Author Archive: bjaybrooks


So, it is Neal’s 90th birthday and he is a picture of health!  He is one of the nicest and kindest people at our church and has always been an encouragement to me.  He had a multitude of his family with him in service, today.  They all love their dad and their grandpa!

Pastor Kerry preached this morning about the stress between visiting the gravely ill and hearing from their family members that they were going to recover…while at the same time the doctors telling him that their loved one was, clinically dead.  His story was one of the most moving that I have heard in some time.  He was caught in the middle as the chaplain for the hospital that the young woman, who had been in a devastating automobile accident, was having her body temperature, slowly, warmed until she  reached the number that she could be declared, deceased.


Kerry went on to speak of the tension of believing in miracles and the physical reality of accepting what the medical experts tell us.  He spoke of how the father of the young woman insisted that God was going to bring his daughter back.  While each time he heard from the doctors the scientific evidence was that she was brain dead and all hope was lost for a physical recovery.

The young woman died.  Yet, the dynamics of the faith system of the family was real and compelling!  We read in the scriptures that Jesus healed many of the people that he encountered.  He raised Lazarus from the dead.

‘And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.  And his disciples asked him, saying Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents but the works of God should be made manifest in him.  I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.  When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.  And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.  He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.     John 9:1-7   KJV

I have witnessed many people die of their maladies.  People of faith and years of christian life and works.  I also have been present in the miraculous healing of two individuals over my 50 year christian walk.

The first experience was, Pat, who was our church pianist, during the 1970s.  Pat is one of the sweetest people that you will ever meet.  She was married to my cousin and her children are my second cousins.  Pat had cancer in her face and she had been told by her physicians that there was no hope for her other than disfiguring surgery, immediately.  She and her husband, David, were devastated.  One church service we  prayed, believing that the God of the Bible had the power to heal.  At one point, during the lengthy prayer, I uttered that I had seen the hand of God touch her face.  When she retuned to her doctor…she was cancer free….…

I had a pastor, many years ago, that I loved and respected.  He was stricken with liver disease and when Dean and I want to visit him in the hospital…he had the appearance of a Skelton with the skin stretched over it.  I have never seen someone so close to death…that was not dead!  John told us that he had made peace with the fact that he was dying, until he had noticed a plant on his hospital windowsill that was close to death.  John said that God had spoken him and told him that all living things struggle to remain alive and that he wanted to do the same!  So, Dean and I prayed for John’s healing…and his health condition began to improve…quickly !  John began to gain weight and his appetite retuned to him…and her lived until he could obtain a liver transplant.

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I am not a person who looks for signs and wonders.  I am not given to emotionalism or grandiose demonstrations or supernatural occurrences.  Instead, I have described my 50 year christian walk as a one day at a time event that is neither marked by fireworks or desperation.

But, I have witnessed two healings…two miracles…and I know what I saw!

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And, so, Jonathon and I were sitting in the church fellowship hall waiting for Neal’s 90th Birthday Party Revelers to disperse so we could lock the church doors…since I was elder of the week.  In came Patch.  He looked around as if he was comprehending his, new, surroundings.  I noticed that he made his way to the coffee urn and poured himself a cup of java.  When asked by, Marta, twice if he wanted some cake…he demurred.  Patch was looking for a warm cup of Joe and a friend or friends to talk with.

It, soon appeared that Patch was either homeless or down on his luck.  He spoke of heaven and hell and being abused and seeing many celebrities in Carbondale…including Larry David and Kevin Hart.  He asked for some financial assistance and when I gave him a little…his demeanor took an upbeat measure.

Patch had, obviously, been around and not received the good graces of compassionate people.  He spoke, ninety miles an hour, but was touched by someone who would take the time to listen to him and help him…a little.

Helping the homeless or the needy or the destitute is not written in a Fairy Tale Book.  I t is gritty and, at times, full of curse words and visions of a psychotic episode.  Helping those who have been forgotten by our society is tedious, and patience, and the willingness to leave your comfort zone.

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Patch told Jonathon and I that he might return next Sunday.  He remarked that we already had the coffee prepared and that was awesome!  He thanked me for my loan to him.  He noted that we were Presbyterian…and that was cool!


A Christmas Present

Around this festive time of year I reflect back, nine, years ago when I retired from Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.  I had been employed for 32 years and 2 months and 3 weeks.  I was so happy to have finally reached a milestone that I, sometimes, thought would never happen.  But, I was sad to leave a department that I had put my heart and soul into and the members of the department that I had cared for, like family, for my 25 years in management/administration.  When I looked at the nice crowd that had gathered to tell me goodbye…I feared what would happen to them, once I was gone.

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Now, I was not worried because that I was extraordinary in management skills or any particular abilities that I had, rather on the contrary…my meager abilities would not make a good short story!  My concern was regarding the dangers that lay ahead for my colleagues that I had identified myself with for over 32 years.

I understood the place that the housekeeping department has in the university community and the team work that we had accomplished to raise that profile.  I knew the professional motivation of the Building Service department and the dedication that each member had for the success of SIUC and our most precious citizens, our students.

I understood that the wolves of budget shortfalls, poor management, and the insidious proclivity of Departments, and Schools and Colleges consuming each other in order to save themselves.

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I feared that some would compromise their principles and sedate their moral code…to facilitate their advance.  I worried that leaders would stand silent while people were abused and intimidated and cowed down by fear and a hostile work place….

Principle should be more important than; profit, or patronage, or promotion,  or the peace of those who lack courage.  There are janitors that love SIUC as much as chancellors….And both are equally important to the success of the institution!

One of the most difficult hurdles that many managers have to jump is the ability see past personalities and peccadillos, and focus on people.  I was extremely wary to not crucify a co-worker for a slight infraction that I had been guilty of!

There is macro/management and micro/management.  In good management…’Less Is More!’  When you illustrate and model and empower members of your staff and embolden them with your candid confidence in them…’the sky is the limit,’ as to how high they will fly!  If you sit on them like a mother hen…you will demoralize them and both the person and their work performance, will suffer.

When management philosophy is clear for all  to see that, some people can do no wrong….And others can do no right…everyone that can….Will flee the work-place!

I have spoken to thousands of people in my life.  One of the peculiarities of the university setting was that, more often than not, I found myself speaking to their representative, rather than the real person.  I do not mean their assistant…I mean the person with whom I was speaking was tailoring their words to fit, either what they thought that I wanted to hear. or what their vision of their position dictated for their speech, or they spoke ‘down’ to me as an individual of low culture or education or position in life.

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The key to what little success that I enjoyed in speaking with chancellors and presidents and university elite…it that I never brought my representative…they always heard Jay Brooks…unvarnished.


What if as a Christmas Present to each other, that we vow to recognize excellence wherever we find it?  What if we forget the past and and little hang-ups that have caused us to see others through a distorted prism?


To this day, when someone asks me what I did at the University….I answer that I worked in the housekeeping department.  I was, simply, the janitor that was honored…for a time….to perform the management duties.





A Christmas Story

A Chicago Christmas Story.

The Jazz Man

The wind was especially chilling along Michigan Avenue.  December the 5th was winter in the Windy City.  Billy Bump and Carl and Steve and Susie, were on their way to see the new release of the Disney movie, Lady and the Tramp.  The bright lights of the city and the Christmas Carolers along with the Salvation Army workers and their kettles, at every store front…created another worldly atmosphere that was compelling and unique!

As they entered the massive theatre and walked under the strobing lights of the marque…Billy and Carl were a bit overwhelmed.  As the movie played, Billy fell in love with Lady, and felt good about it!  There were intricate carvings on the walls of the movie palace, and ornate sconces and angels and gargoyles and mystery.


Billy became sleepy and sat on Susies lap, who was 15 years old…while he was 6.  The combination of being close…

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Do You Feel Forgotten?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to play Santa Claus.  It was not only extremely enjoyable and enriching but educational.  Our, elected, church government, called the Session, in the First Presbyterian Church, has the tradition of collecting donations for our staff and then giving them a Christmas gift at the conclusion of the year.  One of our staff told me that she had not received a gift, recently, and that this year’s gift meant so much to her!  She asked me if she could give me a hug…and I replied that she certainly could.  Her joy at being included and not forgotten…was palpable and it made my day!


How many of us feel forgotten?  Whether it is in the workplace where our opinion is never sought, or in our community, where we feel invisible…or in the church….Where we seem to be unseen?

Our country applauds  financial success and the perks that it brings.  We see the fine home or the stellar resume…or the smooth and dulcet tones that the leaders of the community or the church…communicate with.  We know our friends….Our social circle and our colleagues.  But, do we see those who do not fit the paradigm?

I have the distinct life-story of experiencing both the abased and abound components of a 62 year old life experience.  I lived poverty!  I understood, clearly, what it was for the CIPS gas worker to knock on my front door and tell me that he had been instructed to shut my gas off, for the heating in my home, if I could not pay him…immediately!

I know what it is like to be hungry.  I do not mean enjoying a McDonalds cheeseburger at lunch and awaiting a steak at dinner.  I am talking about nothing to eat other than potatoes and Cremora, at work, which I consumed by the spoon full!

I understand what it was like to walk…while all of my friends were driving their new automobiles.  I know how it felt to live on one sandwich a day…from a vendor at the church that I was helping to build.  I know what it was like to be the goat at the garden party!

God blessed me and helped me…and I became a success at SIUC.  I began as a Building Service Worker I and was promoted to the Superintendent of Building Services.  I was able to obtain an  upper middle class lifestyle  and the blessings that are associated with the moniker.

I did not forget where I came from… nor where I am going.  I am headed to Jerusalem…along with the broken and the beaten and the besmirched!

I recall walking in Elkville, Illinois while, it seemed, everyone passed me by.  I, vividly, remember my teenage friends telling me about enjoying steak and ribs and pork chops…while I had potatoes to eat!  I know what it is like to believe the no one sees me!

Also, I know what it is like to be called Mr. Brooks.  I understand how it feels for my opinion to not only matter but be the construct for my department’s operational policy!

I have had university chancellors and presidents as my personal friends.  The encouragement and mentoring of the university community was an immeasurable gift!

When I see the poor…I remember my mother not having enough money to purchase milk…and saving my pennies until I had a dime to walk to the local restaurant and buy a glass.

When I see the hungry…I remember not having the 20 cents a day for the grade schools hot lunch…and being the only student in the first grade to bring my lunch in a brown bag.

I have been honored and humbled to have the title of elder or trustee in almost every church that I have been a member of.  I think titles have an insidious affect of separating work and faith communities.  When someone asks me what I did at the university…I respond that I worked in housekeeping.

‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.    Philippians 4:12   KJV



And Keep Spinning Joyfully

A great Christmas Blog from Jonathon Brooks!


This season I’ve begun to send out Christmas cards and buy presents and spin holiday vinyl records. I gave thanks on Thanksgiving like I do every other day of the year. It was tremendous fun to catch up with family recently. And four day weekends are always a great time. This afternoon I have relaxed at home after breakfast out with a friend and then church following breakfast. I am in love with life and the true spirit of the Christmas season.

Christmas cards and presents are best when given out of a joyful spirit. I give them out because I want to do so. I’ve been giving out pop-up Christmas cards since Christmas 2008. These pop-ups are by Robert Sabuda who also creates pop-up books. One of my favorite elements of this season is passing out the pop-ups. Honestly, I give out more cards than presents around Christmastime. Friends…

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And Keep Spinning Joyfully

A great Christmas Blog from Jonathon Brooks!


This season I’ve begun to send out Christmas cards and buy presents and spin holiday vinyl records. I gave thanks on Thanksgiving like I do every other day of the year. It was tremendous fun to catch up with family recently. And four day weekends are always a great time. This afternoon I have relaxed at home after breakfast out with a friend and then church following breakfast. I am in love with life and the true spirit of the Christmas season.

Christmas cards and presents are best when given out of a joyful spirit. I give them out because I want to do so. I’ve been giving out pop-up Christmas cards since Christmas 2008. These pop-ups are by Robert Sabuda who also creates pop-up books. One of my favorite elements of this season is passing out the pop-ups. Honestly, I give out more cards than presents around Christmastime. Friends…

View original post 195 more words

The Christmas Pipe

IMG_9848After a lovely Thanksgiving diner with our family from Salem, Illinois, we set out for our annual journey to St. Charles, Missouri to experience Christmas…from many years ago.

IMG_0669Rain was in the forecast for the later afternoon, therefore we left early to get ahead of mother nature.  When we arrived we found the usual, Black Friday, Christmas revelers.  I soon noticed characters representing the USO from World War II.

IMG_0748Aaron was in search of a flat-cap and we searched, on both sides of the cobblestone street, to find the Irish Store that I had purchased my Irish hat at many years ago.  Sadly, we did not find it and fear that it may have closed.

Suddenly, there was the Tobacco Store…and I entered before MJ could dissuade me.  When what did I see…but gift boxes, already made up, of a corn cob pipe and all of the accoutrements to facilitate a Christmas Pipe!

IMG_0467 2Our favorite restaurant, Braddentons, was full to the brim!  When we entered and made our way, slowly, out of the entrance of the establishment…my friend and excellent Grand Mariner pourer, asked how many…to which an angry woman retorted…’We Are Next!’  My friend replied, ‘ ok..ok..ok!’

We had been told to expect and 30-40 minute wait…we were seated in 10.  I tried the pork tenderloin and asked the waitress to have it prepared the way that she liked hers prepared!  It was delicious!  The Grand Mariner was excellent…and a Manhattan was even better!

IMG_4155There were chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Finally the rain began to fall…and I was sitting outside a Christmas Store…in the rain.  Mrs. Claus walked up to me and asked if my family was in a restaurant or shopping.  I replied that they were shopping and she looked concerned that that the old man in front of her was getting wet.  I would have been concerned, as well, but I had on my REI raincoat that MJ had suggested that I purchase prior to our Maine vacation this past spring.

IMG_3872Back to Thanksgiving Day…it was such a pleasure to have Ron and Ira Kaye along with Tara and Mike and Paige and Tyler!  They had the distinct opportunity to observe my valiant and messy efforts to carve the turkey and ham…and spill some glaze from the ham and subsequently mop it up!

I so enjoyed watching the wonderful adults that Tyler and Paige have become!  I remember them when they were babies…but then again I recall their mother when she was very young.

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St. Charles Is Coming!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and MJ has been preparing for days!  Jonathon and Aaron and I have been her little helpers, I would say elves…but that is more appropriate for the day after tomorrow.


Black Friday will mark our annual trek to St. Charles, Missouri to revel in the, Dickens, Christmas celebration.  Last year MJ was in such pain from her mis-aligned spine that we had already chosen to forgo our St. Charles visit, and had chosen a comedy show called ‘Martin and Martin’ with, Steve Martin and Martin Short,…and we were unable to attend that as well due to the debilitating pain that she was suffering.  Fortunately Aaron and Jonathon along with Jonathon’s good friend, Dawn and a friend of hers, were able to attend, and according to reports they throughly enjoyed the performance!

When I am in St. Charles…I suspend disbelief and subsequently I am swept away in time to the land of the famous Charles Dickens story, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ where, before my eyes there are, Tiny Tim and, his father, Bob Cratchit, along with Mr. Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas, past, present, and future.

There is such a variety of Santa Claus and his ancestors that the mystique is mesmerizing!  Little children collect a card from each of the Christmas characters…and so do I!

Through the years I have had the tradition of purchasing, one, handmade Latvian miniature building, with a candle inside of it.  This is from a Polish shop where an elderly lady, probably my age, and her granddaughters work.  I fear that there will be no more houses or schools or barns or churches to buy this year, as she told us the year before last that the manufacturers were going our of their family business.

As you will recall, I love the, generous pour, of the Grand Mariner at the restaurant that we have our Reuben Sandwich at each year.  Aaron and Jonathon love the Trailhead Brewery, and have invited MJ and me to join them…but we are afraid that we might not be able to keep up.

I enjoyed a quality cigar, one year, from the cigar store…I may again?


St. Charles has Chestnuts roasting on an open fire!

I have observed for over 20 years that the feeling of holiday and family and friends that I receive from our visits to St. Charles, exceed, by a lot, the feeling of being rushed and crushed by our former Black Friday visits to the Malls of St. Louis!

It dawned on me, many years ago, that the, allusive, search for happiness is found, at your own front door!’

The same could be said for working your fingers to the bone…once you retire from your employment and the well wishers are gone and the retirement cake is eaten…your name will soon be forgotten!

I heard a wonderful illustration that described the void that will be left by your retirement.  Fill a paid full of water…and place your hand in it and then withdraw your hand….Observe the hole that remains in the water?

Work is insidious and a fickle companion!  You may feel that it demands the lion’s share of your time and efforts and strength.  You may know that so many people are counting on you and your efforts and that they cannot make it without you.  But, at the end of the day, as my colleague John Hill told me many years ago, it is just a job!  The real purpose of life is to enjoy your family and loved ones and friends!

‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.  We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.  And the human race is filled with passion.  And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.  But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.’    Dead Poets Society


The day after tomorrow is MJ’s favorite holiday of the year!  From our first Thanksgiving together, in 1978, until this weeks model, I have understood the importance of the celebration!

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Over the past 30 + years we have been hosting the event in our home.  For many of those years we celebrated in our four room house in Elkville.  There were years that we had upwards of 25 people…we were close…both in fellowship and physical space!


I vividly recall getting a new camcorder in the late 80’s and recording video of the events for posterity.  Now, I need to have the tapes transferred to DVD in order to watch them.

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I remember our niece, Tara, riding with Aaron, Jonathon, and me to the theatre, after dinner, to see, Father Of The Bride, and Tara talking about how excited that she was to be, soon, turning 16.  She was so happy and jubilant that it made my holiday complete!

On another Thanksgiving, Berl, MJ’s father came to enjoy dinner with us in our new house in Carbondale.  As he was walking to his car to go home…he fell and gashed his head.  The blood flowed!  We were all frightened!  We rushed him to the hospital and they quickly put him into a hospital bed.  A few minutes later Jonathon and Aaron and I went in to see him.  There he sat, upright in bed, with a big grin on his face and talking a mile a minute!  When the, young, nurse entered to check up on him…he told her that she was beautiful and that it was a shame that he had a ring on his finger!  He then reared up to peer at her hands and noted that it appeared that she had a ring on her finger, as well!  Soon, Fernie, Berl’s wife entered the room and Berl became much more sedate and circumspect!


As the nurse exited the hospital room she commented, ‘he is a ;pistol!’

We have had turkey for most of the 30 + years of our annual feast.  Our first year in Carbondale, 18 years ago, we had a massive bone to discard when the picking was concluded.  I had the bright idea to place the bone with a little meat hanging on it…by our pond…and let the numerous animals, that cross our yard, have a turkey feast!  I thought that the bone would be taken away by a grateful four legged diner?  After some time, I had to retrieve the, gross and neglected, remains…and dispose of them.

When we moved to Carbondale and the’ big house’…we vowed to purchase a live Christmas Tree.  Thus, the day after Thanksgiving…we visited the local nursery.  We purchased a lovely fir tree and the special stand to sit it in.  We also bought holiday regalia to make the upcoming Christmas special and had the tree delivered the next day.  The first thing that we found out was that we had obtained our live tree about two weeks earlier than appropriate….Because it is…live!  And so, we bought a wash tub to place the tree in and watered and waited…until 10 days before Christmas.

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After Christmas was the coup de gras when we took the, live, tree into our front yard and  planted it…into the very hard soil!  MJ watched from the window as I placed the new member into the natural wonder of our yard…and she said…it is a little cooked…don’t you think?  I responded that it was not the planting that was crooked, but the tree.

‘A. Tree Grew In Carbondale,’  and it was more crooked each year!

Mrs. Moore attended almost all of our Thanksgivings.  Her face radiated her enjoyment and pleasure!  When I think of Thanksgiving…I think of Mrs. Moore!

One Thanksgiving Eve, it came a serious ice and snow storm.  It was early in the last decade, not long after we had moved from our four room house to our 10 room house.  As I slipped and slid home, not able to distinguish where the road ended and the massive ditches began, I thought of the many times that I had braved the elements in pursuit of holiday cheer!  My foreman called me not long after I had arrived home to ensure that I was safe.  They had heard that a Toyota, Camry, which I drove at that time,  had been involved in an accident and the passenger rushed to the hospital.  I was grateful to be home and I was moved that they were concerned about me!

This Thursday the food will be delicious and the feast sumptuous…but it is the people that sit next to us….That make the difference!

sharing cherry tomatoes

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We All Need Love

I was involved in a performance review, recently, where the person being evaluated commented, that it was so nice to hear that she was appreciated.  Indeed, I have never experienced a person that I, sincerely, complimented, become angry or not joyfully receive recognition of their efforts.

smiling girl holding gray rabbit

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So often we feel that we are living in a vacuum.  We are working diligently and foregoing vacation time and working when we are ill…or donating time to the job…and no one seems to notice or care.

Often we sit on the sidelines while others are applauded, perhaps rightfully so, and our worry and labor and striving…appears to not create a ripple in the placid sea?

A plant will die from lack of attention.  If we cease to water it and neglect it…and trust that it will be all right, we may find that it has withered and passed away.  The same can be said of we humans.  When no one seems to care about us or what we are doing…or what we are thinking…our world may take on a distorted view.

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I wonder if the many individuals who have resorted to gun violence, in our nation, could have been dissuaded and set upon another path…if they were not been bullied or marginalized or had they not become members of a hidden society!

I watched the movie, ‘Us,’ over the weekend.  The flick illustrates a society of humans who live in unground tunnels and unused facilities.  Those living underground and not having the benefit of the sun to shine on them and the opportunities of their identical counterparts in the above ground world are stilted and stymied and stunted in their growth as human beings.

I have often told Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale chancellors and presidents that they should seek input  from their civil service staff as the remedies for the on-going problem of recruitment and retention of students.  When a church or work-place or society pigeonholes individuals…that organization is in the midst of  it’s decline.


And, so, Thanksgiving is this Thursday.  We will eat hearty and rejoice in the blessings of capitalism and opportunity and being in the right place at the right time…and having the right friends and a quality education from the right schools…


Others, a lot of others, will huddle in their makeshift tent or scrounge some discarded food from a dumpster or warm their ill-clad bodies over a heating register that is outside a Macy’s Department Store window…as they look, longingly, at the Christmas Display….