Changing Lanes

I grew up in the NYC metro area where there are a lot of toll bridges and toll roads. When I lived there, the toll plaza had at times a dozen lanes into which you could pull up and toss your money into a basket or at the toll collector.  (Now there’s Easy Pass which does seem to move things along.) Picking the right lane to get in to can be tricky business. Inevitably I would pick a lane that I thought was moving quickly only to find out that the first lane I was in would have gotten me there sooner.  I’m pretty sure we’ve all made similar misjudgments, at the Walmart check out line or popcorn line at the movies. In all these cases, not the end of the world, just a little frustrating.

A dear friend (Mark) sent me something recently that got me thinking about these lanes we choose to get in. In this instance though it spoke about the various ‘false gods’ we human’s worship which have now been taken away from us because of this Corona virus thing. We worship athletes – no more sports. We worship actors and musicians, no more theaters or concerts. We worship money – economy shuts down. We worship intellect in the form of education – schools are closed. We worship our bodies – gyms are closed. Even something so seemingly good as our friends and family are unavailable to us. What do these other, ‘lesser’ lanes we choose have in common? Well, if they become the center of our love and adoration (i.e. worship) they distract us from the true lane we should be travelling on.

This was critical in helping me understand why the very first guidance we humans were given from the God that created us all was, “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other Gods before me.” And the explanation is stated perfectly by my main man when it comes to stuff like this, C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended-civilizations are built up-excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.

So, how did Satan get into this? Well, Satan is all about that second commandment in that Owner’s Manual, “You shall not worship false Gods.” Worshiping anything or anyone other than God is all Satan wants us to do. Once we get into that lane, he’s got us. From there he can take us to all the twisty, little side roads and tourist traps that move us away from the true road back to our home – the Home that was created for us.

But here is the really Great News. We are the drivers and we always control the wheel, and the lanes are those white striped ones that allow you to switch the lane you’re in. So, during this very unusual time during this very special week, consider the lane you’re in, and maybe what’s going on around us all will begin to make some sense. I’ve got my blinker on! 😊

We can do better

Over the past week we have seen examples from both sides of the abortion issue demonstrating that extremes are often irrational. First, a member of the Missouri state legislature used the term ‘consensual rape’ (the epitome of an oxy-moron) during a debate regarding a new anti-abortion law. He later admitted he misspoke and apologized. Click here. Later in the week, a pro-abortion site resurrected a ‘study’ from 2015 which claimed that 95% of women who have abortions experience no regret. What they failed to point out was that 68% of the women asked to participate in the study refused, for whatever reason, but I can’t imagine that it was because they were feeling good about their decision. Click here.

Why are we so inclined to speak ‘out of our minds’ or even lie when it comes to something with so much at stake for everyone involved? My guess is passion, and in these two cases, misguided passion. One definition of passion calls it a strong and barely controllable emotion. (For sure.) Now as we all know, passion can be a great thing, and in many cases, it guides our lives to do great things. But once our passion becomes irrational, it becomes a bad thing. It becomes something that no longer serves any good purpose, leading us away from a good cause and towards something that looks more like self-gratification. (‘I can’t bear the thought of me being wrong, so I’ll just grasp onto anything, true or not, to support my position.’)  No need to bring up sports, politics or religion here, right? And the true test of when our passion has gone off the rails is when you absolutely refuse to consider the other side’s position. When regardless of the thoughtfulness of the argument, you will not listen, and you immediately put up the wall and counterattack. It’s at this point we need to step back and realize that nothing ever gets better when we refuse to listen, refuse to consider an alternate reality. We need to remember that no one is ever 100% wrong or 100% right. (Well, Christ is pretty much on target, but then again, He is the Son of God. 😊)

So, what are we going to do here? Are we going to continue to bang our heads, lower ourselves to name calling and misrepresenting the truth? Are we going to continue to have these generational changes in the tide, where for 50 years abortion is OK, and then it’s not OK? And all along literally millions of lives are lost, relationships tossed, and hearts broken? Nobody truly believes in their heart that the best solution for an unintended pregnancy is to simply terminate it. No one marches in the street for the right to have a living being pulled from a mother’s womb. I’m pretty sure that if provided with an acceptable alternative that doesn’t end the life of the child, we would all be thrilled. (And, although this is not an advertisement for adoption, it is one solution.) I’m not sure what the ultimate solution would be that would respond to the needs of all parties, but I do know that we as a civilization can do better than terminating a life – any life – and think we are done with the problem.

As I said, passion can be a wonderful thing. Can you imagine what we can do if we turn all of this amazing passion and resources on both sides to finding a humane solution that considers all of the circumstances, without knee-jerk party line reactions? If we started with a premise to put unconditional love and acceptance for one another as our goal how would that change the world?  We have been able to achieve so much in just the last century when it comes to health care and yet absolutely no innovation when it comes to the number one cause of death for babies in the womb. We can do better if only we would be willing to listen, consider and take our focus off of being on the winning team. Who’s willing to discuss this like adults? How about a Pro-Solution movement?

The Baby v. the bath water

There is a long history of giving babies their first baths in the kitchen sink.  I can remember doing it a few times myself. After laying down a sort of spongy base, sitting one of our kids in the sink, filling it up with warm water and using that spray nozzle thing to hose off the soapy lather, and then, watch it magically all go down the drain.  After a certain age though, something about laying in that increasingly tepid cloudy water seemed less appealing to me.  It’s most likely the reason that the thought of recycling that water for something like lemonade doesn’t usually come to mind.  Then I recently read a beautiful description of the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan.

We can imagine the sinless Jesus stepping into the water, taking upon himself the conditions of our sinfulness, and absorbing from the sin laden water all the sins of humankind unto himself.

Sort of a flip of course, as Jesus is again willing to do what most would abhor.  Then for some reason, the phrase ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’ came to mind.  Most of us have heard it used when something really good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad.  The connection is simply this:  There are many of us who have done just that.  Because of some minor disagreement, some isolated indiscretion, some affront to our sensibilities, relationships have ended.  Lifelong friendships and associations are no longer. 

We saw this, sadly, during the last presidential election.  We see this a lot when it comes to the church.  The actions or dogma-spin of church leadership disappoints or even repulses us, in most cases rightfully so.  But we need to remember at these times what truly drew us to our faith.  It was Jesus.  There are countless millions of people who have yet to separate their relationship with their church (whichever one it may be) from their relationship with Jesus.  Many of which even reject Jesus because of some misguided belief that church membership is a requirement for salvation.  Well I am here to tell you, ‘That just ain’t true!’

And although that little perfect baby sits squarely in the depths of the forgiven sins and inequities of those who are His church, He remains forever spotless.  For He is God and we are not.  And although we may justify the rejection of our own offenses and corruptible institutions, let’s never reject the core of our true relationship with our Creator:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…John 3:16

This baby, like all babies, is worth saving.

Are we being inconsiderate when it comes to reopening our state sooner than later?

Inconsiderate:     1aHEEDLESSTHOUGHTLESS bcareless of the rights or feelings of others 2not adequately considered ILL-ADVISED

OK, so anyone that has NEVER been inconsiderate can leave the room…I’ll wait.

It seems I’m still here. No surprise. In this case, though, what I’m most interested in is definition 2, the amount of consideration we give to an argument BEFORE we take a definitive side. Like me, I think most people make a gut decision and then spend the majority of their brain power in building a strong argument to support that side of the controversy. We seek to make our position ‘bullet-proof’, because no one likes to be schooled on how their thinking is faulty. What we see these days therefore has very little to do with true and honest debate, just endless chants of, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong!’ No gentle discourse or at the very least, an open mind to consider the ‘other’ side’s view.  When did we get to be so arrogant?

How have the great examples of human consideration been established? The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Emancipation Proclamation. I’m pretty sure there was some level of consideration, discussion and compromise. Where has that all gone? Has a couple of generations of parents’ coddling their children influenced our ability to sit still and listen and consider an alternate reality? I mean, we can’t ALL be winners.

This week about 500 protesters gathered in Phoenix to show support in immediately reopening our state for business. I honestly am divided somewhat on the matter, as both sides do have reasonable arguments.

  • Are well established public institutions, like our schools, churches, and the healthcare system being harmed by these shutdowns? Quite possibly.
  • Are some industries, businesses and livelihoods being damaged beyond repair? Very likely.
  • Are individuals and families suffering emotionally and psychologically from the state’s present policy? For sure.
  • Are there even some people actually dying because of this separation? I have to imagine, yes.

So, are social distancing and government mandated closures doing more harm than allowing the disease to take its natural course? That, my friends, we’ll really never know. Thankfully, in my opinion, our leaders did decide to take action. They listened to the experts, they considered historical outbreaks, they looked at the numbers and they decided at the time that the cost in human life and misery outweighed the inconvenience, financial loss and resultant suffering from lock down policies. So then, what’s changed? I have to tell you, I would not want to be in the position of prematurely deciding to ‘get back to normal’ only to determine that ‘normal’ is an unrealistic expectation right now. In fact, the ‘normal’ of the past may never be achievable.

It’s a certainly a quandary. But then I considered the many sacrifices of our nurses and doctors who have, in many cases, given their very lives caring for others so that this G.D. curve can be flattened. (Over 10% of those infected are health care workers.)  And then I considered the protesters. Have any lost a loved one yet, or would any of them give up a family member so that we can get the economy opened a few weeks sooner? I finally realized we need to take a breath and really give this matter some more hard, thoughtful and open-minded consideration, and not just from our own point of view. Let’s make sure we exhaust all our consideration in this case, because this is a tough one.

Living in the Context of Christ

The world can be a lonely place.

When I was a college student, I spent my share of late nights alone in my bedroom working on some project or paper that was due the next day. In the quiet of the early morning hours, the rest of the house, and seemingly the rest of the world, would be asleep leaving me to my task. I knew that there was no one that could help me, and in whatever few hours I had until the sun rose it was all up to me to make it happen. It’s at times like those that I’ve felt the most alone.

The world can be a scary place.

There were times when I was really unsure as to what was going to happen tomorrow. I had just graduated college with no prospects for a job, my girlfriend of four years had just left me for an older man, and I was about to embark on a cross country road trip with my best friend at the time, having never been more than a couple of hundred miles away from home. Coming from a childhood and home life of routine and certainty, it seemed a bit unnerving.

In those days I had barely developed any sense of perspective. My only context was of my earthly life and past experience, which was at best, average, and relatively limited. With that as my toolbox it was no wonder that I entered my adult life ill equipped for such formidable emotions like loneliness and fear of the unknown. Thank God, though, that would change. And although the journey has been long and slow, I was reminded last week just how far I’ve come in 40 years, by a verse from a song I heard in church:

On Christ, The Solid Rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

In a world full of uncertainty, fear, sorrow, calamity, and evil, I often wonder how non-believers muster up the courage to get out of bed each morning. I pray for them that they will one day experience the joy of living a life within the context of Christ. That they too will come to know that they are loved beyond any ability for any of us to understand. I pray they see that our Creator’s relentless pursuit of each of His creations will one day win out and everything we once thought was so important or so scary will evaporate and a new and amazing life, an eternal life, will be theirs as it was meant to be. I pray that each and every soul out there would operate in the reality that Christ’s sacrifice was made on behalf of all, regardless of any doubt we may have as to our ‘worthiness’ or beliefs. Lastly, I pray we all start our day thankful in that knowledge and eager to see what awaits.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh…and a gray belt

I grew up in an era when you wore black shoes with a blue suit, and the color of your belt (you always wore a belt) matched the color of your shoes: black shoes, black belt; brown shoes, brown belt. Well, over the years I got a cool pair of gray boots and a gray pair of casual shoes, and somewhere along the line I lost a gray belt. I mention all this because I recently went to wear those gray shoes and realized I had to go with a black or white (eeek!) belt; or Heaven Forbid, no belt at all! That got me to take a quick inventory of my life and I realized that I was in the very enviable position of having all of my needs met, other than a gray belt. This is how well God has blessed me. A gray belt was all I needed. Pretty trivial, right? I am guessing that for most of us the same is true.  Consider what you really need to live a good life: a roof over your head, somewhere safe and warm to sleep, food on the table, a decent job – the basics.

Of course, life is certainly more than surviving to our life expectancy, but for the purpose of this rant, I’m focused on true needs vs. wants.  Now think about the gifts that were presented to the Holy Family when Jesus was born – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  One might say that Jesus and family had more pressing needs than some incense and flashy jewelry.  But this is truly a case of God anticipating a real need and meeting it. For, soon after receiving these gifts, Mary and Joseph had to flee Israel with their son to Egypt to escape the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ ordered by King Herod in his attempt to snuff out this rival ‘King’. Gold was, and remains, the international currency. Frankincense and Myrrh were treasured even more so in their ultimate destination of Egypt because of its pivotal use in the customs of mummification and idol worship.  So here we have God establishing a tradition of using those with much to bless those in need.

So where am I going with all this?  It being Christmas soon, I am reminded that although the gratuitous giving of gifts is probably nice for the recipient, it is often a burden for the giver.  (“What are we going to get your Mother?”)  A burden in that, these gifts for the most part are not responding to a true basic need, but more to this unspoken ‘obligation to give’ that often leaves both parties somewhat relieved when it’s over.  (Of course, unless you’re a kid.)  And in the tradition of the wise men (well-off) gifting to the Holy family (in need), I’m proposing that the giving part of our annual celebration be directed to those with real needs and not so much those who will likely not remember what they got a year from now anyway.  So, although I truly appreciate the kind gesture of your holiday gift, I would be so very thrilled if you instead directed your generosity and resources to those who have real needs, and not just during Christmas.  Because you see, I did get that belt, so I’m good. Merry Christmas to All!

Hope for the hopeless

Have I mentioned that I am married to an angel?  This latest act of divine spousal intervention began back in January.   As some of you know, through a series of unfortunate events we found ourselves fostering a pair of older cats.  These seemingly inseparable cats were saved by Ellie as she and her sisters worked to settle the estate of an uncle back east.  With no one willing to take on the two older felines, there was no humane alternative but to bring them home.

As part of their new life in Arizona, my dear wife had the prophetic foresight to rename them, Joy and Hope.  Both needed lots of care and poor Joy, we came to find out, was quite ill, and after a short while we had to let her go to her well deserved rest.  Enter our 12-year-old resident cat, Buddie.  Those who know Buddie, know him as a friend to all, even the occasional transients that find their way to our doorstep.  So, I became quite disappointed to see that although Buddie was OK with Hope (and the special food we were feeding her) Hope was quite aggressive towards Buddie.  There were several serious altercations between the two, and Buddie, not one for confrontation, got the worst of it and slowly disengaged himself by spending more time outside or in the garage.   This led to herculean efforts by my wife to keep the peace and somehow make this work as she had done so many times in the past.  This in turn, caused me no small resentment towards what I began to see as this new little trouble maker.

Now at this point I must say that Hope is a sweet little cat that loves people and is always friendly and playful, a real peach.  But for a time there I could not see any of that, especially after one of those horrific cat fights.  At those times, I would not remember the horrible conditions from which she was saved, her trauma of relocating across country then losing her lifelong companion Joy, or her introduction into a totally alien environment complete with what we believe was the only other cat she had ever seen (besides Joy).  I was only interested in my peace, and my needs.  But the weeks turned to months and as I witnessed the patience, love and devotion my own earth angel modeled, something happened to me.  I began to see our little Hope as her true self, simply one of God’s creatures in desperate need of our love.  I began to spend more time with her and we bonded.  The empathy and compassion that comes so naturally for some was finally beginning to take hold of my heart.

After close to six months, and although the aggression towards Buddie was still there, I began to understand that Hope was indeed a gift from God.  A gift that I may not have wanted, but certainly needed.  I’ve learned a little more about patience, a little more about compassion and acceptance and a lot more about trusting God to work all things out for the good.

Happy ending!  When it became clear that the cat-friction was continuing to have very negative effects on both Hope and Buddie, our cat therapist (yes, that’s what I said) recommended that we try again to re-home Hope.  Reluctantly, we began to make inquiries and within two hours of posting a notice at a local senior living community, we got a call from a lovely woman interested in meeting Hope!  The next day we dropped Hope off at her new home, one for which she traveled thousands of miles and suffered through several traumas.  She now lives peacefully, not at all aware of the role she has played in helping me become a little less hopeless.

Therefore, my dear friends,…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (awe), for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”  Phil. 2:12-13

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”    Ezekiel 36:26

Praise God!

 

Won’t you be my Neighbor?

Do you remember Mr. Rogers?  I recently saw a trailer for this new documentary about Mr. (Fred) Rogers.  I imagine that most of us have either seen Mister Rogers Neighborhood as a kid or watched with your kids.  If you have, you’ll agree he’s not easy to forget.

I got to thinking about my perception of the man.  If I am honest, I have to say that I probably thought he was a bit of a flake.  Really, is this guy for real?  But, like a lot of things I used to think, age, scripture and thoughtful consideration have peeled away enough layers of world view for me to glimpse the real truth.  I may have thought that he was a little too gentle, a little too kind.  (Like there’s such a thing as being too gentle or too kind…There’s that world view thing again.)  I may have even thought he was a wimp.  But now (thankfully) I see him as he truly was – simply as a disciple of Christ (he was a Presbyterian minister) preaching in the best way that he could the message of Jesus Christ.  Now I have a new-found admiration for the man, partly because of his commitment to the message, and partly because he probably knew that people like me would see him as a flake but never wavered.

And what about the message?  I think we all know the song sung at the opening of the show:

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood; a beautiful day for a neighbor;  Would you be mine? Could you be mine?…

Now the Old Testament concept of neighbor was rather restrained, limited to ‘those of their own nation, or to their own friends; holding, that to hate their enemy was not forbidden by the law’ (ATS Bible Dictionary).  Then Christ comes along and flips everything upside down, summed up with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Just a reminder that the Samaritans were despised by the Israelites, considered enemies, and in no way what any Jew at the time would consider a neighbor.)

In the parable (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus redefines the term neighbor from one of proximity or friendly association, to one of universal relationship.  Basically, he tells us to remove the limits we place on our compassion, our tolerance and our love to include even those we consider our enemies.  We should have no enemies, in that at the very least, everyone we encounter should receive our good wishes and prayers.  And with this definition, we all can be neighbors regardless of where we live, if we all choose to first live in the Kingdom of God.  So, when Brother Fred asks us in the song’s final reprise, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”, the invitation is to share a relationship rather than a zip code.

The true brilliance of his approach is that it comes at the level a 5-year-old can grasp, with the glorious hope that the message will take root and withstand the attacks that ultimately come with worldly living.  Neighborly love, or agape love, is the message, unconditional and without thought of return, simply because we can choose to.  As God chooses to love us, regardless.

“Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.” – Fred Rogers

Oh yeah, and he wore some snappy sweaters!