Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr: January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.

You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.

You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.

You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.

You don’t have to know about Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.

You don’t have to know about the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

-MLK

I know. There are probably a ton and half of other bloggers that are posting about Martin Luther King, Jr. today. Yes, it’s a little cliche, but he was an amazing man who, deserves some recognition.

I won’t comment on whether I think all of his methods were Biblical. I do, however, believe that we shouldn’t be hasty to hand out judgement to a group of people for their nonviolent resistance and protest to the racial segregation and racial discrimination against African Americans during that time. I especially admire his firm belief in the idea that violence is not the way to get what you want.

Reverend King’s push for racial equality in America led some people to hate him for it, and on April 4, he was assassinated for his outspokenness and his leadership in the Civil Rights movement. Close to the end of his life, he concentrated his efforts more on fighting poverty and ending the Vietnam War.

I am by no means championing King as a perfect man. Like all of us he had his flaws. He did however use his voice to stand up for people whose voices were not being heard–people who were suffering horrible injustice. And he believed such stands should be taken without resorting to violence. That’s something I believe all Christians should do.

It’s sometimes easy to stand by and pretend we can’t do anything about poverty, inequality, and injustice. But what about those people we meet everyday that need the love of Jesus? What about that extra money we use for regularly use for “nice things” that we’ve turned into “necessities?” I think all of us can do better in that.

Here’s to asking God for the wisdom to know how to use the things he’s given us to advance His kingdom and to love our neighbors as well as our enemies.

In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here is MLK by U2. Indeed, may his “dreams” of equality “be realized” as nearly as is possible in a fallen world.

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Identifying With The Hungry: A Day of Fasting

Yesterday during social studies class, we noticed a place in the text book where it said people in North America are the richest in the world. I decided to take the opportunity to enlarge my students’ world. I asked them what it meant since we are among the richest in the world and proceeded to explain to them that we are extremely blessed with material wealth. I then explained that such wealth means we need to share with people that don’t have enough.

I talked about how rich we are just because of the simple fact that we have more than enough food, a nice house, and clean water that comes to us, rather than us having to go fetch it. They aren’t old enough to make a lot of financial decisions, but the sooner we are aware of these things, the more we are able to combat the consumer mentality.

I continued by talking about the starvation crisis in Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa. Somehow, after that we got started talking about fasting. One of my students, Tina, said she was planning to not eat the next day, just to see what it was like. I suddenly thought of the fact that it would be cool if our whole class would fast. I told them I wouldn’t force them to, but I thought it would be a great idea.

And thus, an idea was born. Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5th, our class will be fasting during lunch period. We will spend the time normally spent stuffing our faces, praying for the famine crisis in Africa specifically, and in general praying for the world’s starving. Some of my students also plan not to eat supper. I am simply thrilled that they are so stoked about this.

The reason I’m putting this on my blog is to invite you to join us in praying for the people in the world who go to bed feeling hungry every night, who wake up in the morning wondering in what form, or when, or if they will find food for themselves and their children. It’s a crisis we can’t wrap our minds around but my students and I are going to try. We will try to taste just a small portion of the hunger they feel. It will give us a tangible way to understand a minuscule portion of these people’s desire for food. And while we’re at it we will ask God to help them, and to show us how to help them. Please join us in remembering and praying for these people.

Life & a Chess Board

I have long heard about the benefits of playing chess. It is an intensely strategic game that is very good for the mind. It is also a very old game. In medieval times it was a past time for nobility.

I thought it would be terrific to teach my students how to play chess. They usually get done with their work in time to have some free time on their hands and they like to play games. I thought to myself, why not teach them a game that will challenge and engage their minds instead of games that are easy?

I did a little shopping on Amazon and managed to find some cheap chess boards for my classroom. I bought three of them.

I have five students in my class and it takes two to play chess. Even though a student will occasionally decide to play against two people simultaneously, often one student has no other student against which they can compete. It didn’t take long for one of them to ask to play against me. Even though I like to get checking or other work done during the students’ free time, I enjoy a good game of chess, so I yielded. Benny was the first to play against me.

The first game moved quickly. Benny had played some chess before, but not a lot. I don’t consider myself incredible, but I’ve played enough to know the game pretty well. This game was quite simple to win, because he kept making moves that he simply didn’t think through very well.

The game took off like crazy. My students loved it. Now, it’s rare indeed, that the reading corner doesn’t have at least one chess board set up on the floor. It only waiting for the students to have some spare time to continue their chess game. As a teacher, I’m simply delighted to see my students becoming so engaged in a game that’s so good for their minds.

Earlier this week, once again, Benny was the “odd” student who had no chess partner. Of course he asked if I would like to play, and of course, I did.

We started the game and I had a difficult time mapping out a strategy for this particular game. Usually when I play, I like to have a specific thing I want to accomplish, but this time, for some reason or another, it didn’t really seem to go anywhere. He kept moving his pieces to the wrong places for me to be able to manipulate the game properly. That’s when things started going down hill. One of the first dumb things I did was lose my queen on a stupid move. Things didn’t get much better after that.

Fortunately, I didn’t lose the game. Fortunately Benny made some equally silly moves later on the game when he could have easily sealed my fate. Unfortunately I didn’t either win the game. It ended in a stalemate.

When I mess up in any competition, I usually analyze my performance . . . often to pieces. I was trying to figure out what made this one so much worse. I always make mistakes in my chess games, but especially that one portion of the game, was just plagued with bad moves. It was puzzling. Then I figure it out.

I had no particular strategy. I was just moving pieces around trying to see if something good would happen. Good things didn’t happen.

Sometimes you get lucky. But usually when that’s your approach, the game will end badly for you–unless of course the other guy is doing the same thing. Then you might be fortunate enough to make fewer mistakes than he does, and you might win the game. Might.

All metaphors have their limits. But metaphors are good because they help us understand life. They help us see things in a different light, from a different angle. Things that we have grown accustomed to seeing are suddenly seen in new colors. Old concepts become vibrant and we appreciate the fresh perspective.

I couldn’t help but see the metaphor in a chess game. It has some surprising similarities to life: specifically in reference to direction in life.

Inspiration for writing strikes at the oddest of times. As I washed my hands in the bathroom, I thought of the different ways in which chess was like having direction, having a plan in life.

I’ve found that some of the biggest issues in my life have stemmed, at least partially, from not knowing what I want. When you simply sit there, moving pieces around, waiting for something cool to happen, something cool doesn’t usually happen Instead you will usually make dumb decisions. It’s been that way in my life and I’ve seen numerous other people who do the same thing, so I’m guessing it’s pretty common.

People like this often spend their time and money doing a lot of worthless things. “Maybe if I buy these expensive clothes or move to this place, life will look better from this perspective.”

No it won’t. Not for much more than a week or so.

You can give up some of the best “pieces” of your life if you’re haphazardly rearranging things to see if they look better. Life continues, even if we are sitting there. We need to make our next “move,” so we do. And then we do something dumb again. This cycle will repeat itself if the approach remains the same. I’ve figured out (sometimes the hard way) that life need to be approached with intentionality to minimize stupid decisions.

It’s a fact. People that are intentional with their lives, that know what they want, that sacrifice the mediocre for the good, don’t make as many bad moves as those that approach life with the, “let’s see what happens if I do this. . . Oops” approach.

As usual, there are two ditches. You can also make some really terrible moves in chess, and life, when you are so intent on carrying out your plan, that you fail to see the big picture. Ideally when I play chess, I form a strategy, but pay a healthy amount of attention to what my opponent’s pieces are doing and tweak my strategy accordingly.

Sometimes though, I become a little near-sighted, and think I am going to make a smashing move, trapping a valuable piece. I fail to see the counter strategy of my opponent. The result is also disastrous.

Obviously, strategy and direction is not bad in chess or life. Some people, however, go ripping through life so intent on carrying out their big ambitions, that they pay no attention to people, circumstances, and God, all telling them to do something else with their lives. These people are likely to reach their goals, but they don’t realize that they’ve messed up their own lives, and other people’s lives doing it. And they’ve made God sad too.

It’s pretty easy to think up these awesome plans about life and give no consideration to how it might affect other people, or what God might think about it. God’s really interested in the plans that we make and it’s insulting to Him if we leave Him out of them.

Moderation is sometimes a difficult tightrope to walk. Sometimes it almost feels like I’m spending more time trying to balance, than walk anywhere. But being aware of the tendency in my life to drift along with no particular goal in mind has helped me tremendously. Even though my steps are sometimes shaky, my balance is getting better.

Also, if I may get on a soapbox: finding that direction in your life, when you’re young has distinct advantages. I wish I would have found some of that earlier. If you are young and have extra time, find something, some ministry, some person or people into which you can pour your life.

It keeps you from becoming complacent. It’s hard to find purpose in life when your mostly focused on your own needs.

At least play chess. It’s good for your brain.

 

“Somebody’s Baby”

I rediscovered this amazing song just today. Singer, Jon Foreman writes about a homeless lady he has encountered numerous times. Some of the references in the song are fictional: his imagination filling in the details of what her life might be like.

It’s a terrific reminder of how precious these people are to God. Imagine the pain of no one really knowing or caring whether it’s your birthday or not. Imagine it making no difference to anyone whether you were dead or alive. The pain of living inside an experience like that is unfathomable to me.

This song is a reminder not to think of these people as gross and disgusting, but to remember that they need us to show them God’s love possibly more than anyone else. This is one of the most honest and also one of the saddest songs I’ve heard recently.

By clicking the video below, you can listen to the song. Listen for the sad, haunting cello solo at the end and the way it complements the emotion in the song. Here are the lyrics:

Somebody’s Baby – Winter EP

She yells, “if you were homeless
Sure as hell you’d be drunk
Or high or trying to get there
Or begging for junk
When people dont want you
They just throw you money for beer.”

Her name was November
She went by Autumn or Fall
It was seven long years
Since the Autumn when all
Of her nightmares grew fingers
And all of her dreams grew a tear

She’s somebody’s baby
Somebody’s baby girl
She’s somebody’s baby
Somebody’s baby girl
And she’s somebody’s baby still

She screams, “Well if you’ve never
Gone at it alone, well then go ahead
You better throw the first stone
You got one lonely stoner
Waiting to bring to her knees”

She dreams about heaven
Remembering hell
As a nightmare she visits
And knows all too well
Every now and again
When she’s sober she brushes her teeth

She’s somebody’s baby…

Today was her birthday
Strangely enough
When the cops found her body
At the foot of the bluff
The annonymous caller this morning
Tipped off the police

They got her I.D
From her dental remains
The same fillings still intact
The same nicotine stains
The birth and the death were both over
With no one to grieve

She’s somebody’s baby…

This is the first time I’ve embedded a video on my blog. If there are technical issues with it, please tell me.

Apostle Paul’s Challenge

I have a fantasy. If I would have the perfect job that would somehow incorporate my fanatical appreciation for music, writing, or coffee, or preferably all three (if that would be possible), I would be completely satisfied and happy for the rest of my life. I like to picture myself as a writer.

I could live in a rainy northwestern city like Seattle or Portland that just oozes culture and has lots of interesting people. I would do some writing at home in my small comfortable house, but most of it would be in very hip coffee shops, the kind where they roast their own beans, really care about the quality of the coffee, and make coffee an art form.

These are the places I would frequent. I would slouch in a comfortable chair close to the window to do my writing, occasionally taking a break from it to talk with some like-minded patrons about my latest book, and pretend to be intelligent.

On the side, as a hobby and for a little extra money, I would start or join up with a folksy progressive acoustic band with a cello, a few guitars, and a piano. We would write these amazingly simple but beautiful songs and we would play streets and coffee shops in the evenings and I would build relationships with people that way. We would bless a lot of people with our encouraging words and touching exquisite harmonies.

I would have this super cool, but upbuilding group of Christian visionaries for friends, that would agree with me on most things, but be just different enough to challenge me. (Ideally, some of my friends from Kansas would have moved there too.) We wouldn’t get mad at each other. They would be hysterically funny, but would be well able to have serious conversations too. . .

My heart actually knows that these things actually have nothing to do with happiness and contentment , but my brain really wants to test-drive that idea.

My brain really wants it to be that way, just to see if it’s actually true. It might be different for me than other people. I would somehow how like to travel a lot too . . . to exotic places. Europe and the like.

Paul addresses something like this in his letter to the Philippians. If you think about what he was claiming, it sounds like he learned something that very few people with whom I interact, have learned well. In chapter 4:11-13 he says,

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Before He followed Jesus, Paul was a Pharisee in a respected position. Considering his position, it’s very likely he had plenty of money to buy what he wanted and enough power to make him feel important. When he started following Jesus, he had to make a decision between wealth and power, or poverty and running for his life.

Few of us have had to make a decision between two vastly different lifestyles, but Paul’s focus wasn’t on how much stuff he owned or how cool his job was. Paul was a guy who followed whatever believed was true with all his heart. When he saw that Jesus was right and he was wrong, following a path with fewer material things and less power seemed of little consequence.

Paul says that his circumstances didn’t dictate whether or not he was content. What he’s saying his true, but I often live the opposite of that. I just love fantasizing how cool my life would be if I could be a writer, or a musician, or ran an amazing gourmet coffee shop.

The fact is, if you can’t be content with how your life is now, you won’t be any more content if circumstances change for the better. People who think their lives are crappy will keep thinking that even when they get their wishes, because the newness of their circumstances wears off.

If you base your contentment on circumstances, contentment will be elusive. Circumstances change. True contentment has nothing to do with circumstances.

Paul’s audacious claims don’t seem quite so far out when you look at the last verse. He doesn’t say the secret is being disciplined, or following the five steps to contentment. He says it’s possible through Christ who strengthens him. It’s that simple.

Receiving your identity, your sense of worth, your direction in life from Christ, makes it possible to be content in any circumstances. It seems insane, but think about it this way: God is the only thing that doesn’t change. Since contentment can’t be base on things that change, and everything else is subject to change, God and His strength are the only things that can give contentment capable of standing up against all the stuff that makes life tough.

Don’t mistake this post as a call to mediocrity or never trying anything new. I am only saying that if you are ticked about what God has put in your life right now, changing jobs, getting new friends, buying new clothes, or moving to a different city isn’t going to make you content. Instead, it will drive you crazy. It will drive you crazy because you are trying to get the permanent from the temporal and that never works. Ever.

Not even if you live in Seattle and are a writer or barista by day, and musician by night. Seriously.

Boredom: Whose Fault Is It?

In my blog, I typically try not to be critical of things I see in other peoples lives. I have enough things in my own life that need fixing so I try not to focus on that. I was reminded of this recently, however and decided to write about it. Before I delve into this subject, let me say that I mean no offense to anyone who struggles with this issue.

We all have different experiences in life and struggle with different things. Because of how I’m put together and because of people who influenced me, I happen not to struggle with boredom much. This blog is a pretty honest reflection of my thoughts so try not to let it bother you if it gets a little blunt. Following are some of my scattered thoughts on boredom.

I was reminded recently how bothered I am when I hear people say they are bored. Actually it drives me crazy when it happens frequently.

The reason chronic boredom in other people bothers me, is mostly because of what it implies about a bored person’s perspective of life. Life is an amazing gift, and when we can’t enjoy it for what it is, I’m guessing it looks ungrateful to the Giver of Life. God has given every human being so much reason for thanks, that, if we spent all our lives thanking Him, we still wouldn’t have given Him enough thanks for what He’s given us. Granted, some people might have to look harder to find things for which they can be thankful, but life is a rich experience.

Part of the reason I think we forget this is something that’s not any one person’s fault. Societal influence tells us daily, “Your happiness hinges on the ownership of things.” It’s a daily battle to fight against this monster, because it pops up in so many forms and shows up all over the place. The crazy thing is, often the stuff we equate with life is really not life at all. But it often seems that way because they have built these gigantic empires around us to distract us from what life really is.

With that, America has fashioned a society where we constantly receive the offer to have things done for us. It makes our lives easy. This is handy, but eventually, it starts affecting things it shouldn’t: things like our creativity.

For example, society has played a dirty trick and persuaded many that other people are more capable of entertaining you than you are, so, if you are willing to part with some of your money, we can do that for you. “Don’t use your own imagination and creativity to come up with your own activities . That would take too much work. Allow this video game to do the creating and imagining for you. You don’t have enough energy to process what’s in that book; just watch the movie instead.”

I don’t think any of those things are inherently wrong, but it’s become a problem, because many people are dependent on those very things to provide them with entertainment. When they don’t have them, they become bored because they can’t think of anything to do on their own. It’s especially difficult for people that have spent most of their lives being entertained by other people’s creativity instead of their own. This business of coming up with your own ideas to have fun is a foreign concept to them.

It’s a real ouch, because a lot of people are stuck with forms of entertainment that won’t ever alleviate their boredom. The reason it’s boring and unfulfilling is the fact that other people are doing the work for you. Eventually, it’s difficult to feel fulfilled when your only entertainment is a product of other people’s creativity, instead of your own. People who grow up in such an environment fail to see an alternative because they know nothing else.

If this is your experience, don’t get frustrated. A lot of people struggle with it and I won’t even start to pretend I’m devoid of that struggle myself. It is painfully simple to let it happen.

Possibly the best way to combat it is to make deliberate efforts to do things that require your own creativity. It will probably fairly difficult at first if you’ve never done much of it, but almost no one becomes skilled at stuff without trying. Don’t either compare your creativity to other people’s. Unless you’re making a job out of it, that’s not really the point. Concentrate on enjoying the “creative part” of being made in the image of the Creator.

Another reason I don’t like boredom is because it often implies, that, unless something big, amazing, and shiny is going on, I can’t have fun or enjoy life. This mentality drives me crazy. Life is far too short, too beautiful a gift to waste wishing it were something else. Sure, some really ugly stuff came with the fall of man, but that gives no one a good excuse to view life as a drudgery.

Think of an hourglass and the sand falling through the center, passing from “time left” to “time spent.” How many grains of sand have you spent, sitting around feeling cheated that other people’s lives seem more exciting than yours? Please don’t do that to yourself. Believe it or not, the more time you spend doing that, the more your life will seem that way.

It’s funny but I have spent some really enjoyable time doing some really simple, and seemingly weird, things with my friends. I look back and say to myself, “Did we really spend three hours doing that?” Some of my best memories with my friends come from times when we couldn’t find much to do so we just made something up. It was that simple.

This is another area of life that has been affected by American consumerism. It’s pretty easy to forget about the “simple” things in life that make it so beautiful–things that money can’t buy: a good conversation with an encouraging friend, laughter, a pick-up game of basketball with the brothers, family, a beautiful song, sunshine, a rainy day, an encouraging verse in the Bible, not to mention a relationship with Jesus Himself . . .

I could write a whole post about this stuff: about seeing the beauty in the seemingly simple, the everyday things of life. The point is, a lot of little things, make up the beauty of life and if we find life boring and worthless, it’s not God’s fault for making it the wrong way. It’s our fault for not seeing it the right way. God doesn’t make mistakes.

I’ve also sometimes struggled with the idea that certain people are boring and I will be bored if I spend time with them. Take the time to view each person as a unique creation of God; to look at the subtle, and not so subtle characteristics that make them an individual and not just another person; to listen to the story of his or her life. You will find it difficult to be bored by their presence. Be willing to become part of their story and to allow their lives to become part of your own.

Obviously, because of our different personalities, most people find it easier to mesh with certain types of people than others. That fact, however, gives us no excuse to view some people as being worth our energy and others not worth it.

I think the experiences we have in life are a lot what we make them. True, life throws “boring” circumstances at us, over which we have no control, but it is what we do, and the attitude with which we approach those circumstances that largely determine our experience. God has provided for us, the stuff of interesting stories. It is up to us what we do with those elements as to whether our stories are interesting or boring.

To answer the question in the title, if life is boring, it is my own fault. Life is interesting and if I don’t see it that way, life is not wrong; my perspective is. The great thing about perspective, is that it can be adjusted. Here are some things that could help:

Notice the intricacies of life and how they fit together tomake up the human experience.

Be awed by God the Creator and what part you play in the history of man kind. No one else can play that part for you, so play it well.

Do something simple, but crazy with your friends. (good craziness of course)

Finally, life is for living. Don’t be a spectator. Be a participant.

Miserable? Stop Complaining.

Some friends and I went snowboarding in March this past year. I had an extremely enjoyable time with it; after I learned how, of course. The first run was torturous. I fell again and again as I tried to master this stupid board that had a mind of its own; as I tried to figure out what you’re supposed to do to make this thing do what you want. It made no sense. My patient teachers would say things about shifting your weight around.

“Shift your weight to your back foot now!”

“What? How?”

Plop.

I was actually breaking a sweat in the cold mountain air of Colorado. Disturbing.

I would start moving, and all of a sudden I would start going toward something I didn’t want to hit. My response? Freak out and do a face or butt plant. Or I would just be going peacefully along and all of a sudden, like a diabolical horse, the board would catch an edge and throw me across the snow, which happened to be hard and crusty that day.

The second run was better, but John and Kevin, who took on the task of teaching me how to “steer this thing,” wanted to have some fun so they had me follow them over a bunch of moguls. That was miserable. I laughed about it about as much as they did but I think they had more fun watching me try to get up, as my board would bridge the moguls and make it difficult to get back up.

By the third run, the amount of time between falls lengthened substantially and I took my worst spills on that run because of how much speed I was picking up.

I had the brilliance of not wearing sunscreen. I don’t usually get sunburned, but sun, snow and high altitude are a brutal UV combination. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. It was mostly because I was not with the part of our group that was handing out sunscreen. The first day I didn’t wear any at all. My face was red in the evening, and a little irritable, but I didn’t think much of it.

The next day, I was planning to, but once again, I was not with the group that had the sunscreen. I went the whole forenoon without it. After lunch I managed to get some, but the damage had been done. The skin on my face felt strange and leathery. It was kind of alarming, but still not that painful.

That day and a half on the slope with out sunscreen resulted in the worst sunburn I ever had in my life. By time I got home, I was very miserable. My face had started the nasty habit of oozing fluid from various spots and it got progressively worse as the evening went on. I thought maybe a shower would help and it sort of did.

The worst part about the whole scenario was that we were going out to eat that night and, while I wanted to hang out, I didn’t really feel like doing that when my face was the color of your average fire engine and was producing enough fluid to rival a fire engine as well. (not quite) I was miserable and let the guys around me know that.

We were climbing into the car to head to the restaurant and I was complaining about my face for eleventy-third time, when my good friend John said something like, “Yeah, well maybe you should just get over it.” That’s one thing I like about John. He is honest.

It was a time of reality for me. I suddenly realized that no amount of complaining about how my face was feeling, would change it at all. In fact, it was probably making it feel worse because it’s what I was dwelling on: how terrible I felt. Admittedly, it was hard not to think about at all, but I certainly didn’t need to make it my sole focus.

I was also inflicting my miserable condition on those around me. They didn’t need to hear every two minutes how bad my face felt and how nasty the oozing was. Nothing was changing so it wasn’t even an update; it was a repeat. They were probably as tired of hearing about it as I was of the pain.

I shut up about it, and even though it didn’t stop hurting, I had a reasonably fun evening at the restaurant and the others did too because they didn’t have to hear a misery status update every several minutes.

This is not to say we shouldn’t tell others about our problems, but when we sit there and complain about it, it does nothing to help out anyone–including ourselves. We’re supposed to allow others to help us carry our burdens, but that doesn’t mean a constant dumping of sorrow and misery on our friends. They are there to help us through our problems, but not to carry them for us and hear us bellyaching about the same problems over and over.

We need to get over stuff and realize that conflict and pain are part of life and that, when difficulties show up, complaining about them does nothing to help anyone. It changes nothing, except how miserable we feel about it, and complaining only makes it worse.

If you are miserable, stop and think a little: have you been complaining, outwardly or inwardly? Complaining can just as much be an attitude or state of mind as an outward action. The only difference is that if you complain inwardly, you only make yourself miserable instead of others, which is better, but still not a good thing.

Instead, try to think of what God might be trying to teach through this. Even if you can’t figure it out, patience in suffering is a powerful testimony to the grace of God. Complaining is no testimony at all. It just makes those around you want to slap you (on the face), or put in earplugs, or ship you off to Antarctica. I hear that the penguins and seals have a higher tolerance for complainers and whiners, but don’t push your luck.