’s time I quit Walmart and become a stage actress. The pay is probably comparable and emoting is in my genes. My mom could cry on command and my dad had a very short fuse.

In the comedy film Smokey and the Bandit, Jackie Gleason has my dad perfectly nailed in the character of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. He abuses his son, Buford, Jr., across several state lines as they chase bootleggers and Jr.’s runaway bride. Gleason spits orders and insults, “Do what I tell ya, you pile of #$%&! Put the evidence in the car!” When his fatherly patience has completed dissolved, Gleason mutters, “There is no way, no way that you came from my loins.”

My dad lost patience with me over tiny little things, like saving water. I liked to keep the tap on while washing dishes, but Dad said to fill the sink up and turn the water off. I refused. He called me Hard-Head and stomped off to do some figuring on paper. This, he shoved under my nose. I said he was wrong. He got even madder and shut the water off at the valve. Mom jumped in and stopped us. She said no argument was worth winning if it gave Dad a stroke. We knew he had clogged arteries, but even his doctors were unaware of the aneurysm growing on his aorta. This condition took his life in a split-second, a few months later. I was 18 years old.

I felt a callous first reaction: Relief. Now he wouldn’t follow me around the house anymore, dictating my every move. Then one day it hit me. We had suffered a terrible loss. Never again could I ask him for advice. For the rest of my life I’ve had to stop and think: What would Daddy do? I can usually come up with an answer. Maybe it’s because he spent most all of his free time with me, Hard-Head. Certainly it would have been easier for him to be anywhere else on the planet. But he had no other agenda.

Lately, the kids I run into (or have run-ins with) seem especially grouchy. But I can’t worry about them all. God assigned me two of my own, whose little minds I could warp any way I see fit. I’ve tried to do a good job. If Dad were here, I hope he’d approve. I think he would. But it really doesn’t matter what I hope or think at this point. They’re teenagers now, out there making their own choices. The evidence will speak for itself.

Huseby is a Jasper resident and an occasional contributor to the Progress.