Monthly Archives: August, 2020


I have been watching an HBO documentary regarding the cult called NXIVM. The series is called, The Vow, and it is fascinating. The leader of the cult is Keith Raniere. ‘NXIVM is a self described American multi-level marketing company based near Albany, New York, which offers personal and professional development seminars through its ‘Executive Success Programs.’ The company has been widely described as a cult, and is alleged to have been a recruiting program for a secret society [variously called ‘DOS’ or the ‘Vow’] in which women were branded and forced into sexual slavery.’ Wikipedia

I have been a student of the study of cults for over 40 years. The more that I read…and I have read a lot, the more I have discovered the pervasiveness of cults and cultish behavior and control mechanisms in our society. When someone talks you into something that you do not want to do…they are manipulating you. I first seriously took note of the power of cults on innocent humans when the Jonestown Massacre took place in 1978. I had been working at SIUC for only a couple of weeks and I was shocked that so many people went willingly to their deaths at the bequest of a madman!

We have a church in our area that requires it’s members to bring in their financial statements and tax returns in order for the church elders to determine how much the congregant is mandated to contribute to the organization. I have personally known many people who were instructed to, ‘Give until it hurts,’ after they were already contributed 10% of their gross income as a tithe. In fact there were people who did not have enough money for groceries…while the minister lived in luxury.

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Religious or political leaders are simply women and men…like everyone else… If you are a member of a political organization that pledges fealty and unquestioning loyalty to a political leader…you have ceased to think for yourself and your family and are the victim of brainwashing! One of the hallmarks of being a member of a cult is turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to actions or speech that you know in your gut are wrong…but since it is the leader performing the disconcerting machinations…you tell yourself that it must be alright. In NXIVM many women allowed themselves to be branded with the initials of Keith Raniere…as a sign of his masterhood over their lives. These were not uneducated people but rather highly educated people… as the controlling concept of the group was that Raniere possess the highest IQ ever recorded.

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If another person, outside of your family, is involved in your domestic or financial decision making you are treading on dangerous territory! If you are forgoing logical thinking for a promised nirvana as a reward for your obedience and submission to your spiritual leader…you should take a step back and observe the faces of your fellow church or faith community members…when they do not know that someone is looking…and notice the unhappiness and despair written on their countenance…

During the last 40 years we have become increasingly reliant on someone to explain the news to us. As we have become more insular and afraid of our neighbors we seek approval for our insecurities and our us against them attitude. We paint entire groups with a broad house brush rather than a fine painters brush. From the time of Watergate we have trusted our political leaders less and less. The mixing of politics and religion and faith…have created a hydra headed beast that only pays lip service to the concept of christianity and it subsequently primarily concerned with it’s own survival and success…

Mind control is quiet and insidious and enters by the back door of your soul…by stealth and avarice and cunning. It is a bit like the boiling of a frog. When you place the frog in cool water and turn on the gas burner underneath the pan…he is happy and content…until he is dead… I think that we all naturally desire to be a part of something special. It is fun and comforting to believe that we are traveling on the inside track and are bound for success. Have we not wanted to be a part of the ‘In Group’ since we were children? Who is doing your thinking for you? Are you still in possession of that critical faculty? If you are I can assure you that you will feel like the Lone Ranger…on many occasions of your life. Or do you sub-contract your decision making out to a political leader that your church assures you is the chosen one… Are you engaged in church doctrine that is hurting your family financially…while the leader of your faith community seems to be blessed by God beyond measure…with your money!

Do you really believe that God the creator of the human family…made a difference in color as a barometer of his love? Is God petty and prejudice and a possessor of pets and favorites and a lover of cliques?

Each of us are looking for answers to life’s persistent questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose? How can we make a difference? For me as a member of the christian faith my peace has resulted from Jesus admonition, ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ John 13:34 NLT

Simple Writing

Our weather has turned cool. It is a wonderful 75 degrees with a nice breeze. I was driving to campus yesterday and saw a line outside of the door and along the sidewalk and around the building…at the Canabis store. I wondered if now more than ever we are seeking an escape from real life? The day after tomorrow is September 1st. September marks the beginning of my favorite third of the year! I have already been drinking Pumpkin Spice coffee for a month. In October comes my birthday which is quickly followed by Halloween. Then, in November is Thanksgiving…or what I call the month before Christmas! Then autumn and then the winter bring me a settledness and satisfaction that I do not experience in the warm or hot months of the year.

This morning Jonathon and I walked campus. We made a special study of the new Saluki dogs statue that is near Woody Hall.

Sunday is a bit of a quiet day. It has a feel all of it’s own. There is not as much striving and struggling on Sunday. Church in the morning…Sunday dinner….and a good nap. What else is there? Sunday yields way to the super heated passions of getting ahead in life. Sunday says…calm down and slow down and smell the roses…

Have you ever considered that 50 years after you are gone and if your beloved house is still standing…people will say…I wonder who lived in that old house…I bet it was beautiful in it’s heyday…

There is a luxury in having time to think. To not have to flit around like a bee in a beehive…in order to ensure survival. ‘Therefore I say unto you, Be, not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not life more than the food, and the body that the rainment? Behold the birds of heaven that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; And your heavenly father feedeth them. Are ye not of much more value than they? Matthew 6: 25 26

I watched a movie last night about the playwright and author and actor, Sam Sheppard, and his lifelong friend Johnny Dark. They had met in 1967 after Dark had watched a play written by Sheppard and then ran into him on the street and invited him up to his apartment for a spaghetti dinner. Much of their decades of friendship had been expressed in letters that they had written each other. Sheppard had subsequently married Dark’s stepdaughter. Dark was a very engaging character who, at the time of the filming of the documentary, was living in a small house in Deming, New Mexico and working in a Deli. He mentioned at one point that he had learned that he could create interesting writing and stories that people wanted to read by simply chronicling his daily life. Dark was a writer and activist and photographer and a service worker and a grocer. I was amazed at the dichotomy of Dark and Sheppard. Sheppard was internationally acclaimed and Dark who was happy with a small and secure life and being a person in later years who did not like to leave his home. Sheppard and Dark and Darks wife who was the mother of Sheppards wife…and Sheppards son…all lived in the same home for a few years. Sheppard fell in love with the actress Jessica Lange and thus left his wife and asked Dark to look after his son…and he did…

Regular living contains a plethora of stories! You simply have go mine them out of the sand of a sunny day or the hardscrabble dry earth of tough times…

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First Day — The Jazz Man

It had been an unusually peaceful night. Billy Bump had slept like a baby. In fact he could not remember waking up one time from the time that he lay his head on his new Polar Nights Ultimate 20% cooler pillow! Billy was accustomed to waking up every hour on the hours since he had […]

First Day — The Jazz Man

‘We Are Not In Kansas Anymore’

The remnants of hurricane Laura are heading our way. The air is damp with humidity and the clouds cover the afternoon sky. Laura was the highest velocity hurricane to hit landfall in history. She left devastation in her wake. MJ told me, once again, that it is possible to buy our groceries on line and have someone deliver them to us. I have rejected this option in the past days of our 2020 pandemic…but I have changed my mind at least for the stores that offer this service. I learned of the untimely death of two of my friends due to covid-19 in the past few days. I am certain that they were not planing to die of this virulent plague! We all believe that it can happen to someone else but not to us. That is until we are the someone else…

We live in a country that is at war with itself. If aliens from other worlds are watching our strife I fear that they will conclude that we are easy pickings in the realm of capturing earth. When we visited the United Kingdom in 2016 and I attended an opportunity meeting being conducted by my dear friend, Jeff, one of his colleagues drove us back to York accompanied by his son. When I asked him if he had visited the United States he responded that he was afraid to because of the violence. This was in 2016 and we are more violent than then. Friends have expressed their concern when MJ and I and Aaron and Jonathon have visited Europe as they perceive it as dangerous to do so. Most of the police do not carry guns in the United Kingdom. Their focus is on the deescalation of violent situations and the sanctity of human life. A father was shot seven times in the back in front of his children in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Earlier this week a 17 year old traveled from Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha with the mission of assisting in keeping order in the city. He brought his AK 47 with him and murdered two people. He then was photographed walking down the street with the firearm and and he safely returned to his home in Antioch…where he was arrested the next day. Violence must be abhorred and not condoned. Violence is not the answer to our malignant problems!

Our memories are functioning well. We recall what our leaders have told us. One of the most offensive things that I have encountered in my nearly 63 years of living is for a leader to insult my intelligence. Up is not down…dark is not light…lying is not acceptable…ever! When you lie to me and expect me to be so dumb as to believe your untruth…shame on you! Alice, of Alice in Wonderland…peered through the looking glass and we are now on the other side of the mirror. We are with the grinning Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter and we are sitting at the table preparing for the tea party…

One of the most memorable television shows of my youth or my life was, The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan. The program premiered in 1967 and is a British science fiction series. Number 6, portrayed by McGoohan, wakes up in the picturesque town of Portmeirion, Wales and discovers that he can not leave…he is a prisoner. After resigning his government post, possibly as a secret agent, he is gassed as he is packing his luggage only to awaken in Portmeirion which was know in the series as the Village. The prisoner found that he had the run of the village and friendly people surrounding him as neighbors but that when he attempted escape a large diaphanous ball, that looked somewhat like a beachball that can swallow you whole, chased him down and subsequently he was returned to his flat. He was constantly monitored by number 2 who is the underboss to number 1. The prisoner asked in every one of the 17 episodes, ‘who is number 1?’ In the 17th episode the big reveal was that number 6…the prisoner, was number 1… And so we are all prisoners looking for number 1! We are members of our own mentally constructed village and our acceptance of its peculiar rules and odd norms. Are you an individual that can swim against the current of your friends and neighbors expectations and your own bias…or are you a member of a collective that submits to the obscure will of the leader?

Rover was the meteorological ballon that functioned as the guard which kept the prisoner from leaving the village. Rover could asphyxiate the person attempting to escape the village…if necessary. The question is…are you able to escape Rover…or are you really number 1 in the scheme of your own captivity?

Frozen In Amber

I am pleased to say that the temperature has dropped about 10 degrees and the rain has started. I was reading our church newsletter this afternoon and I was taken aback when I read that we are soon to have our six month anniversary of Zoom church. Of course Zoom church is a direct result of our 2020 pandemic. I feel certain that when we began our virtual worship services we thought that two or three months would be a long time! Jonathon and I were talking and commiserated over the fact that the danger of covid-19 is worse now, in our area of the country, than when we were on lock down in March. Pastor Kerry has done outstanding work in keeping our congregation connected!

Reality bites…and throughout our planet we have felt the pain of the teeth of the Coronavirus! We have had our reality altered…and our opinion was not sought in the changes made. Are we living in the rare time in history that what we have known and become accustomed to is morphing into a new world that we have neither anticipated or prepared for?

Covid is not a hoax. I know people who have contracted the virus and who have died! When we batter our heads against a brick wall…something is going to break…and it is not the wall. There is a wise saying, ‘patience preserves your soul.’ Never has there been a more golden opportunity for patience and perseverance and solemn contemplation about life and our place in it. We are preparing to vote in a presidential election where the stakes could not be greater. We Americans love the concept of democracy…in theory…but when it comes to practicing it…our application of demonstrating our love for the Constitution could be likened to Earth 1 and its mirror image…Earth 2! Democracy is a lofty concept and a difficult proposition to fulfill. It relies on how many of our fellow citizens want to participate in what is a government of the people!

The church is changing. Most major denominations are diminiishing in a time of several worldwide challenges. We can either examine how we have done things for generations, or we can seek new outreaches to God’s family of humans. One of the captivating components of First Presbyterian Church is its dedication to mission and outreach and helping others. People are lonelier than ever. We hunger for someone who cares about us and has time to listen to our concerns and help dissipate our fears.

Hope is a tangible commodity in our day of uncertainty. The stark division is race relations will never be ameliorated by soaring rhetoric and political promises…but it can start with you and your outreach to one other person from another race. Listen to the description of an African American mother as she describes how she feels every time her teenage son is not within her eyesight. With all of the fear that is expressed by members of my own race as regarding peaceful protestors…who is being killed… Try this thought experiment…if you have the courage…each time that the unwarranted death of a black youth seems warranted to you…or you ask…’What did they do to cause their death,’…place the apples of your eye…your children in the role of the deceased black youth…and rationalize their untimely death… Protests are disconcerting…and that is their role….to wake up the hierarchal power structure to say…LOOK OVER HERE…SOMEONE IS DYING THAT DID NOTHING TO DESERVE IMMEDIATE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT!

I just learned of another of my old friends dying of covid-19. Scott was a wonderful gentleman and a person that I admired! MJ and I enjoyed a visit with Scott and Kim several years ago when we were all attending a Physical Plant convention in Montreal, Canada. These are people that I liked and felt a connection with from the moment that we met. Scott was an easy person to talk with and he had a ready smile and an understanding heart.

Have you ever seen a object that has been trapped in amber? I have seen bugs and animals captured in the resin. I wonder if we are not like those frozen creatures. Forever on display…posed in our way of doing things and our biases and our reluctance to change…

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A Hopeful and Happy Ending

Another outstanding Jonathon Brooks Blog!


Sad stories are my least favorite sort of stories. I can deal with the sorrow in the beginning or in the middle of the story, but a sad ending spoils the whole book for me. Give me a sweet or bittersweet or hopeful or happy ending. As a Christian man I refuse to settle for a sorrowful tragedy as the plot line to my life’s story.

It is difficult to be creative, or productive, when sad. The temptation is to sink deeper and deeper into despair and buy the lie that life is meaningless. Manic depressive illness has shown me despair on more than one occasion. Where does one go when they’ve truly hit bottom? Those are varying plot lines for different sorts of characters. I went to Jesus and I’ve never been ashamed of that choice.

An hour ago, thirty minutes ago even, I was in a bit of…

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Magnetic — The Jazz Man

Have you ever encountered a magnetic person? Another human that you would like to know what they are doing that seems to bring joy to their soul and happiness to their face. This individual seems to, ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,’ with a bit more grace and humility than the rest of […]

Magnetic — The Jazz Man

Honest Communication

As a manager of a large housekeeping department for over 25 years I discovered that I had to constantly work on my communication skills. Often I believed that I was communicating effectively, only to discover that some members of my team either had not received the memo or had misunderstood both the meaning and the motive for it. With what I believed were my best efforts I still would be chastised by someone who wondered if I purposely did not choose to communicate with them…or did I choose to enlighten only my circle of friends and favorites. Now I have lived and worked under leadership that indeed did have favorites and cliques and I remembered how I felt being the person that was outside and peering into the window in an endeavor to discern what was going on! It is a horrible and demoralizing feeling to believe that you are a part of a group only in theory but not in practice. So, I am saying that I had the goal of crystal clear communication…and I fell short on numerous occasions. How do I understand that I fell short…because members of the organization that I had been asked to lead felt that I did not communicate with them!

During my search for the holy grail of communication I discerned that effective dialogue between two individuals takes place on a multitude of platforms. Simply put everyone does not communicate in the same manner. We human beings are as different as snow flakes and as diverse as the grains of sand on the desert floor. Some of us receive information aurally while others prefer the written word. I began my management career by having an open door policy. I am not referring to an appointment system of visiting the boss…but the ability to come right in if I was free! I was amazed at how well this policy was received. I had assumed that this was probably normal procedure for managers… All members of our 350 – 400 staff had the right to meet with me at any time that they felt the need to do so. I wrote a lot of memos…probably more than I should…as well as a departmental handbook. Emails and text messages were also utilized to some success. A popular quote regarding supervison in the 1980’s when I began my management duties was, ‘The best supervision takes place where the work is being done.’ Subsequently I visited each of my 30 custodial crews on a regular basis. There was a special dynamic for clear communication when I met with my colleagues at their works site and visited with them and at times broke bread with them.

A major flaw in communication is the easy route of political popular speech. Never say anything that you do not mean. The person that you are speaking with can see through the fog of feel good talk…imeadiately! Never promise something that you do not intend to deliver. It is far better to say nothing at all than a pithy statement that has no substance. I would liken popular rhetoric to preparing to cut into a magnificent wedding cake with the most ornate of frosting and a mixture of colors that cry out…eat me…and then as the knife slices through the exterior…nothing but sawdust spills out…

When we sit and stew and worry and fret and feel marginalized…we are hurting our health and the health of the organization that we are a member of…and we are doing a disservice to our position and our responsibilities to those who are counting on us. It is hard to speak up and be heard…when the speech is negative. The much easier option is to go along and get along and don’t rock the boat…and do not make the boss mad! I stood up for our former chancellor, Dr. Jo Ann Argersinger, and I felt like the Lone Ranger! Being the voice crying in the wilderness is just that…a wilderness experience. But, I have had many negative comments made to me as a supervisor and an manager…and I learned from them…and I appreciated their unvarnished honesty…

Night Writing — The Jazz Man

The bullfrogs are singing night melodies. The usual panoramic view from my writing porch has devolved into pitch blackness. The rhythms of the day have tucked in their efforts and yielded to the song of the night. Whatever knotty problem or inextricable conundrum that plagued the world of light…has hidden in the shadows. The perplexities […]

Night Writing — The Jazz Man

The Little Things

It is Friday again. We are preparing to drive down to Rendleman Orchard to discover if they have any peaches left. The rolling hills of route 127 are a pleasant and almost fall experience. I kept referring to something that I was going to do on August 1st…until MJ informed me that we could not wait until next year…I then realized that we were not living in July but August! After I retired it became somewhat difficult to ascertain which week day that I was enjoying…the weekends seemed to still contain some of their unique feel…but since our 2020 pandemic it is one long day. After the peach purchase we stopped by Von Jakob Winery and enjoyed some semi-sweet Red! During the evening we had an al fresco dinner at Don Sol with our good friends, Joan and Jim, and I enjoyed the Mexican drink Horchata. As I was ordering I could not think of the name of the sweet drink and so I described it is a big non-alcoholic drink. When our waiter brought my drink to the table it was in the largest mug that I had ever seen! Or as Jim remarked…you did tell him big…

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We found a pillow that really is cool when you lay your head upon it. Now I do not mean cool as in neat or keen or spiffy…I am referring to the temperature! MJ had bought a supposed cool pillow a few years ago and found that it was apparently only cool if you were used to Desert climates! She lay her head on the pillow in every direction and side and shape that was geometrically possible…and yet still felt no ice! So, when I bough home a Polar Nights Ultimate pillow and reported the next morning that I had slept in winter comfort throughout the night…not only did MJ want one but Aaron as well.

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I participated in wonderful discussions with my friends from our church board, Rob and Kerry, and I am very encouraged that something great is going to happen to our little church! I have been reflecting on a subject that has captivated my imagination since I was a child…the special calling of leaders, both in management and administration and in church leadership. Over the 50 years I have been a reluctant participant in church leadership… on many occasions. I know that I am a bit like the hobo caricatures of days gone by…with the ragged clothes and big shoes, which I require having a size 15 foot, and my meager abilities tied up in a red neck scarf and tied to a stick that I carry over my shoulder. I am a firm believer in holding a leadership position with a loose grasp…and thus being happy and faithful to relinquish that position on a moments notice and to return to the congregation…which is the ‘Apple of God’s eye! I felt the same as a supervisor and a manager for the over 25 years that I served in those roles at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale. After my role as a foreman in the Building Services department I never sought another leadership role…but I was beeseched to accept the assistant superintendent position for 12 years and the superintendents role for the last 13 years of my career. When I left I knew that it was time, although I was asked to stay by many individuals. I wish that our political leaders would follow the original model of serving as citizen legislatures who once their time as leaders had drawn to a close would happily return to their roles as informed and engaged members of the throngs of regular members of our society and thereby exemplify the vision of our founding fathers of the entire reason to hold leadership with a loose grasp!

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I was pleasantly observing a deer family as I was on campus this afternoon. They are neither worried about the coronavirus nor the up-coming presidential election…nor which political party will be in power in the new year! Their concerns were for their family and the majesty of nature and the magic of life…

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