Life from the rear-view mirror

I have a Jewish mother…Vol 61

24921I didn’t know I was Jewish until I was about 12. It didn’t mean much to me even when I found out . I think my dad told me when I found these little black doily-looking hat things in a drawer. My dad (who is not a Jew) told me that Jewish men wore them on their heads. I thought that was weird. There was no visor so how do you keep the sun out of your eyes?  He called it a Yamaka. The name sounded as weird as the hat looked. I didn’t like saying it.  And I had no intention of ever wearing one.

I had one Jewish friend in grade school, his name was Randy. I remember going to Hebrew school with him one Saturday and then being invited to his Barmitzvah. I was only 12, so mom and dad had to take me…there was lots of food and lots of presents. I remember thinking this being Jewish thing might just work out…except if I had to learn Hebrew and sing it in front of hundreds of people. But just now I wondered if mom wished that Brian and I had gotten Barmitzvah’d. Hmmm…I’m not Barmitzvah’d so that would mean that I’m still a child…which would explain a lot of things…

Back when mom was young it wasn’t very cool to be Jewish. There were slurs and racial prejudice back in the 30’s just like today…so she never said much about it. It was mostly Dad who would tell me about my Jewish relatives. How they were doctors and business owners and in general pretty successful. Even though most of them lived just 30 miles away, I only met a few of them growing up. It wasn’t until I was in town visiting my parents that I finally met that side of the family. All the living ones that is. We had a meal at mom’s aunt Bell and uncle Irving’s place after the Kaddesh for Irv who had passed away about a month earlier. I remember a lot of talking and “Jew food”, as Bell called it. Sweet noodles, borscht  and all sorts of other stuff. It was a glimpse into a world that was so different from mine but one that I was part of in a deeper way than I realized at the time.

Mom was never a practicing Jew. What does that even mean? If you practice being a Jew do you actually get better at it? Anyway…her dad wasn’t Jewish either. The story starts to get more interesting when I tried to understand the genealogy…or what little I could find out about it. Apparently my mother’s, mother’s relatives came over from Russia. They lived somewhere around the Caspian sea. Mom would tell me the city was Vilnev, but the closest thing I can find to that name is Vilna (Vilnius) which was in ancient Russia/Lithuania depending on the borders at the time you asked. I guess there were sort of musical borders depending on the political environment at the time. But the intrigue and mystery stops there. Mom doesn’t know (or remember) any more and anybody in the family who might, is either dead or just can’t remember like mom. So I’m a Russian Jew….I guess.

OK my mom is Jewish…how Jewish am I really? Turns out you can’t get any more Jewish. I will die a Jew. The line is always passed through the mother. The Jewish father gives other things…the name…an inheritance, ect. But the “being Jewish” part comes from the mother. Hard to believe because as a society, the Jews are very Patriarchal but in all my study reading a lot of Rabbi’s…there is agreement that any child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish.

So I am Jewish…how would that play out for me in…lets say in Nazi Germany around WWII? I did some reading on the Holocaust…and the purging of the Jews in Germany. Had I been living in Germany under the Hitler regime, I would have gone to the ovens with all the other Jews…even if I had been a Christ follower. Hitler went right to the genealogy. He knew who was a Jew and who wasn’t. If you were a child of a Jewish mother…you were a Jew and you were to be eliminated…killed completely to death. That is pretty sobering to think about even now in 2013.

The fact that I’m Jewish, while tremendously significant, has never really impacted my life. Other than maybe as conversation…and.. Kathy occasionally calls me Rabbi …oh…and  I have an odd aversion to pork…(not really) and… I don’t pay retail…(I really don’t…)

There is a part of me who really wants to understand my heritage better and a part of me that says what does it matter now. I’m a Christ follower and my eternal future is secure because of what Christ did on the cross for me despite what my ancestors did to Christ to put him there.

So is there a point to me prattling on about my Jewish-ness? I don’t know. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I guess I could feel entitled in a way because I’m one of the “chosen” or I could feel “betrayed” by my own people because I know Christ as Savior and I can’t believe my ancestors missed him when he was walking in the flesh with them. But what I really feel is grateful for being both a Jew and a Christ follower.

The question is (and has always been) …So what? What do I do with this great treasure?

We all have back stories. Some we’re proud of…some not so much. We all have family. In some, the relationships are good…some not so much. We all deal with chains that hold us back or hold us down. Some of us break free…but some are still in bondage.

Where are you?

No matter what your back story is…if it’s rough… if you feel trapped…you don’t have to be defeated. Jesus told us he came to set us free. Free being a spiritual freedom that enables us to celebrate right where we are and know that regardless of the circumstances we can rejoice in what Christ has done for us on the cross. Even in bondage we can live like we are completely free.

If your life is pretty good right now…thank God, and then get ready for some trials. No matter what our circumstances we as believers are called to suffering.

Matt 20:20-28 Jesus told us that he didn’t come to be ministered unto…but to minister…and to give his life as a ransom for MANY

Romans 8:17 – If we are to share in His glory…then we must also share in his suffering.

I’m not even sure I can legally call this a devotion. I don’t know if any of it will resonate with anyone else but me. But still I hope someone is encouraged. I hope someone will be challenged to be more than who they are today. And I hope and pray that if any reader doesn’t know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior they will consider that they can know him today. If you are interested…please follow the link below.




dugz4 September 22, 2013 Leave A Comment Permalink

Turning with the “Master”….Vol 60

565879_10201139892153873_1087414757_nA few months back I began a new hobby of wood-turning. Specifically turning pens out of exotic wood and acrylic on a small wood lathe. I can’t fully explain the motivation behind it other than in some small way to honor my dad and his efforts to teach me some useful skill and maybe to prove to myself than I can do something with my hands other than take them out to dinner and a movie.

I started doing research on what I would need to get started in this new hobby. Most of the information I needed was available on YouTube. I watched hours of video on pen turning, talked to the guys at the local craft store and eventually picked up enough gear to begin turning my first pen.

Translating actual technique from watching a video to a spinning piece of wood on the lathe in front of you is both interesting and a bit daunting.

For starters…you can’t get hurt too bad watching a video. There are some safety issues that, if not followed,  could ruin your chances of making a pen…and might ruin your whole day too. Thankfully, I learned enough to keep the lathe from tearing the tools out of my hands and launching them into orbit or impaling myself…and in the end…my first pen actually came out pretty good… considering. I called my dad to celebrate and talk shop. I was no longer the lowly “holder of the flashlight” I was a real-life crafts-person complete with all my original fingers. It was a proud moment.

I brought my first pen home to show Kathy who gushed with just the right amount of enthusiasm and encouragement. The kids just stared in wonder that dad could actually make something instead of “commissioning” it. I is something I could do for my own enjoyment and maybe, if I got good enough, make a few bucks on the side… (to pay for my other hobbies like eating and college tuition and gas for the cars…)

A few days later I was back in the shop but with a whole different outcome. The glue set before I could work with the pen and then I blew up a couple of pen blanks on the lathe…among other things. I came home with nothing to show for the time but frustration and broken parts. I had failed. What happened? Was that first pen just a fluke? Beginner’s luck?

I revisited YouTube and my new pals at Woodcraft for help. I didn’t pick up any more hints from the videos and it turns out the dudes at Woodcraft  really didn’t know a whole lot more about pen turning than me. But every time I visited the store I came home with more pen kits and stuff to help me make better pens. I had do-dads and gadgets and fancy pen blanks…I had a shop full of potential…but at the moment all that it translated into was…broken parts.

There are always a few people in any hobby or profession who stand out.

featured_pen_large barryturning (2)

Barry Gross and 2010 Pen of the year…



They have some unique talent or ability that is immediately recognizable in their work. I had seen Barry’s work on YouTube, on the internet and had read about him in some of the forums I subscribed to. He took pen turning to an art form. He had over 30 years experience,  published three books on turning, and had a couple of instructional DVD’s out. He had won “pen of the year” and had even been commissioned to make some pens for Dick Cheney, while he was Vice President. He was and is, very accomplished.

I bought one of his books and DVD’s and began to watch him closely. He looked like a regular guy but with an incredible talent. He looked approachable. Man…I thought…if I could get a chance to work with him one on one…that might just make the difference to help me turn the corner and move to the next level myself.

Turns out that Barry routinely does instruction at his home in Philadelphia for a reasonable fee. So this past Friday I headed to PA for my three hour session with Barry Gross, Master Craftsman. I was going to stop into his warehouse on Friday to pick up a few supplies then work with him in his personal shop Saturday morning.

Barry and I are about the same age and we had an easy rapport. The plan was that I would watch him make a pen and apply finish…and then, he would watch me do the same and help with flaws in my technique.  Along the way the conversation would move from materials, to tools, to finishes to marketing. All in an informal, yet instructional way. He didn’t come at it from a standpoint of being so much better than me…which he was. But rather as a teacher who had been where I was and made all the mistakes I was making but through learning, patience and perseverance , had honed his craft to excellence. He was quick to tell me (and show me) that while he is at the top of his game…he still makes mistakes. He can take his eye off of what he’s working on for just a second and blow something up.

The time with Barry was well spent. He is, and will be and valuable resource. I learned a ton and made a friend.

Anyone who knows me, knows I can be, and often am impulsive. That can be good or bad. OK…let’s not go there right now. The point is that I didn’t just jump in the car and go to Philly hoping to find Barry at home with time on his hands.  I purposely planned for the trip. I talked it over with Kathy. I looked at our situation, my ability, my desire and my resources…then made a decision to take the trip. Making the best pen I could possibly make was important to me. Not simply to please me…but for who i thought might be customers one day. They would have a choice about where to purchase fine writing instruments. If I didn’t provide a pen that was equal to or better than others out there…chances are I would end up with a whole lot of pretty pens on the shelf instead of in the pockets of customers.

This whole story has made me think about parallels to my walk with God. Why is it that my time with Jesus, the Master of the Universe, and proclaimed Master of my life seems to be much more haphazard than the time I spent with Barry Gross. Yet what Jesus has to offer for my life is critical to my life…and ultimately more rewarding than any talent or ability I might possess or choose to use for my own purposes. No offense Barry…

The sad truth is that I have often assigned more value to time I spend on other things and with other people.

What a trajedy…what sin! How can I love God the way He requires with a second-hand love? How can I expect to mature, to grow, to be the husband and father I need to be?  I can’t. You can’t. No one can.

For God to have and maintain the place of Lordship in our lives takes a purposeful,  intentional commitment. We often have to sacrifice something else to ensure that our relationship with our Savior takes priority over…well…pens…and anything else you and I are distracted by.

There is no shortage of competition in the world for our time and for our best. I pray that we can see through the things that can only provide temporary satisfaction and wisely commit to invest ourselves be better followers of Christ. When that priority is firmly fixed in place we can live out our purpose. Rick Warren says it this way…

  • We were planned for God’s pleasure
    • so your first purpose is to offer real worship.
  • We were formed for God’s family
    • so your second purpose is to enjoy real fellowship.
  • We were created to become like Christ,
    • so your third purpose is to learn real discipleship.
  • We were shaped for serving God
    • so your fourth purpose is to practice real ministry.
  • We were made for a mission
    • so your fifth purpose is to live out real evangelism.

Blessings friend!

Luke 10:27  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.


dugz4 September 18, 2013 Leave A Comment Permalink

“Bugged” …Vol 59

bugHave you ever been smitten by something? I think we all have to one degree or another. The object of our smitten-ness…er…smite…whatever…can be in it’s uniqueness, it’s function, the way it looks, smells…or some other distinguishing feature. For young men (and older men alike…)well…ok…for me,  it’s often cars.

We have a relationship with cars that borders on the ridiculous. I’ve read stories of men trying to marry their cars…Cultures and businesses have sprung up to meet the physical and emotional needs of those of us who affix an un-natural  amount of our identity and self-esteem to what kind of car we drive.

My brother and I learned to drive in the early 70’s…however…I started thinking about cars much earlier…. like out of the womb. Dad was a car buff. From the time we had any understanding of speech…we heard about cars. As we got older, Sunday afternoons were dedicated to car lots or airports…(dad’s love of cars was only slightly eclipsed by his love of airplanes.) Mom put up with this obsession which didn’t really come to a head until well after my brother and I had moved away and had our own families. Dad surprised mom one day by coming home unannounced with a 1976 Corvette. I don’t remember if that was before or after the airplane…surprise!

But back in the early 60’s money was tight….and there was this German import that had been taking the country by storm with it’s unique look, good gas mileage and simple mechanics. The Volkswagen “Beetle.” That name was eventually shortened to “Bug.” I don’t know who coined either name…(probably some ad guy)…but it sure stuck…and I can see why. It was a vehicle so ugly it was cute. And it came in a rainbow of colors. Back then a brand new one was under $2000. Anyway, Dad loved the car and I remember the family driving to a dealer in Rome, NY to order a shiny new one with a sunroof to replace the old Studebaker.

We never got that new bug…if I recall the wait was over 6 months…we ended up with a little red Corvair sedan instead. Many of you will remember Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at any speed”  yea…that Corvair.

The Corvair had a short life in our family…thanks to Ralph Nader…and the bug had come into our lives in a big way. The “bug” was affordable and plentiful. We had a herd of ’em. I think we had 5 of them gracing our driveway at one point. Two or three “drivers” a parts car and a “project car” for my dad. Each vehicle had it’s own personality…it’s own temperament and some distinguishing quirk. I still remember driving home one winter night in my brother’s bug trying to scrape the ice off the inside of the windshield with my hand while trying to see out of a tiny clear spot at the corner of the windshield…the only place where the defroster actually worked…a little. And it was always a crap shoot if the wipers would keep working in a rain storm often leaving us straining to see or stranded on the side of the road.

The bug was definitely a fair-weather vehicle. All the equipment was there to get through the storms but it just didn’t work real well…and sometimes not at all. Even when it did work…it wasn’t very dependable.

You know the saying, “fair-weather friend?” That’s the person who is happy to be your friend when you are “buying” or when things are all working out. Throw a little rain on the parade and these fair-weather friends scatter. Sadly, that’s also how some Christians view their relationship with God. God allows a storm or two, maybe an occasional hurricane and we run…or get totally blown off course.

As believers, we have all the equipment and tools we need to weather the storms of life…so why are their so many Christians on the side of the road in a storm? I remember the first time I had a flat tire…it took me longer to figure out where to find the jack than it did to change the tire. My point being that we need to get better acquainted with how to unpack what we need from our spiritual trunk. Familiarize ourselves with the manual if you will. Know where to go to get help. Pick a way to describe this that resonates with you.

But don’t quit the journey when it rains Christian.

We are built to handle foul weather.

2nd Corinthians 6: 3-10

dugz4 September 10, 2013 2 Comments Permalink

40 year Reunion…Here we come! Vol 58





In October, Kathy and I are planning on attending our 40-year High School reunion. This reunion  will be my first, so I’m taking all the necessary precautions to ensure a successful encounter. These things include…

1) Coming up with a high dollar career (with a name I can pronounce) to provide an element of shock and awe for all the attorneys and doctors in our class…

2) Losing weight

3) Flaunting the fact that I still have my hair…

4) Losing more weight

5) Renting a Porsche (see shock and awe in item 1)

…and that’s just for starters.

I haven’t seen most of these folks since I was 18. It’s no secret that I’m nowhere close to the 18 year old physical version of me….sad but true.  But if I could, I’d want to be younger looking than anyone there, more successful, (I already have the prettiest wife), a better conversationalist, and better dancer…(I nearly broke my pelvis working on my twerk moves…) There’s a YouTube moment for you right there…

The reality is that my body has suffered the ravages of time, gravity, maladies, surgeries and recalls (no kidding…my hips were recalled…) and I’ll bet that most of us who will be in attendance have similar stories.

Reunions are pretty cool when you think about it. Even though none of us from Oneida High School are related (except for the Catalano twins, and now Kathy and me) There is a sense of “family” in a shared high school experience. We all did life together back in Oneida, in 1973. We saw each other nearly every day. We shared hopes and dreams, lived through acne and backne break-outs, and generally grew up in front of each other during that senior year.  Then in June of ’73 we all graduated together…some to college and university, some to start their own families, some to the work force and a few just lost their way.

For me…I breathed a huge sigh of relief that June. My draft number was 43…I would have been headed to Vietnam had it not been for the Paris Accord signing just 6 months prior. Many of my buddies dodged that same bullet, though all the guys I hung with would have served their country wherever we were called on to go.

I’m not sure I have another High School reunion left in me…after all it’s taken 40 years to get me to this one…and honestly, if Kathy and I didn’t have a chance to tell our story…I might not go to this one.

All that aside, I’m sure we will have a blast renewing old friendships and  catching up with everyone who can make it…

As I write this I’m actually getting a little excited seeing everybody again. But the reunion I’m really looking forward to is not just for an evening or exclusively with my school mates…but rather a forever reunion with the family of God. I don’t know the date for this reunion yet…other than that it’s “soon.” Heaven is the promised destination for the believer in the gospel message. Heaven is both our rest and our reward. Heaven is not something we’ve earned, but rather it was purchased for us by Christ in his death on the cross. It is beyond our description or imagination… It is a final, glorious reunion for all who have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior.

No matter where you have been, no matter what you’ve done…”He (God) was not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. This heavenly reunion is for you and me if we’ll just come to God by faith in Christ…

Below is a link to one of my favorite Gaither songs that talks about family and home…”>GodTube</a>.</p

There is always a place at the table

He’d gotten used to living on the outside looking in, Lonely was his only constant friend…So when the invitation came that clearly bore his name, He hardly could believe the words he read.

There is always a place at the table, there’s a feast that’s now waiting all your own. Your place is set each time the family gathers. It will never be the same til you’re home.

She’d made so many choices that had torn her life apart, and hurt the very ones she’d loved the most. She didn’t even know where someone could begin until she got this message from the host

There is always a place at the table, there’s a feast that’s now waiting all your own. Your place is set each time the family gathers. It will never be the same till you’re home.

Come home…come home…my child…come home.

There is always a place at the table, there’s a feast that’s now waiting all your own. Your place is set each time the family gathers. It will never be the same till you’re home.

My prayer is that anyone who happens across these few words here…knows that their eternal home is in Heaven. But if you don’t…please read on.

The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. Romans 3:23

The Bible goes on to tell us that the wages or payment for that sin is death. Not just a physical death…but spiritual death and separation from God in a place the Bible calls Hell. Romans 6:23

But God was not willing that any should perish but that all would repent and come into a right relationship with God by believing in the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as it’s recorded in Scripture. (paraphrase mine) II Peter 3:9

Do those thoughts and verses resonate with you? If they do…find a quiet place and talk to God. It can be out loud or in your heart. Ask God to be the forgiver of your sins and the leader of your life. He wants to be. We need him to be for ourselves, for our families, for this world.

I hope you made a decision to trust God…and I hope to see you in Heaven one day soon my friend.

dugz4 September 2, 2013 Leave A Comment Permalink