Wednesday, December 23, 2009

war and peace

Isn't it odd that at this time of year people seem eager to fight ...the whole "war on Christmas" hysteria...at a time when we are supposed to be celebrating the coming of the "Prince of Peace" ?
People fight and claw and clamor because they think that "someone" is stifling their religious freedom, when the whole message of the manger (and the Cross to come) is about sacrifice and humility? About God Almighty lowering Himself to take on human form, suffer the indignities of poverty (no room for them in the inn), and live among us, to reach out to us in love.

As you listen to the clamor and disputes, how much humility and love do you hear? How much of it do you hear from yourself? Sometimes it is necessary to stop and just listen. It's amazing what you can see and hear when you are quiet. The Bible says, "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silent before Him"....sometimes I think those who claim to be following God should take that advice.

Long ago, shepherds heard angels, wise men followed a star, and miracles happened. We could use those today. One place to start....Listen again, as I have recently, to Handel's Messiah...
Let the messages sink in, and see how it affects your perspective and priorities.

Merry Christmas everyone ! :)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

government

John Adams once wrote "Government is nothing more than the combined force of society, or the united power of the multitude, for the peace, order, safety, good and happiness of the people".
Quite a contrast to the famous Reagan quote of "government isn't the solution to the problem, government is the problem"

I think a too many people, especially on the right, identify with the sentiments of Reagan versus Adams. We have lost a sense of "we the people" and have an "us vs them" mindset. I hear it in the constant complaint of those who oppose the current attempt at health reform. They say they don't want government-run programs, like the very notion of government running something makes it bad. Aside from their obvious blind spots (national defense, drug laws, etc) they have developed an attitude that borders on anarchism. They use quotes like ,"government is best which governs least" by Thomas Jefferson (it actually was Thomas Paine who said it), and balk at anything being done by government doing anything except national defense.

They figure that if things were just left up to the states everything would be fine. I do not think any person of color would agree with that, since left to the states there would still be segregation at least , if not outright slavery. It was the intervention of national government that ended both of those, one requiring a civil war. Even at the state level, here in Washington , the state legislature is discussed in some quarters (Republicans) with such contempt that it is a wonder that anyone from the right takes the time and effort to participate.

The tea party and town hall rucus is a legitimate expression of popular views, but some of the language is downright dangerous and begs borrowing a phrase from post-911 questions "why do they hate us"...I would ask, why do those on the right hate government?....and there are some out there who evidence that hatred....when you think about it...they hate our government.

No one wins when anarchy comes and we must guard against it....We the people means "we" and we need to play our part responsibly, not just grumble against what we don't like.
There is a quote, by Thomas Jefferson, which has been used by the tea party crowd , which people should think about before they use here and now, think about the context. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is a natural manure." it was said in 1787 in response to the Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts. What were a few lives lost?, Jefferson asked. Later Jefferson supported the French Revolution, with all the chaos and bloodshed that occurred (in contrast to our own Revolution) . Is that what these people really want?

Not I.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Priorities

It is amusing sometimes to see and hear the lengths to which some will go to be first in line to see a favorite movie,get a famous person's autograph,get tickets to a ballgame, or even get a prized holiday bargain. Just this past Thanksgiving some of my family members got up at unnatural hours to shop the early bargains. I slept in. It is easy to dismiss such behavior as crazy, but are we any different?
What do our choices say about our priorities?

We talk a lot about what is important to us, but do our lives reflect that? Are the things we strive for what we really want, or what we think we ought to strive for? Like New Years' resolutions that get broken so easily,sometimes we set goals based on someone else's expectations,not our own.

Sometimes life gets in the way and we have to adjust our priorities. But many times I don't think we are truly in touch with what we want,what is important to us. We may even have fallen into the trap of thinking we don't deserve to pursue our dreams.

Sometimes we even spiritualize this, thinking "I've just got to give up what I want and just seek what God wants". It sounds noble, but I believe it betrays faulty thinking. God doesn't want you to empty your heart and head, he wants transform them. He made you as you are, with hopes and dreams, talents and skills, and He wants you to be free to use them wisely and for good ends. If there is a song in your heart, he put it there; if there is rhythm in your feet, he put that there too.

I find that when I jump into something I usually do much better than when I excessively plan. That's what got me to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up years ago,...one of my best accomplishments (though some think me crazy for doing it).

Don't live by the "oughts", "shoulds", or "if only's"...You were meant to live an abundant life. Every day is a possibility, full of opportunities to shine. Living out our priorities is a daily thing, daily choices.Life means hope and opportunity. As Scripture says "this is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it"...and "whatever your hand finds to do ,do it with all of your might".

So, what are your priorities, what is important to you? And what are you going to do about them ,today?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

how do you view life and faith?

Is life and faith a chore or a pleasure? I know sometimes life can be hard, sad, worrisome. But it should not be always or even the majority of time. Jesus said that he had come to give us life, and a life more abundant. Often we miss the pleasures of life because we are not looking for them. Too often we think of faith as following a list of do's and don'ts ...instead of enjoying the freedom that God gave us to live every day in His presence.

Are you curious? Do you wonder at things and explore? Have you traveled down any stray roads just for the heck of it? Have you tried any new things lately or are you stuck in a routine that never varies?

Recently my wife and I took up dancing. She had done a bunch of it before we met , in school years and college days. I grew up not dancing - both from a conservative upbringing where dancing wasn't favored ,and from feeling like I had two left feet. I have a good sense of rhythm -being a musician - but it never seemed to translate to my feet. I have enjoyed learning and having some success in learning the footwork. We are doing both a swing dance class and going to local dances. It is good to get out of my comfort zone once in a while, and the exercise is good as well:)

There is so much around us to enjoy. My garden is a constant source of joy , with new plants popping up in unexpected places, and established plants having new blooms - got to now go out and see what has come up. What will you see today?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

words

Words can heal and words can hurt
Words can build and words can tear down
Words can create and words can destroy
Words can give hope and words can generate fear

How are you using your words today?

Many use words they don't understand only to look intelligent. Some use words to sound pious, but they don't believe them. Others use words as weapons, instead of building blocks. Be careful about the words you use and how you use them. The Bible says that a word fitly spoken is like "apples of gold in pictures of silver". But it also says "the tongue is a fire" and can be "full of deadly poison".

You have heard the phrase, "sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me". That simply is not true. Words can destroy a person. Many times the hurt we cause comes from simple misunderstanding and ignorance. We may not realize that a particular word or phrase may hurt someone, usually because their life experiences are different than ours. We should be sensitive to this and adjust our speaking accordingly, especially with those we consider friends.

Sometimes we are careless and recklessly hurt with the words we use. In those cases we must apologize and seek to heal the breach. We are all human and make mistakes.That is part of life.

Sometimes in anger we use words to get reactions - like a grenade thrown into a crowd. There are words that are termed "gunpowder words", or inflammatory - their impact goes far beyond their literal meaning.

For instance, if you call someone a fascist or Nazi, there are many images that come to mind to accompany the words. There are specific definitions to the words, but you must be careful about applying them to current situations. The persons using them today are using them not to identify but to get a reaction (like squelching dissent or discussion).

This brings up the last problem with word usage today. Many use words to attack, belittle, ridicule, and tear down people, not just ideas. Especially when people are angry they strike out at others. When debate and discussion is not getting them the desired result -compliance with their opinion - they resort to fighting with words - name calling,etc.

We should all take a few deep breaths, think about what we are doing before we speak, and search our hearts and see if we really want to say those words. To paraphrase another Bible verse - "whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, think - and speak - on these things".

Consider your words carefully today. If you are purporting to be a follower of God, your words can either add to or detract from others vision of Him ,seen through your life.

Monday, September 7, 2009

the state of political discourse

Have you ever struck up a conversation with a stanger and then part-way in wished you hadn't? One where you found out the person shared a similar interest and you thought you could have a fun discussion of it, but realized you were miles apart on your views? And that they were deadly serious about being in the right?

I had that experience back in my singles' days. I was at a pre-Thanksgiving gathering and met a new person who mentioned that he liked politics. I was a poli sci major in college,so we began talking. I was in Arizona at the time and we had just had an election where a new governor was elected, in a three-way race. I had reservations about one candidate's commitment, and another's extreme political views, and so picked the third candidate, a woman with substantial career political experience who I thought would do just fine.

The moment I mentioned who I had voted for the conversation went off the cliff. In the view of the other person it was if I had committed a mortal sin. They , of course, had supported the extreme candidate, who won. I then spent the next 10-15 minutes (seemed like forever) trying to get out of the conversation. It has made me wary to this day to blindly start conversations on politics with strangers. It's not that I don't do it, nor that I only talk with people I know I will agree with. But I want to make sure that the person I talk to will be reasonable and have a conversation, not just rant if I happen to disagree with their position.

I think this is where the country is right now in political discourse. There is little conversation going on and much more ranting. The disagreements are framed in the context of name calling,inflammatory rhetoric, lack of common courtesy, and posturing. Some of the signs I have seen are shameful and many comments are not meant to contribute to better understanding - sought or shared - but as verbal bombshells meant to intimidate, shame, ridicule, or cut off discussion.

People need to watch what they say, not because"someone is listening" , but because words can hurt and common decency should lead us to care what other people think and feel,no matter who they are or what they believe.Too often people use words they do not understand or realize what they mean. For example, if someone says something is "un-American", they are saying that it is off limits, end of discussion. Or, if someone says something is "immoral" then further advocacy of the idea itself is seen as "immoral"and the person advocating it as "immoral". They may not intend for that to be so, but it is. How can you argue against an "un-American" or "immoral" idea?

In contrast ,when someone says that they believe something is wrong, you can ask"why" , and you can disagree if you like, saying "I believe it is right". It is an exchange of views and beliefs, not hard and fast "truths".You can agree to disagree without it becoming personal or judgmental. Unfortunately today that is not very evident - especially on health care. The "judges" and verbal bomb throwers have taken over, and ordinary citizens are either being seduced by it, or repulsed. And battle lines are drawn ,when building solutions needs to take place.
Heaven help us all.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

self-labeling

In my last post I talked about labeling. And you may think to yourself,"I don't label others".That may be true and that is great, but what about labeling yourself? Self-labeling can be just as destructive, and is more insidious because we often fail to see it. Some labels are simple and harmless. If you root for a particular sports team, you are considered a fan on that team. I root for the Portland Trailblazers (NBA) so therefore I consider myself a Trailblazer fan. I was born in the US so I am an American.

Some are more fuzzy - depending on your stands on the issues of the day you may consider yourself liberal, conservative, libertarian, independent,etc. It may help you sort out the huge amount of data, information sources, groups, etc that we have access to in the information overload society we live in.

It is okay to a point to self-identify yourself with a label, but there is a danger. You will change over time and the label you may wear today may or may not apply later on in life. You may feel that you must not change some view or other because it will not conform with the label you wear (or conform to what someone else might think that label means). You and your beliefs are more than just some label. Static behavior and belief tend to stifle life.

There is another danger in self-labeling. The self talk that we do can limit ourselves - we can call ourselves names that are judgmental. We don't always say them out loud, but we think them. Ever catch yourself saying "I'm dumb", "I can't do this",or "I am a failure"? That is self-labeling and self-judging and it can sometimes do more damage to our self image than any hurtful comment by another. It can paralyze our lives.

That doesn't mean that we should not recognize and admit when we were wrong. To deny obvious wrongdoing is just as bad. But there is a vast difference between saying "I was wrong" and "I am wrong", between saying "that was a stupid thing to do" and "I am stupid".

And I think we find that the more we avoid self-labeling ourselves the more we can avoid labeling others. It is no wonder that Jesus said that one of the two greatest commandments of God was "love your neighbor as yourself"...if you can't love (value) yourself, how can you love (value) your neighbor?". You were created, I believe, in the image of God. And that Christ gave His life to save your soul. That gives you inexhaustible worth in the eyes of God. Live in the truth of that.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

labeling

Labels can be handy things. Think about all the cans on the grocery store shelves. How do you know what to buy? You look at the label and search your mind to find a match with things you like and need. If there is no match you move on , if there is a match, you buy it. You don't have to open the can, test the contents, or do anything but pick it up and put it in your cart. The label has saved you time and energy for other tasks. You rely on others to make sure that the food is safe and palatable, you just shop.

But the very things that make labels helpful on food, make them toxic to relationships. Dealing with people fairly and justly is not like shopping. You don't acquire friendships , you grow them. You build them with time and energy. You have to get to know what goes on below the surface - inside the can , so to speak. All too often we deal only with surface, make up our opinions on just what we can see, and rely on simplistic "group" characterizations, rather than get to know individuals. You have to spend the time and energy.

How do you know if you are labeling? If you find yourself using such words as always, never, all , none, every, about a particular group then you may be labeling. Certain things may be common to a group, like all Baptists are religious, but others may not be ...not all Baptists frown on jazz music. I happen to know, because I was raised a Baptist (Heinz 57 varieties and all). Other things used to categorize groups involve making moral judgements and those are the worst kind of labels. From that comes prejudice, hate, and ultimately violence.

How do you overcome labeling? The same way you expand your taste palate. You try new things, meet new people. Listen (smell) and talk to (taste) people from groups you don't normally associate with or see as different. You might not always come to appreciate them, just like not everything you taste is pleasing, but at least you have expanded your world a little. And remember, not every one will agree with you, but you can respect them. I have tried limburger cheese (my grandfather loved it) and haggis. I like the haggis and have sampled it again. The limburger I will leave to others. But at least I know what both taste like.

Don't put people on the shelf through labeling. It isn't right, it isn't fair, and it only leads to division and discord. And you shouldn't label yourself...but that is fodder for another post:)

Friday, August 14, 2009

comfort zones

What is your comfort zone, and have you stepped out of it lately? We all have spaces, not just physical places but mental ,social,emotional,spiritual, etc, that we feel comfortable with. We grow up in families and communities with certain characteristics - be it beliefs, manners, expectations, likes and dislikes. We develop a sense of home, a place to feel safe. We all need that. But then we go to school and we learn often that not everyone is like us. Not everyone shares the same likes and dislikes. Not everyone has the same personality and not everyone has the same beliefs. And you have to adapt, accept those differences, while retaining a strong sense of who you are. You don't have to become someone else because of it, but it will change you, perhaps modify who you are.

For example, my parents were married till the day my mom died-30 plus years. I thought that was the norm. Then I came to know many people whose parents did not stay married, for one reason or another, and many who for one reason or another did not themselves stay married. I came to appreciate more the advantages I had had growing up with two parents always there, always in love , always showing love to me and my sisters. I became more understanding and compassionate towards those who hadn't had that and to those who had tried and failed to keep a marriage together. (it takes two, you know). I am happily married and plan to stay that way, but I do not judge those who have not.

I have known people who are stuck in one place in their lives. They are committed to not changing so much that they live in fear of it. That is part of the reason for the anger being seen today in the healthcare debate. There are legitimate concerns, and then there is fear from things unfounded. There are those who use people's fears to sway them to a particular viewpoint. They lie and deceive. It is important to check your sources, think clearly, ask questions. But it is important to be open to change. Life is change. It doesn't mean you have abandoned anything, least of all what you believe. It means you are growing.

I am a gardener and I love to see what comes up in each season. There are things I have deliberately planted and then things that just pop up out of nowhere. Some things grow very well and others don't. Some things grow well for a while and then fade away. I had a couple rosemary bushes that grew like gangbusters, to about 3-4 ft high and wide. I have a picture of them in their prime, and remember the tiny blue flowers and the luscious aroma released by running my hands along the branches. Unfortunately they were decimated by a couple winters of hard frost, so they are no more. Life and the garden goes on. Perhaps I will get another, perhaps not. But I also have hollyhocks that are now advancing into the lawn. I accept the change and revel in the surprises I see every season.

Some want their lives to be neat and tidy, not a leaf out of place, no surprises (they fear surprises because they think only bad comes that way). Some people believe that they must live by strict do's and don't's, otherwise God will be displeased with them.I believe that God wants us to enjoy life, not just manage it. Jesus said He had come to give us abundant life. But you have to come out of your comfort zone to do that. I did that recently by going to a townhall meeting on healthcare. Half of the people I encountered were friendly to my points of view. The other half were either in disagreement or were hostile to those views . It was not always comfortable, sometimes tense, but a learning experience. You should try it.

Life is a garden, enjoy it ,accept it, keep growing.

Friday, July 31, 2009

spirit of the law

Have you ever watched a basketball game where the referees forgot their role? Every little infraction of the rules ,no matter how minor, was whistled, the foul line became busy, and the game became a bore. Despite the fans cry of "just let them play", the referees persisted in their enforcement of the rule, and later were surprised that people complained. They said ,"but the rules are the rules and must be enforced.",forgetting that it was a game people came to see, not a whistle-fest.

Now everybody understands what a travesty that is. But a greater travesty occurs when the "law and order" crowd get their way in the fields of the courts and law enforcement. Then it is not just a game that suffers, it is real people and their lives and livelihoods that are damaged.

Remember that a law is only as good as the reason it was made. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath". It was made to provide a rest for mankind, not binders. We must remember why laws were written and judge accordingly. And that a law can't be written to cover everything in specifics , there has to be interpretation and careful application to each case. That is why we have judges, not just legal automatons.

I can think of three instances where insistence on strict,limited law application has harmed our society. One is mandatory sentencing and the "3 strikes" laws. These came from well-meaning individuals but have serious flaws. There are instances of judges excusing criminal activity , but more often I think are cases where the judge is handcuffed. You have to consider first time offenders and repeat criminals differently. And not all felonies are the same, so the 3-strikes laws can handcuff judges as well. Career criminals, shown by lengthy rap sheets, and violent offenders need to be kept in jail to safeguard the public. But there is a whole realm of rehabilitation and restitution, aspects of law that are sorely lacking in our society today. We cannot just "lock 'em up and through away the key". That is madness, financially and otherwise.

Immigration is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed in a separate post, but suffice it to say here that those who cry "but they're breaking the law" about illegal immigration, need to think about their own record and how they themselves would manage if someone caught and prosecuted them on every minor infraction of law -like when they go 5 miles an hour over the posted speed limit?

Finally, in keeping with the continued news over the Supreme Court nominee approval process, what about activism and judicial philosophy on the court? The Constitution is a set of laws, written by good men over 200 years ago in a society that is vastly different from ours. It's principles remain vital, but it must be allowed to live and breath and adapt to continual changes. That is why the Congress is given the "necessary and proper" power. The founders knew that things would change and the government needed the flexibility to adapt. Judges must be mindful of this, as well as remembering their role as guardians of liberty, protecting the rights of the minority against excesses of the majority, against over-reaches by legislative or presidential power. They are a check and balance, not just a rubber stamp for law enforcement. Much more about that whole area later, but this again is an area where the spirit of the law needs to be remembered.

And of course, it all comes back to the golden rule - "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Or as someone else wrote it, before you judge me , walk a mile in my moccasins.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

empathy

Empathy
What is it and why is it important?
Empathy is the capacity to walk in another's shoes, to know by experience what they are feeling and to view things from their perspective. It helps one to comprehend another's actions and to give advice and comfort when needed. It is different from sympathy. You can sympathize with many, basic human compassion, but it takes a shared experience to empathize. For example: I can sympathize with and reach out to care for someone who has lost a child , but I cannot empathize because I have never had a child, let alone lost one.
On the other hand, I can empathize with someone who has lost a parent, because years ago I lost both my parents (at different times) and so I know first hand how it feels. I can help (and have helped) someone walk through the process of grief - and I know that it is a process,not just a one-time deal.Is my degree of caring different in the two cases? No, but my capacity to understand and aid is.

Why is this important? Because today empathy is getting maligned by those who, in my opinion, have no concept of what it means. President Obama stated as one of the desired qualities of a Supreme Court nominee that they be a person who demonstrates empathy. His selection of Sonia Sotomayor has been attacked, because people mistakenly tag empathy as being "code" for bias, prejudice, or giving preferential treatment to minorities. They have taken out of context her "wise Latina" comment. Her comment about a "wise Latina" being a better judge than a white male was in the context of cases involving discrimination on the basis of race or gender. In those cases a "wise Latina" would have a much greater capacity to understand the position of the one alleging discriminaton than a white male judge, because of her personal struggle to overcome discrimination. The better a judge understands the positions of the parties to a case the better they can make a wise decision.

The problem with some people is that they seeing judicial proceedings as simply intellectual exercises, detective processes, or comparative philosophical debates. They fail to see that it involves real people -more on that in another post - and that their decisions have to take into account the effects on those lives as well as the specific points of law. Otherwise real people get hurt.

For Biblical reference - see Hebrews 4:15 - seeking to encourage us the writer says of Jesus - "for we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin"...He knew what it was like to be hungry,thirsty,tired, abandoned, betrayed, slandered, pulled about in every which way and enticed to do wrong -yet he did not yield to it. He , the righteous judge, empathizes with us, yet loves us all equally. That is the model for a judge and I applaud President Obama for the wise choice he has made. Not only is she highly qualified academically (first in her college class, high honors graduate) and career-wise (nearly 17 years on the federal bench, in legal practice of one sort or other for nearly 30 years), but she has overcome barriers of race and gender and seeks to help others do the same.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

thoughts for the day

Thoughts for the day - how much of grace, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion do you see active in your life today?
And, how do you react to issues like AIDS, poverty, immigration(both illegal and legal), and the plight of refugees in the Middle East (and Muslims in general)?
And, thirdly, what do you remember about what Jesus said about the poor, sick, outcasts,foreigners?
Lastly, how do you think He would comment on our words and actions today,were He walking among us as during His earthly ministry? Would He talk to us like He talked to the self-righteous Pharisees, calling out their hypocrisy?
Let us so live that He would be pleased to see His love and life reflected in us toward those less fortunate than we.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

living free

Fear is like weedkiller. When used constructively it can warn you about danger and keep you from doing really stupid and dangerous things, like walking too close the edge of a cliff. There are places along the rim of the Grand Canyon where signs are posted warning people to keep behind the railing. There is a good reason. The rock outcroppings are not the most stable, and there are very severe dropoffs - one is called the Abyss and the drop is 5,000 ft! It is a wise person who follows the rules and stays behind the railing.

But all too often fear is misplaced,used to control people, and becomes paranoia. It is like the person who never goes out of their house because they are afraid something bad will happen. That is no way to live. Like weedkiller, fear can kill initiative ,creativity, life itself, just as weedkilller can kill not only the weeds, but any other beneficial plant it touches -and can poison the water system of a community if used too much. The problem that brings weeds most often is poor soil, and the solution is improving the soil, and making it better able to sustain beneficial plants.

Fear is also like antibiotics, for the same reason. In critical situations, with careful study, they can be used. But all to often they have been used as a blanket cure-all and have two bad effects. One , some bad bacteria develop resistance to the antibiotic , rendering them useless in the future (to all). And they destroy both good and bad bacteria, rendering the person's immune system vulnerable. For this reason many doctors quit prescribing them in many situations and focus on long-term solutions to improve overall health.

So it is with life. Bumps and bruises will happen, but there is great opportunity in living free from fear. Take a few chances, don't let fear close you out. Even in a post-911 world when the constant mantra from many voices is "be afraid, be very afraid" Remember, Jesus said he had come that we might have an abundant life, and that the truth would set us free.:)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

lessons from gardening

I believe you can learn lessons from nature,and you can apply those to everyday life. Here are four that I thought of recently, while tooling around in my garden spaces.

1. Every plant is unique and has differing needs and characteristics. If you treat them all the same you will quickly find this out. If you trim your hydrangea like you do your peonies you will suffer the loss of blooms. Peonies can be cut down to the ground each year and they grow back strongly the next. If you do that to a hydrangea you wo't get any blooms the next year - and perhaps longer. The reason is that hydrangeas bloom on the previous years growth and if you cut off what has grown one year there is nothing for it to bloom on. Peonies, on the other hand, bloom on the current year's growth. You can make the same types of observations about herbs versus most flowers (water issues). As with plants so with people,we all have our differences and we should respect that , just like God does. Even if you are a confirmed early bird (like me) don't expect everybody esle to be one. Treat others as individuals - get to know them first before you try to help them. There is no "one size fits all".

2. Don't sweat the small things. I have learned to make peace with things that keep coming back again and again. I have a wide swath of Lamium (also known as yellow archangel). I didn't plant it in the yard, it was just here when we moved in. I tried for a while to eradicate it (natural means) but it was persistent. I finally gave up and now simple try to contain it to a certain region of the yard. It was not worth the effort I was putting out and I gradually came to accept it's presence. On the other hand I pulled out the tansy ragwort that invaded the yard, since that one is dangerous to animals. Major on the majors and minor on the minors, and work on knowing the differences. You don't have to put up a fight about everything and only rarely are things "a matter of life and death",

3.Don't be a perfectionist. One thing that every gardener learns, sooner or later, is that there is no such thing as a perfect garden. A garden is a living,growing collection of plants that rise and fall, spread and fade, season after season, and often get messy. Even things you try to contain often get out of control. If you are a perfectionist try something other than gardening. And so with life , you can't be perfect, ...don't even try. Just be content to do the best you can, and let God take care of the outcome (he's much better than you with that).

4. And finally, don't get overinvested in planning and projects - take time to enjoy your garden. Don't be so task oriented, so focused on the destination, that you miss the journey and the view as time goes by. Life , like a garden, is a journey, a work in progress. It is to be lived, not just "accomplished".

In other words, you really should just "stop and smell the roses along the way":)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

change

Change, what does it mean to you and how do you react to it?

Some people relunctantly accept it They realize the truism "the only thing constant is change". They accept as they do the weather, something you have to get used to and adapt your life to deal with. They may not always like it but they aren't threatened by it.

Others are afraid of change. They see it as only bringing bad things, troubled times, quality of life and standards going downhill. They feel safe in the routines they have established and are looking to preserve their way of life. They don't want to risk what they have in the "they would say" false hopes of change. They are like an agoraphobic who won't go out of the house for fear tragedy will strike. I realized this fear exists recently as I pondered why many are so angry and adamant in resisting new ideas and trends. I realized it was not just a philosophical/religious/intellectual disagreement with what had been proposed. It was fear, fear of the unknown, fear of danger, assuming that change would only bring something worse that was existed.

I hold to the third option - welcoming change. I know that sometimes change can bring discomfort and there are the usual adjustments - I don't welcome it all the time. But in general I believe that change ,done well, can bring great gain. I believe in looking for pleasant , sometimes exhilirating surprises. I believe God intends to sprinkle joyful things throughout our lives, and often we miss them because we aren't looking for them.
I have related before that I am an irrepressible experimenter and explorer. I like to change things up, ...yes, sometimes just for the heck of it. I say you never know what kind of things you can come up with if you just mix it up - and I say 'try".

Being wise is important, and avoiding things that are clearly bad for you is only prudent, but living in fear is living in bondage. I choose hope over fear any day and I challenge you to do the same.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Runnin' From the Light

Have you ever had a time when you felt like a fraud? Are there times when you feel like you are just going through the motions, doing church things but without real feelings or meaning?
Usually when we are working hard to live out our faith we have no problem talking about it, but when we aren't it isn't easy to articulate what we believe. I know there are some who can preach one thing and live another, but sooner or later that will break down. For me it is much easier to articulate what I believe when I am actually practicing it. God has a way of reminding me to examine myself when I get "hot under the collar" about some injustice. I hear the question in my mind (not literally or vocally though)"and what about you?" I have to evaluate my life on the topic at hand and make sure I am being true to what I believe.

I had a time in college when a classmate asked me "and what do you believe?". He was Catholic and was curious about what I, a Baptist, believed. I don't remember exactly what topic or area we were discussing (there were a few of us) ...though I do know we were playing pool, not in a deep discussion. I was away from home for the first time, freshman in college, attending church but in reality just "going through the motions". I didn't feel like I was really living my faith - not that I was doing bad things ,just not in tune with God right then. I ended up saying "oh, I believe lots of things", and walking away. I knew anything I said would not feel honest and I was afraid of the discussion.
This is the subject of my song "Runnin' From the Light" (third song in the soundclick sidebar),...though the specific inspiration came from a relative who evidenced the same behaviour.
Please be sure that you are not just going through the motions. Know what you believe and live it. Life is much easier that way.:)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

talents and skills

How do you view yourself and what you have to give? We tend to look at others and what they have accomplished and downgrade ourselves. It happens no matter what we have done or what others think of us, and it can prevent us from doing what we can because we think we have so little. But I am reminded of the parable of the talents. You can read about it in the gospels, so I won't repeat it here. It makes the point that we are all given different levels of ability but all expected to use them wisely. It doesn't matter what you have as long as you are faithful in using it for the best.
This is regardless of what others may think of what you have - this is the essence of the song "In Whatever You Do" on my soundclick link. It was written in response to a discussion with someone at church who didn't think they had much to give ,or what they had wasn't seen as important (a christian artist). I told them, just be faithful in what you can do, and God will bless it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

thanks

A quick post here, more later. I realized that I needed to give credit to a good friend for helping me on the songs I just posted. Greg Dimichel accompanied me on guitar for these three as we created the 3 song demo in the radio station in Phoenix where I was working at the time, years ago. I was very glad for his help on this - my guitar playing is still a work in progress and his is much better.
Thanks, Greg.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

music

As I posted last time it is important to make time for what you love. One of the things I love, and haven't been making enough time for, is music. I love to sing, to play guitar and keyboard, and to write songs. It is an expression of my resonance - what I think in my head and feel in my heart coming out musically. When I was little I used to often annoy my sisters (all older) when I would awake early, happy, and vocal. I shared a room with one of them till I was 6, and they were not early birds (except one) , and they remember my early serenades to this very day :) Later I learned to play cello,flute,guitar, and piano, and sung/played in church and school band for several years.

After doing solos in church for a few years I started to write my own songs and perform them. The first time I met my wife I was performing one of my songs and accompanying myself on guitar for the first time at a singles retreat. I have continued to write over the years, but have not had as many opportunities to perform and so the music has languished.

It is time to make a change. Through the internet I have a way of "broadcasting" my songs and I am going to take the chance to do it here. I have 3 songs here on the sidebar, from my new Soundclick site . I will give you background on them in my posts.

The first one to come is "Expect the Unexpected"
Often times we anticipate things, with sometimes reward and sometimes disappointment. Then sometimes we dread bad things, and either are relieved or sad when it comes about. But I believe that God wants to surprise us with good things each day, and we often miss them because we are not looking for them. Instead of dreading or anticapating, try expecting something unexpected.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

doing what you love

What do you love? What really turns you on or energizes you?
Some things we have to do, it's reality. And some things we do as a matter of habit, neither loving or hating them ,they just are a part of our everyday life. But then there are things that we really love and it makes a difference. Listen to someone talk about what they love and you can hear it in their voice and see it in their eyes.

I remember hearing Al Gore talk about the danger of global warming in his film "An Inconvenient Truth". Whether you agree with him or not there is no doubt in my mind about his commitment to it. You could hear it in his voice, see it in his mannerism. It was such a contrast to his presidential run. He is where he needs to be -doing what he loves.

For me I love to walk, love to garden , and love rain. Fortunately I live in the Pacific Northwest which is friendly to all three. I make time to walk - not just for exercise and mood enhancement (very true and valid)- but because I truly love to do it. I love growing things - especially when surprises happen - and I love rain, even a few times doing garden work out it in (I know, I'm strange, but that's okay:) )

So how about you? What do you love and are you making time for it? Even if it's only once in a while or for short bits, make sure that you spend some time doing things you really like. Even if no one else understands you need to do it for you. Life is too short to be always bogged down by the necessities. It should be lived. This I believe.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

healing

Do you believe in healing?

No, not in the blind can see, deaf can hear,sick get well sense (though I do think that's still possible) Nor in the white coat with stethoscope or scalpel kind of healing. But the deeper emotional, mental, psychological and,yes, spiritual healing. The type that can be done by all of us if we just try to make each day a little better for those with whom we come in contact. We live in a world that is filled with broken hurting people and too often we end up just pointing fingers and finding someone to blame.

In politics we talk about issues like crime,homelessness, drug rehab, welfare, like they involve statistics only and not real people. We tend to think of "them", those who in our estimation have made "bad choices" and thus are consigned to forever suffer for them. We view ourselves as somehow above it all, and never consider that those people could or should ever be restored to normal society. We judge and yet forget that we are also prone to make "bad choices" - only ours don't end up in print or in court.

Reconciliation, restoration,rehabilitation, forgiveness, peace, healing.How much are they a part of your life? These words are core to Easter, yet sometimes far from those who celebrate it. The message of the cross reminds us that we are all in the same boat, in need of healing and forgiveness. At times like these we really do need to come together not divide.

And how can we do this, you may ask? Look for opportunities to make a difference in someone's life today. When you are with someone make sure your eyes are focused on them and your ears are tuned to what they are saying - and your heart as well , because often you need to get passed the words to the feelings that are being expressed. In short, treat them as you would want to be treated. And this includes those you are at odds with. It doesn't take a lot, just a willingness to act.

So I ask again, do you believe in healing?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Resonance

Why resonance? Basically resonance in physics is two bodies vibrating at the same frequency which can also cause another body to vibrate at the same frequency as well. To keep it simple think about humming. You think of a tune and hum it, your heart is reflected or resonating in your voice, even without words - which may or may not come later. If you remember it well enough and hum or sing well enough you may cause others to hum or sing along, even if they do not know the tune or words.

Your action in communication in this way is not a matter of direction -force - but of influence - showing outward authenticity of your inner feelings. You will have trouble humming a tune you do not like or sing words you do not agree with or like. Your inner self is your beliefs, your humming/singing is your actions. The more authenitic your singing the clearer the tune, the more people can sing along.

This is what this blog is about. hear the tune, sing the words, join the song

Sunday, March 29, 2009

do your homework

The last point in this outline, the purpose of my starting the blog, is to say "do your homework",check your sources, and be intellectually curious. Don't take anything anybody tells you at purely face value - even me. There are just too many rumors, half truths, bald-faced lies, miscommunications or misunderstandings, and incomplete info out there.

Nowadays there are many ways of getting to original sources and no good excuses not to check them. There are persistent rumors that go around and around and people spend time trying to stamp them out -yet they spread like weeds. One prevalent one in the Christian community concerns Madeline Murray O'Hare and Christian radio/FCC. Having in the past worked at a Christian radio station (10 years) I know full well the trouble the rumor has caused and every time it pops up I do my best to correct people (including directing them to official/original sources) but still it persists. So please check things out,don't just blindly forward something on to others.

We tend to be attracted to these things. A good story ,with intrigue, gets our heart pumping and our mind whirling , especially anything that smacks of conspiracy, or "secrets" or "cover up"s. We often don't stop to wonder if any of it is really true. Take the stimulus bill for example. According to some there is loads of pork in it and they cite examples. Then they say that the bill as found online can't be searched for specifics. Yet the bill as listed does have search capabilities (I have done it) and if you check out some of the most mentioned examples of "pork" (think crickets and beavers and volcanoes, oh my!:) ) you find that there is real value there- only the ignorant scorn what they do not understand. Simplistic ranting by those who have been given a microphone in the public square is not a good way to make public policy and people should not be fooled.

You can search the web for the background info on any project (from the people directly involved with it) and you can also search the stimulus bill for information (contrary to what has been written about the search capabilities there). One good site is the Small Business Administration website :http://www.sba.gov/ . Another good site is factcheck.org.

Think of the term ignorance. There is not knowing ,someone is ignorant - just doesn't know . That can be helped. You can give them the information or show them where to find it. You can reason with them to show them the gaps in their knowledge. Then there is willful ignorance, not willing to learn, willing to ignore what is plain to see. As the saying goes "none is so blind as those who will not see" Those who do not want to see what is true will take advantage of those who just don't know what is true. Be wary of those who talk as if they know things, but do not provide any way to check them out, or question anybody who doubts them. We are all in a learning curve and nobody knows it all.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

creative thinking for growth

One of the reasons we often avoid thinking about what and why we believe is that we have fallen into comfortable patterns of behavior. Unfortunately these can become ruts, which are hard to climb out of. In order to get out of these we sometimes need to jar ourselves or, as one put it years ago, give ourselves a "whack on the side of the head"

From my experience here is what I have done. It is a combination of experimentation and exploration. I am at heart an experimenter - probably started when I got a chemistry set (my grandfather was a chemist) and began mixing chemicals just to see what would happen (I don't think my Mom every knew about some things that went awry in my room:)... I made a cake with some unusual subsititutions that turned out okay anyway (cornmeal for cornstarch),and later on I went through cooking experimenting phases - using some ingredient or other (like yogurt) in all sorts of dishes, with mixed results. My dad...and later my wife...have been very understanding of my urge to try all sorts of things in that area. Don't be afraid to experiment.

I am also an explorer (though not in real exotic locations). When I was younger our family would go tent camping every summer for a couple weeks. We traveled all over the western US and whenever we set up camp the first thing I wanted to do was explore the area. I was always on the hunt for something new or to see what was nearby. When my wife and I first moved to the area we are now I would often drive around and purposely get myself lost so that I would have to find my way back and would travel new roads and find new locations. It stirred my creativity and also helped sometimes when I either was truly lost or just needed an alternative way to get somewhere and now had a shortcut.

I was and am intellectually and irrepresibly curious...And I know that part of the problem today is that too many people are not. Just think about the last 8 years...do you really think our leaders cared about whether something was true or not , or whether they just took somebody else's word for it? Think how the notion of "change" has been received by many people. They fear it and don't want to change ....it takes too much thought. Fortunately many more are eager for and anticipating of much to change. Not for change sake alone, but for a return to a growing society that is ready to roll up its sleeves and work to make things better. For all.

Practical point - try to meet people who aren't like you. Different backgrounds, ethnicity, culture, race, lifestyles, bring different perspectives. It is harder to treat people as them (as opposed to us) if you know someone from that "other group". Visit sites on the web where you wouldn't normally go and try to figure out if there is something to be gained from it - at least understanding of where others are coming from.

Many years ago I read a book called "A Whack on the Side of the Head", by Roger Von Oech. He was (and is) an advocate for creative thinking and how to go about it. He used various puzzles, anecdotes, mental exercises, cartoons,and questions to help people remove mental blocks and unlock their minds. He has a website www.creativethink.com which is a good resource when you get "stuck"

Change is more than just a political slogan, or a movement, it is essential for healthy life.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

living beliefs

Once you know what you believe and why you believe it, you must live it out. Beliefs must never be just an academic exercise. If they are what you truly believe they should influence your whole life, not just part of it. For people of faith what we profess on our days of worship must be what we live out the rest of our days. The pew must meet the pavement.

Involvement by people of faith in government does not mean using the power of government to coerce common beliefs, for belief can only be shared, not dictated. It is a matter of the heart. But faith should influence how,why,and what we decide in every part of our lives and that is true in the large context of society as well as in our own homes. If government is truly "we the people" then it should be an expression of the faith of "we the people".

This crosses the lines of faith traditions. To take one example - the treatment of the poor is a key to three main religions. For the Jewish the practice of gleaning (Leviticus 19:9-10,23:22,Deut.14:28-29) is part of the Mosaic Law as well as "love your neighbor as yourself"(Leviticus 19:18). The New Testament talks about "true religion before God" as including taking care of the widows and orphans (James 1:26-27). Most of the time people focus on doctrinal purity, but forget that first of all God cares about people and their welfare (ref Matthew 25).

And it is good to remember in these troubled days that alms giving -charitable giving to the poor - is one of the Five Pillars of Islam (interestingly the Arabic word for alms - Zakah - is similar to the Hebrew term for charity -Tzedakah) Too often nowadays Islamic charities have been viewed with scepticism, but it is an essential element of the faith regardless of those who misuse it.

How can you work to ensure that the beliefs you espouse are your own? First after examining what you believe and why you believe it, don't be afraid to share them. Try being the first to answer in a group when questions are asked. Sometimes if you always wait to hear what others say first there is a tendency to play it safe and be a "me-too" ,especially if your true views diverge from what seems to be the group view. Listening to others is important ,and just being "contrary" isn't courageous, but be true to yourself and don't just adopt a view that you don't believe in just to avoid "sticking out".

Write down or record audio of your thoughts and views, then read or listen to them again and see if they make sense or sound in any way "false" or "pretend". It is good to be able to listen to yourself and detect when you are not being real.

Walk in others' shoes - try to imagine how others would hear you,how they would view the things you do and maybe see them a different way,with a different perspective. Imaging yourself living somewhere way different from where you are and see how you would view the world.

Finally, focus on being known for what you are for, not for what you are against. There is a time and place to criticize and call others out for wrongdoing, for sure, but too many people are only known for the things they fight against and not for what they support. Aim to build, not destroy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

asking "why?'

Along with knowing what you believe, you also need to think about why you believe it. There is a little overlap here, since in the previous post I talked about the fact that some of your views you may have gotten from your parent's beliefs, often without examination. But we also can start to make decisions on issues from things we read - especially in school, from people we hang out with, or groups we join.

Just take a moment to think about the major issues of the day - the ones that seem to get the most airplay or newsprint. Some examples would be healthcare, the war, the economy, social issues. Now think about what your stand is on them and why you take that stand. Does it match up to what you say you believe, or did you pick up that stand because it fit within the mindset of some group you see yourself affiliated with?

Oftentimes there can be a "group-think" in our associations, whether it be party, church, work, etc. We find ourselves holding to a set of views which we don't think about. We are comfortable with them because either they help us fit in, or we feel we "ought" to hold them. If someone takes issue with a particular position of the group they often face very critical, sometimes even hostile, reactions and may be thought of as less worthy or disloyal and may even be forced out of the group.

Because of this people are often afraid to examine their positions and stifle themselves. I don't say that this happens all the time, by any means, and common beliefs are important to working together in a group. But when strict adherence to a set of beliefs becomes more important than thinking clearly and treating others with respect the group becomes a cage.

I like to think about it in terms of being in junior high. I know, most people don't like to think about that period in life because it was often a difficult period. There were many adjustments to make - being neither a child nor an adult - akward at the very least. But it is a time when the prevaling question is "why?"..."why do I have to do this?" "why can't I do that?" We have so many questions, want so many answers, and annoy those who think they know it all, because every answer is met with another question. Sometimes we go overboard, but it seems as adults we suddenly forget to ask questions - settling for the easy "because ___ said so", whether that be a teacher, pastor, boss, journalist or even the President.

The 1960's were a time of questioning authority and the established ways of doing things. Not everything worked out the best, but there were a lot of accomplishments. Like landing men on the moon, sending hundreds of Peace Corps volunteers around the world to build up ,not tear down , villages in many countries - to show a better representation of what our nation could be to the world. And the Voting Rights Act finally put into writing that color could no longer legally be a barrier to exercising our most sacred right - the right to vote for those to lead us. I think some of the current crowd of naysayers on the right have forgotten what was accomplished then -or maybe they just collected very different memories... I guess they weren't rockers like me:)

My advice today : don't be afraid to examine your beliefs and why you believe them , even at the cost of leaving a group you are part of. If you don't you will only become stifled and cease to truly be yourself.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

know what you believe

Know what you believe...seems like a simple thing,right? Wrong. Many people never take the time to figure this out. They are raised by (mostly) well meaning parents who try to communicate their values/manners/beliefs to prepare their children to face the world. They communicate what they know and believe in order to spare their kids the task of having to figure things out that they (the parents) have already figured out...at least so that they can get a good start in life.

This is good at first - no need to reinvent the wheel - but at some point children need to foray out on their own and establish their own identity and be able to function on their own ,without their parents' help...because parents never last forever.:( This includes internalizing beliefs, making them personal, stuggling through doubt to stronger belief -and sometimes discarding things that don't fit or make sense. It is a lifelong task, which some have short-circuited by deciding to act without thinking -often taking up someone else's prescribed lists of acceptable behaviour and beliefs. We call it indoctrination - whether self-induced or dictated - either way it is destructive. We see it in politics, religion, business,etc.

The antidote is to examine oneself , our actions and attitudes, to find what we really believe and whether that is at odds with what we say we believe. What you believe will determine your actions, so take the time to find out what you really believe, not just what you say you do. For example, what do you think is our responsiblity toward those in this nation and in our world who are poor and powerless? Does your faith tradition/scripture have anything to say about that?
If so, what actions should you and we be taking to do about it?

For my own self I have increasingly become convinced that helping the "least of these" is a moral obligation, a societal responsibility and it greatly affects my outlook on social and political policy. But that's just me. You have to determine for yourself what your viewpoint is, because it is your belief.
Later :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

first post

And so it begins....I'd like to start by outlining what I want to emphasize and then explaining as time goes on.
I have a handful of things to emphasize...and I do me handful literally...five
1. Know what you believe.
2. Know why you believe what you believe
3. Live out what you believe, in all areas
4. Be creative...forget the box ....give yourself a swift kick occasionaly _(ever heard of A Wack on the Side of the Head?..good book)
5. Remember to do your homework...don't just take what is written/spoken at face value...check for the original sources (stimulus bill, for example, or official sites) to verify what you hear or read.

In the coming days I will outline what I mean by these things, but for now , just think about it.
Resonate with the music of the universe...and it's Maker.