Check your meter: Part 1

I almost died the other day.

If you live long enough you will have the occasional brush with death. Mine usually include a ladder, or a roof, or a very narrow steep hiking trail, or a riptide.  In this case, I was driving and looking to make a left turn out of a parking lot.  After looking both ways, I became focused on the face of the kind driver waving me on in the far lane to make the turn in front of him. As I began to move forward a car from the opposite lane zipped by, thankfully blaring his horn at the old guy he was about to hit. (That would be me.)  A second later I would have been t-boned on the driver’s side. And although I may have survived, the odds were pretty good I would not have.

If you think hard enough, you probably remember a similar moment or two when you came close to checking out.  After immediately thanking God profusely, I recalled a term I had for similar events. I may not be the first to use the phrase ‘death meter’ but cannot remember it being used the way I do.  On a scale from 0 to 100, 0 being sitting still in your favorite chair at home peacefully reading a book or watching TV; and 100 being accidentally falling headfirst into a large woodchipper.  So, for instance, every time you get in your car or board a plane or some other moving vehicle your death meter goes up.  Get out of your car and into your Lazy-boy your death meter goes down.  Pretty simple.  For an instant my meter was in the mid-90’s before I slammed on my brakes and just missed being plowed into by that oncoming SUV.

A brush with death always gets you thinking.  For me, not in a fearful way because my faith assures me that I’m not made for this world anyway, and that my death here simply is a transition to my true home with my Creator.  But like others, my thinking was more about what I am doing here with the precious time I have until I do depart.  One thing I will try to do is wake up each day with the goal of helping at least one person with their journey on earth.  A smile, a kind word, reaching out to an old friend or family member, a contribution to a just cause, and yes, maybe even changing a dirty diaper.  I also will try to write a little more about my own journey through this life (Thanks Victor.)  Knowing that I am not alone in my experiences, I hope to spark a conversation with other travelers on our way to our ultimate destination.  Be careful out there.

Hearts and Minds (and guns)

THE PROBLEM IS NOT GUNS. The problem is EVIL. Mankind has spent its long bloody history murdering one another from the very beginning, and, for the large majority of that time, without guns. (Think about Cain and Abel) I am not a gun owner, but if a gun somehow gives you peace of mind, then I’m OK with that.

The issue with Evil is that it will never be legislated out of our society. We can take all sorts of precautions, and pass all types of laws, but it should be clear by now that none of that works. Evil’s purpose is to create conflict, division, fear, and ignorance, and it’s pretty good at it. And sadly, this world is where Evil resides.

Well, it actually resides in our very own hearts and minds, when we succumb to it’s trickery. (You know it.)

But all is NOT lost. We have a choice. TRUE lasting change will come out of those same hearts and minds when we acknowledge each other as brothers and sisters, and, as the children of the one true Creator, God. How we do this is up for discussion. BUT, in my personal opinion, the way NOT to do this is to remove God from our society, schools, workplaces, entertainment, etc. I’m NOT talking about religion; I’m talking about GOD, the true God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The God that loves us all so much that “he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If you decide to respond, whether in your head or on this post, please read Chapter 5 from the Gospel of Matthew, and consider the world in that context. There is nothing that I have come across that is worth more than the actual words of the Maker who created us all. (Think of it as an Instruction Manual.)

Finally, may God embrace the souls of those lost this week in Texas, and may Comfort be at the side of those who grieve their loss.

Heaven on Earth…sort of

What was the largest concert that you ever attended?

In 1992, I was part of the crowd at a U2 concert at Meadowlands Stadium (NJ) in 1992.  There were approximately 80,000 fellow fans yelling, screaming, and singing to the wildly popular Irish band fronted by Bono. At one point a friend and I worked our way down on to the floor, fairly close to the stage and became part of this great sea of humanity swaying, dancing, jumping and fully engulfed in the moment.  All of our senses were totally engaged with the spectacle before us – the music, lights, pyro, and our countless bodies pressing together and in rhythm with the band – unforgettable. 

This week, as I was watching an episode about music festivals on This is Pop (Netflix). The memory of this concert experience came to mind, prompted also by what I thought was a brilliant observation by one of the persons being interviewed.  The point he made was that super large festivals or concerts like Woodstock, Monterey and Coachella were (in his opinion) the closest thing to Heaven on Earth as any human experience can be. (Click upcoming link.) That got my attention.

Now, there are a lot of places in the Bible that give us a glimpse into Heaven, but none more weirdly descriptive as the Book of Revelations authored by the Apostle John. The book is full of details about extraordinary creatures and features that seem inconceivable, whether we take John literally or figuratively. For certain though, the common theme is that we will be confronted with the awesomeness of God and transfixed by His overwhelming presence, and that of His opening Act, the Lamb (Jesus). With laser focus we will be unified in our very vocal praise and worship:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  Rev 7:9-10

Of course, I am in no way comparing an evening with 80,000 U2 fans to whatever our heavenly encounter will be. However, the commentary from the Netflix show was compelling, implying that there is indeed some sort of core human desire, possibly even in our DNA, to share in an event where we universally come together to exclaim our common praise, and yes, even worship of something we all find captivating. (I wonder how it got there? 😉) It is the sharing of such an experience that unites us in a very positive way and provides us with validation that, yes, this is good, and it makes me feel good that I am here, and for the moment, nothing else is of consequence. Heaven on Earth.

So, consider that memory and the feeling. Close your eyes and recall it, and then try to anticipate that feeling for all eternity…with perfect weather…and no Covid!  😊

Being True to Your Brand

A very long time ago, when TV had only 13 channels – half of which did not work – the granddaddy of all pick-up lines was “What’s your sign?” (Yes, really, as in zodiac.) These days though, you might be more ‘on point’ with, “What’s your brand?”  Having a brand is apparently important so that you can act appropriately when you socialize, be it in person (with the proper PPE 😊) or anywhere within the virtual world. My presumption is that it provides a greater self-confidence, as we now seem to be interacting on some level hourly with countless people in some way. There are numerous brands out there: professional brands, political brands, social justice brands, sexual / gender preference brands, dietary brands, just take your pick. A brand helps describe you in a vacuum, because again, it appears to me that is how most communication happens today – with a minimum of context.

Of course, you can have a few brands. I may be representing several myself at any particular moment. I am a senior white hetero male. (Boooooo!) I am an Italian American. (That should immediately evoke some stereotypical imagery of guinea t-shirts and flashy jewelry.)  I’m also a Yankee fan. (Though I don’t think I’m as obnoxious as most are made out to be.) Now, take a moment to consider some of the brands you may have represented during your life. Are there any that mean so much to you that you would actually be concerned if you misrepresented the brand and possibly caused others to think less of you, and therefore less of the brand? We’re talking pretty serious brand loyalty now. Maybe even serious enough to have you change your behavior.

So, here’s my point. Besides the traditional male / female brands, the brand with possibly the greatest representation remains Christianity. There are supposedly 2.4 billion of us out there.  Yep, that’s one in three humans. The thing about this particular brand is that it comes with a moral obligation to represent the brand and therefore, God, to the best of our ability. We do this not so much to earn brownie points with God, but to help increase the possibility of having non-believers consider the benefits of a life with God at its center.  Think of vegans and gym rats who may also want to share the positive outcomes of their particular lifestyle brand in an altruistic way. The difference in the case of God and Christianity is that these lifestyle decisions extend beyond the grave. Now, think eternity.

All that said, I know that I have not been the best representative of the Christian brand and lifestyle.  I know that there have been many times when I have misrepresented my brand to my family and friends, maybe in something I have said, or done, or posted somewhere. For that, I beg your forgiveness. I have had to live with these lapses and imperfections and do so with deep regret. I fear that these brand distortions could have led someone AWAY from God and have them NOT consider placing God at the center of their lives – just the opposite of my true intention. So please don’t allow my past (or future) hiccups sway you negatively. Right now with all that’s going on, and what we are dealing with this pandemic and the upcoming election, I intend to recommit myself to doing the best I can to remain true to the brand with the hope that someone out there might just consider doing the same. Feel free to call me out should I need it. 😊

Breaking God’s Heart

I have to believe that a lot of us are wondering what the heck is going on with this world. I was prompted by a friend’s post today to wonder the same, and what God must think as He / She looks upon us we seemingly self-destruct (again). I immediately defaulted to my go to metaphor of God as a loving parent, because I can relate to that the best. Is God somehow furring His brow, shaking His head, or maybe even wagging His finger at us all? I thought a little more and was reminded how this all started.

I have come to believe the essence of God is Love. And that from that infinite source of Love He begat the universe and His ultimate creation, mankind. As such, He, as Love, desired to commune in a loving relationship with each of His creations. He also understood that in order to have any real mutual loving relationship, free will was necessary. And, with free will, came also the choice to act outside of His will for us and so forfeit the peace and happiness He intends for ALL of His children. That’s the risk with free will, and the reason every parent and child knows, you can’t simply demand that someone love you.

So, along these lines comes the concept of accountability. What then would God be accountable for to us, His creations? Well, He’s God, supreme and everlasting, and answers to no one. But take a moment and pretend that He’s simply a perfect parent. What would He be accountable for in a human sense?  Let’s see. He created a perfect environment for us to live and thrive. He gave us everything we needed to be successful and happy. He provided the opportunity for companionship and relationship with each other. And even when we messed all that up, He provided His very Son as a sacrifice just so that we would still be able to be part of His original plan. He’s done his part and anything negative that has come out of the relationship is our doing. 

Now how are we accountable to God? Where do I begin considering our very being is a result of His speaking us into existence and then providing everything else we needed to be happy? How many parents out there have ever said to their child, “All I ever wanted for you is to be happy?” So, it is with God. Each time one of His beloved children turns his back on Him and forsakes His promises, His heart is broken. (Broken, in the sense that Jesus, God made man, certainly knows what a broken heart for humanity is, as it caused Him to trade places for each of us on the cross.) Would you knowingly want to break your mom’s or dad’s heart? We should consider that in everything we do, and we just might get the change we all are calling for in our society.

As far as those who presently do not believe in God, it does not change the God side of the relationship. I believe just like a child that runs away from home – the relationship still exists. God’s heart breaks for all His ‘lost’ children, those who are home and those on the road, because God knows what we could ALL have if we would just try it His way. And when you truly get into that kind of one to one relationship with God, you will find your heart breaks for those who are not…not yet at least!

(Note: I’m not necessarily promoting any one type of religion or church so much as simply a relationship with God. What would that world look like? Gotta be better than what we’ve made it into right now I would think.)

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.

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! 😊

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