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My Hippopotamus for Christmas

My Hippopotamus for Christmas

Several years ago our friend, Erin McClellan, found out that I like the song, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Don’t push on the reasons. I just like it.

Since Erin has a well-developed sense of humor, she gave me a plastic hippo that Christmas. I was delighted. Jody and I are generally light on the decorations, but we like to have a manger scene in the house. That year, as I recall, it centered around a clay manger scene I had picked up for Jody in Costa Rica.

Jody immediately put my hippo in the manger scene.

Inevitably, questions arose. To switch to active voice, visitors asked questions. “Why is there a hippo in your manger scene?” Some commented: “I’m pretty sure there were no hippos there on the first Christmas.”

Jody also produced the answer: “Because here, everyone is welcome. Nobody is out of place.”

I’ve used that illustration in sermons multiple times, usually accompanied by the manger scene with a hippo.

We often miss some of the messages that come with God appearing in a stable. Yes, everyone is welcome, but it’s the proud and the powerful that are unlikely to come. It’s the onlookers who usually question the ones who are there.

And each year, Erin gives me another hippo.

This year Erin brought me a ceramic hippo, and when I saw it my face lit up. We don’t have the manger scene, because Mo. Mo is our young cat. We have added a new word to our vocabulary — to Mo! Things that are Moed are no longer useful for their intended purpose. Mo is thorough. He loves little figures in a manger scene and removes them.

But in my mind the hippo has stood in for the manger scene. I can imagine it all around him. And as for Mo, he belongs too.

God is there with the lamb, the ox, the goat, and all the out-of-place hippos in the world. And with the young, rambunctious cats.

A Note to Headline Readers

A Note to Headline Readers


Before you share anything, read the whole article. Check your facts.

But even before that … before you believe anything, read carefully, check your facts.

Headlines are often misleading. Their purpose is to get you to read, and in social media, they are aimed to get you to share.

In an emergency, misinformation can kill. Be the place where it stops!

Featured image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

When Experts Make Mistakes

When Experts Make Mistakes

Anyone can make a mistake. That includes the experts we need to depend on in order to make decisions in difficult situations. So what do we do about this possibility of error?

This problem becomes particularly acute in our minds in a time of fear. When we are afraid, we often seek something certain to hold onto. We don’t like solutions that are possible, partial, or even probable. We want certainty.

Then we find out that experts have made mistakes, most likely because two experts disagree.

I have a favorite saying, which I suspect was popularized by Voltaire, who adapted it from an Italian proverb.

The perfect (or the better) is the enemy of the good.

Most of us are simply too uninformed to have a valid opinion (on our own) about a pandemic. I certainly am. And let me note that if you come forward claiming that you do known enough, and lack serious professional education and experience in relevant fields, I will believe your opinion is of no value either.

You see, my point here is not that experts are not to be trusted because they make mistakes. What we do is disregard the experts because they are not perfect, but merely good, and thus end up depending on someone who is certain, but has only a random (or worse) chance of being right. Some people are positively fact-averse!

Let’s take an extreme example. Last year two Boeing aircraft crashed, and this was eventually traced to a flaw in the design of the software that controlled the aircraft.

Face it. The experts failed in this case.

So what do we do?

Well, if we acted like we do in many medical matters, for example the management of a pandemic, many of us would discard the experts and go with common sense. We’d find people who claimed they could design a better aircraft, but had no actual training or experience. We’d talk about how aircraft designers were in some sort of conspiracy to deny us better aircraft.

Fortunately, we would likely be prevented from carrying this stupidity to its rightful conclusion by the fact that such self-proclaimed superior aircraft designers would be unlikely to create an aircraft that would get off the ground. You gotta fly before you can crash!

It has been said that the problem with common sense is that it isn’t very common.

I disagree. The problem with common sense is that it is so frequently not sense.

What we need in many situations is not a retreat from experts, but rather to find better experts. In some cases, we need to find better communicators to communicate the message of the experts. More likely, we need to realize the current experts are the good, and the perfect isn’t attainable.

But at no time do we need to replace people who have actually studied the relevant sciences, who know the necessary math, and who have spent years developing models for this sort of thing with your next door neighbor who has an opinion.

I’ve had a few opinions along the way. Too bad for me. It’s time to surrender those opinions to people who know, however imperfect they may be. Don’t let perceived, or even real imperfections keep you from benefiting from the good that they can do.

I’m going for the good. Perfect is never getting here.

Featured image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Fear Shouldn’t Decide

Fear Shouldn’t Decide

Since this is a time of posts about COVID-19, I want to make it very clear that I am not providing any information or advice specifically related to the virus. I am not an expert in infectious diseases, epidemiology, or any of a bunch of related fields of study. I choose to get my information from medical scientists with traceable institutional connections, excluding “my good friend who is a doctor,” but that’s just me.

I’ve been reminded recently of encountering cats in my driveway. There are a number of feral cats in the neighborhood, along with a fair number of human-associated cats who spend a lot of time outside. When one of them happens to be in the driveway, they will run. They are generally a small hop away from the car to the side, but they will choose to run forward in front of the car.

Fear has given the cats an impetus to run, but their fear tends to make them run in a straight line. In discussing decisions, especially in emergency situations, there’s a saying that a bad decision is often better than no decision.

That’s pretty much bred into us. Around the stone-age campfire, the lion or tiger fundamentalist was likely to win the day, because he killed the beast without wondering whether it might be tamed and put to better uses.

Once fear gets you moving, however, this in-bred trait can mislead and even destroy. If I was not a person who diligently avoids hurting passing animals, the cats in my driveway might be in trouble. But once fear sets in, you can miss the obvious options for escape, or you can rank your threats incorrectly.

On the other hand, a lack of fear can lead to inaction when action is called for. I’d suggest not railing against fear, in its place. There is a time to be afraid. But just as the engine doesn’t guide your car, so your fear should not guide your actions.

Obvious, isn’t it?

But being me, I couldn’t resist writing it down anyhow!

Featured image by Holger Schué from Pixabay

Are You 26th on the List?

Are You 26th on the List?

Last night I was watching the women’s Super-G. As the skiers made their runs, the commentators kept saying that it was incredibly unlikely that anyone after #20 was going to have any impact on who would be on the podium. I remarked to Jody that I wondered how it felt to be in one of those later slots and know that your chances were dismissed.

I had already quit watching and gone to bed by the time it happened, but I looked up the results this morning. Skiing #26, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic came in 1/100th of a second faster than the leader after the first 20 runs, Austria’s Anna Veith, and won the gold medal.

Are you #26? Maybe you’re even lower on other people’s lists. Are you being dismissed? In Ester Ledecka’s case, I think it was just thought too early in her career. Not quite ready. But you may be thought of as a failure.

When it comes time for your run, go for the best run possible. You might just win that gold!

Dr. Agatha Thrash

Dr. Agatha Thrash

I met Dr. Agatha Thrash back in 1974 when I went to stay with my brother-in-law Ted Nick and my sister Betty Rae. I managed the Country Life Natural Food Store (it was not then a restaurant) for nearly a year. Well, I was manager and sole worker. I didn’t really get to know Dr. Agatha very well, but I’d have lunch with Dr. Calvin Thrash on a regular basis.

I note that I never really connected, and indeed my life has gone very far from the sort of life style upheld at Uchee Pines Institute (then Yuchi Pines). I’m no longer Seventh-day Adventist which puts me multiple steps for self-supporting SDA programs and institutions.

But I do want to highlight a paragraph from the article on Dr. Agatha Thrash in Adventist Today:

As a pathologist, Thrash had a goal to establish a large lab to process tests for doctors throughout the region. But when she became an Adventist, “Jesus got a hold of her and said ‘I have a different way I want you to go, not just making a lot of money. I want you to change lives.’ And she did.”

I would note that my father also worked in self-supporting Adventist institutions, as medical director of Wildwood Sanitarium and Hospital. By the time I was working at Uchee Pines, he was a missionary in Guyana, South America.

It was an interesting year I spent at Uchee Pines (still can’t get used to the new spelling/pronunciation!). I was very young, but also a member of staff, so I spent a year as neither fish nor fowl. Yet the Drs. Thrash still had a significant impact on my life. I know those who survive her will find peace in the certain hope of the resurrection.


Breaking Homeless (and other) Stereotypes

Breaking Homeless (and other) Stereotypes

The title of this blog, Threads from Henry’s Web, suggests that I’m the one producing the threads and hopefully drawing you in. But often the threads are leading me somewhere. Some things happened in just the last couple of weeks:

  • A conversation with an author about a new book talking about those living on the fringe of society. (Yes, we’re going to publish it. Watch for announcements on Energion Publications news.)
  • A book of poetry that evoked some startlingly strong and stark images for me (also to be published)
  • Work on a web site for a local community ministry (Pensacola United Methodist Community Ministries), that involved a good conversation about what they hope to accomplish in the community here. Watch for some big and exciting changes in their web site!
  • The video I’ll link below.

Think about it.

Others may not be what you imagine them to be.