Archive | November, 2010

First Thanksgiving Without Dad

24 Nov

My dad passed away last June 6 and, for all intents, this is the first holiday without him.  Perhaps the reader will permit my indulgence and allow me to reveal some emotions in memory of my dad.  If that is all right with you, please read on.

I will always remember the terrible day of his diagnosis, and the tears I shed while climbing some hills in training.  That was my first-stage catharsis.  Maybe the reader is not aware that I climb Mt. Whitney, here in California, for an annual challenge. 

On the day I received the news, I drove to some hills in the area and climbed.  As I climbed, I remember the tears flowing down my cheeks, lubricating my sunglasses and causing them to squirm on my nose in tandem.  It was a terrible day for me.

Dad elected to have surgery, and we were told he would have an extra three months added to the three they predicated he would live.  However, had he known then his lack of life-quality post-surgery, I guess he would have opted differently.  But there he was lying in bed the night before surgery.  I sat up just listening to him breathe.  Somewhere around 3:00 am the morning of the surgery, he awoke.  He and I spent the best and most lucid moments together.  I am thankful for that couple of uninterrupted hours.

I had traveled back and forth to North Carolina, from California, some four times in 6 months, to help in whatever way I could.  Mom had hospice, but she was becoming exhausted.  My two sisters did what they could also.  They live in Texas.  I am thankful for those times I spent with dad and mom. 

On my last trip in late May, 2010, dad was flesh and bones.  He was bedridden and had to be carried from bed to relieve himself.  I was only too glad to assist the man that had held my hand across dangerous streets, taught me about life, and came to most all of my athletic events.  He showed me what unconditional love was and I am thankful for all of these things.

On my last visit with dad, and during one of those very early mornings, he asked to sit up in bed and have his legs draped over the edge.  I complied.  He shifted his weight just a bit and fell forward.  Just in time, I grabbed him by the waist, and we both fell to the carpet, with my body breaking his fall.  As we both lay there, he said to me “I saw myself falling and I couldn’t do anything about it.”  He thanked me and I picked him up and laid him back in the bed.  It was then I realized just how many times in my life that dad has caught me when I fell, and I began to feel that knot of emotion form in the back of my throat.  I said aloud, “Dad, it’s the least I can do for all the times you were there for me.”  I am thankful for lessons learned by the guidance of father.

Dad was now sleeping 23 hours a day and was nearing the end of his earthly life.  I cannot help but think both dad and I needed closure on several fronts.  We both got that closure, as we talked about God, life, and reminisced about the many family times we shared.  As difficult as this blog is to write for me, the most difficult moment came when mom called on June 6, 2010, and said, “It’s over.”  Six months to the day, dad had gone from a vibrant, golfing, family guardian to his demise–six short months!

I am thankful for those six short months. 

I wish I could hear his corny jokes once more, or watch his masterful hands carve the Thanksgiving turkey.  Some things are just memories.  Other things are now my own realities.

I am thankful this Thanksgiving for many things.  I know this much.  The hugs will be tighter. The “I love you” echos will be louder, and the turkey will be carved dad’s way, his son’s hands will be on those knives. 

For those of us who have recently lost someone very special to us, I pray peace upon you.  May our hearts and spirits band together, both near and far, to stand with each other in prayer and in affectionate expressions.

In closing, please know that my tears that will be shed tomorrow as we pray and toast will cut several directions–not the least of which is across my own heart.  But my tears will also be shed in the direction of my friends. 

Thank you for allowing my emotion to make its way into your heart.  That is just one more thing for which to be thankful!  I don’t have the best way with words, sometimes.  So forgive me.  Thanks again for reading.

Happy Thanksgiving!

~~E

The Quest for Moral Absolutes: A College Lecture

21 Nov

The following blog comprises the conceptual framework of what has been presented at greater length to college and university level classes, regarding moral absolutes.  Discussions and illustrations accompany the lecture.  The framework is a bit of philosophy, some sociology, education, theology, and biblical references.  The lecture is a comparative look at world views, morality, and ethical choices.  Again, it is only the framework of a grander presentation.  If anyone is interested in further information on this topic, shoot me an email.

I.  Definitions (Webster)

  • A.  Moral:  “Relating to morality or morals; ethical, virtuous; supported by reason and probability.  The practical lesson inculcated by any story; general conduct as right or wrong; mode of life; ethics.”
  • B.  Morality:  “The doctrine of moral duties; ethics; moral character or quality; quality of an action in regard to right and wrong; an old form of drama in which the personages were allegorical representations of virtue, vices, etc.” 
  • C.  Absolute:  unlimited; unconditional; certain, despotic.”

II.  Moral Education Approaches:  Competing Notions

  • A.  Moral Socialization (Durkheim):  “Morality is not a system of abstract truth which can be derived from some fundamental notion, posited as self-evident. . . .  It belongs to the realm of life, not to speculation.”  (Durkheim, Sociology and Philosophy, p. 37)
  • B.  Rational Utilitarianism (Wilson):  “Morality implies the existence of an objective, nonnormative reasoning that can be applied . . . as such procedures are applied in mathematics.”  (Chazan, Contemporary Approaches to Moral Education, p. 36)
  • C.  Values Clarification (Kirschenbaum):  “There is not true morality; no conclusive, agreed upon, definite body or moral principles or values.”  (Raths, et. al., Values and Teaching, p. ix)
  • D.  Cognitive-Development (Kohlberg):  “Meaning and truth emerge as dependent on the person’s relationship to a situation and a setting.”  (Elias, Moral Education, p. 78ff)

III.  Truth (Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, p. 532)

If man’s mind is incapable of grasping truth, particularly is man’s mind is incapable of grasping the truth about God, then morality and theology are impossible. . . .  Augustine distinguished four senses of the term ‘truth.’  First, truth is the affirmation of what is; e.g., three times three is nine, and David was King of Israel.  Second, every reality, (particularly the immutable, supersensible ideas) can be considered as an affirmation of itself:  It is true when it merits the same name it claims.  In this sense, beauty and wisdom are truth.  Third, the Word of God, Jesus Christ is the Truth because He expresses the Father.  And fourth, in the realm of sensible objects, such as plants and animals, there is a resemblance, but only a resemblance, to the primary realities of point two above.  Strictly speaking, a visible tree is not a true tree.  But as the resemblance is real, even sensible objects have a degree of truth.

IV.  Survey Time:  True or False

  • A.  Absolutes change over time.  (What was morally wrong during biblical times may not necessarily be morally wrong for today). __________
  • B.  God is more concerned that we make choices to experience truth than an abstract principle of truth (Experience is the arbiter or truth, providing lessons to learn). __________
  • C.  Jesus Christ did not experience any moral dilemmas while on earth (Jesus was never in a situation which could be classified as a moral dilemma).  __________
  • D.  There are dilemmas, or problematic situations in life which present no clear answers or choices.  __________
  • E.  The Ten Commandments are absolutes given by God to Moses and the Israelites, and we are required to live by them today.  __________

V.  Our Ancestors Believed Four Major Things About Morality

  • A.  There was a right way to behave and a wrong way to behave.  This cannot be “proven.”  But neither can it be proved that loyalty, friendship, courage, honesty, and justice are BETTER than betrayal, treachery, cowardice, deceit, and injustice.  Furthermore, no one can “prove” that a leaky roof is not better than a roof that does not leak.  Mistakes are often the result when we try to prove the obvious, or commonly-sensible.
  • B.  We learn the right ay by being trained in it.  Virtue must be practiced.  We can only practice what we have been trained in.  Our ancestors understood that moral situation were more like “physical struggles” than mental exercises.  corollary:  “Playing sports builds character.”
  • C.  We all need models of virtue to imitate.  Training is hard work.  We need those who have a handle on morality and virtue to spur us on in the work of building character.  Those whom we admire (heroes) model consistent behaviors (whether good or bad).  We must keep in mind people are human, yet honor good examples of modeling.  Has anyone ever heard of a “neutral” role model?
  • D.  Virtuous models can be found in stories of wisdom and courage.  The ancient world was captivated by morals in their literature.  Stories about right and wrong, good versus evil, correct choices, etc., provided the training ground for “correct” choices over incorrect choices.

VI.  The Bible”  A Book of Dilemmas and God’s Truth Principles

  • A.  John 8:1-11 (Adulterous Woman)
  • B.  Luke 20:19-26 (A Taxing Situation)
  • C.  Luke 20:27-40 (Resurrection)

VII.  Dilemmas

A.  Can God make a rock so large that He cannot lift it? 

B.  If God is love then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world today?

C.  Every time I try to get my life together things begin to fall apart elsewhere.  Why should I try?

Evil In The World

20 Nov

I am amazed at the reluctance of the current White House administration to admit that evil exists in the world–at least publicly.  Could it be that it would then define itself, as other administrations have done in the past?  It is as if they are above it all. 

I do believe that after getting “spanked” as they did in the recent 2010 elections, they will probably continue to double-down, demonize and vilify the “evil” Tea Party and Republicans.  Idealism is itself a form of evil-thinking that is countered by reality each and every day.  Politics, in and of itself is a form of evil, countering itself.  [Snickering]

Politics = Poli (many) + tics (blood sucking creatures)

I have news for those who merely believe evil happens in only politics.  I also have news for those who believe evil is non-existent.  I am not ashamed to state that evil exists in me.  As much as I would like to think of myself as a “good person,” nothing could be farther from the truth.

But for those who think people are, in general, good I have a few questions.  If goodness comes from good people, then where does evil come from?  Do you merely dismiss it as a social condition, not admitting that social conditions come from people to begin with?  Do you think evil is a figment, a religiously created notion?  Or is it a social definition, interpreted as such by those in charge?   This is what the current American political administration would like us to believe.

Evil cannot be merely an interpretation can it?  If so, then so too is goodness.  My position is that none of us are innately good.  In time, our true natures will out, and we and others get stuck with the bill. 

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”  (Mother Teresa)

As long as there are humans in the world there will be evil.  But where does evil come from, since humans are 100% “completely unique” (redundant, I know), and share no tether of oneness?  My view is theological and I believe evil began in Lucifer.  His actions affected the entire creation. 

Small evils added up comprise larger evils.  I equate this to small white lies (a “good evil,” if there is any such thing) added up comprise large lies, as an example.  We really cannot see the natures we have.  So we go by feelings.  If we feel good, we must be good, and doing good.  If we see others doing something to alleviate pain, that person must be good.  Can a society’s goodness actually be evil? 

Perish the thought that anyone or anything could ever be evil, in small measure, or large measure, or motivated by something other than our preconceived idea about goodness.  I find it interesting that a person can live a profane life, and somehow at his or her death, he or she is suddenly a “good person.” 

Perish the thought also that evil is an external spiritual reality, as much as it is part of our natures.  Given the opportunity, every human will commit something which another might call evil, if they were to find out.  Whom do we blame for evil that we commit, or that is committed against us? 

What is my definition of evil?  Whatever is not good. 

Again, I return to theology.  Since there is no one good but God, by nature, we are all evil in one way or another.  This is not about picking apart souls and hanging some sort of label on each of us.  It is about coming to terms about reality, whether politically, spiritually, socially, or individually.  All of us are capable of good actions, certainly.  But we are equally as capable of evil actions.  The question is which set of actions is true to our natures over time?

Consider the following and let me know if you think the world is of a good nature . . .

Why do people slaughter innocent babies in the womb? 

What are the reasons Saddam Hussein killed off millions of his own people?

Why are women second-class citizens in Muslim-Arab nations.

Why are drug and alcohol addictions rampant?

Why did Stalin purge 20-million Russians?

What reasons are there for Nazis to have exterminated over 6-million Jews, and others?

Why are there rapes and incestuous acts?

Why is homosexuality considered a norm?

How come pornography is rampant, along with the child sex slave-trade?

Why did America frop the atomic bomb twice in 1945?

Why did music turn toward violence and mayhem, sexual abuse, and the cheapening of females, particularly in rap?

Why are marriages failing?

Where are the values of honesty, persistence, commitment, and others?

Why is “self” more important than others?

Why are “good actions” the definition of goodness, especially is the actions are done for attention, or a tax deduction?

What is at the core of persecution of Christians?

What about religious wars?

What is the reason for the proliferation of disease, hunger, and suffering in the world?

Why is evil no longer a focus of what transpires in the world?

What do all of these have in common?  They are actions of mankind.  Is a person born with the orientation to commit a crime, sort of like he is born as a heterosexual, or homosexual?  Are there evil homosexuals?  Evil heterosexuals?  I am smiling at the ridiculousness of some of these questions, as probably you are.  

Can any of the above elements be blamed on a good and loving God?  Can evil be blamed on goodness?  No way.  Obviously, mankind’s nature is not geared toward goodness.  If so, he would seek God.  If the latter were the case, we’d be less focused on self, less focused on money and sex, less focused on pleasures, and leisures, and more focused on solving the problems that surround us–the very ones that we call caused. 

Here is my boldest statement of this blog:  Those who feel they are good people are deceived by their own definition of goodness. 

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt and have committed abominable injustice; There is no one who does good . . . There is no one who does good, not even one.”  (Psalm 53:1-3)

Even our own self-declared “goodness,” does not negate or change our natures.  Ever ask a person, “Why did you do that”?  Has anyone ever responded, “I don’t know.  It just felt right?” Goodness does not naturally exist in us.  We are not born with developing goodness.  We are not a package of super-charged goodness waiting to explode on the scene.  We have to be taught not to follow our curiosities, which are all self-oriented.  If we were good by nature, we’d never had a reason to give in to temptation, or be taught “goodness.”  The latter would happen all by itself over time.  Such is not the case. 

Certainly, we can all agree that actions can be defined as goodness by a group, or individual.  Definitely, we can agree that group-goodness results in “good things,” similarly by cultural definitions.  But remember, what is probably good to a cannibal is eating everything on his plate, and not wasting food.  So much for universal goodness.

Over time, all of us are going to manifest our true natures and that “goodness” is only a definition within culture, not a moral or spiritual reality from our being.  We know goodness because we are created in the image of God.  But knowing does not make one good.  Knowing evil does not make one evil.  What comes out over time is our nature. 

Knowing good and evil like God knows it does not make one God, especially after having given in to temptation and deceit. 

“And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You shall surely not die.  For God knows that in the day you eat from it [tree of knowledge] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like GOd, knowing good and evil.'”  (Genesis 3:4-5) 

Change the definition and you change “goodness.”  That’s exactly what the serpent did and Eve bought it.  This is what people did subsequent to the Fall.  In recent times it is exactly what the Nazis did.  In fact, it is what all humans do to justify their actions, large and small.  Whomever gets to call the shots determines what good and evil are, unless we work from an objective truth that all humans are evil waiting to happen.  This is what so many political philosophers understood hundreds of years prior to the founding of the United States.

Roe v. Wade (1973) changed the way a nation looked at pre-born babies.  Since 1973, we have slaughtered and dismembered more than 50 million “fetuses,” by choice.  I would argue mostly by selfish, evil choices–despite circumstances.  Who would ever argue that this is a sign of “good,” in any culture?  Some argue that there are too many mouths to feed already in the world.  Then maybe Americans should stop having sex.  If hunger is evil, and abortion is evil, then not having sex is an answer to stemming both.  Good luck with that one.  [Shaking my head]

Any actions that become huge in history, and result in tremendous and horrific infamy, do not happen over night.  Again, back to the little white lies . . . over time they add up.  Little self-oriented natures willing out in a corporate sense produce giant issues.  One small evil action is not seen as devastating.  Humans’ actions over time added up result in genocides.  If you think I am all wet on this issue, just look around. 

Online, one smart-mouth, anonymous bully can cause a lot of harm.  What happens in that others gang up and begin to ridicule and torment.  Then what happens?  Sure, all of these “people” are individually good elsewhere online–But not so as a group.  Some people relish in their toxicity, joining others to ridicule–and they do so, time-and-time again.  Their justification?  “Hey, I am not perfect.”  Bingo!  None of us are perfect.  None of us are good.  But ALL of us have to fight the “evil” tendencies that reside within our natures, just pulsating to find their avenues and exits from deep within our souls. 

One of the more hilarious things about so-called “good people” who practice evil is that they tend to show one side of their split-personas to one group, and another side to other groups–all under the guise of trying to save people from themselves. 

When babies are born, no one walks around thinking they are “evil bundles of joy.”  If they all had labels in the womb to this effect, then I could see why some would argue for abortion.  But that is not the case at all.  There is a reason why aborting a baby to save the life of a mother is called the “lesser of two evils,” by some.  We could extend this reasoning in one-thousand different directions. 

But one question persists”  Is a person evil because of his evil actions?  Or are evil actions the result of evil people?  I think such a dichotomy misses the point. I believe both to be true simultaneously. 

I’d like to know your thoughts–especially from those who believe the natures and actions of all humans are leading us toward goodness.  Thanks for reading.

Dr. Comments Written on Patient Charts

19 Nov

My daughter’s special man is earning his double degree (MD and MBA) and will graduate in June.  This graduation coincides with my daughter’s graduation from law school.  Needless to say, these kids are quite busy.  I am proud of both of these fine young adults.  We get to have them at our place for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I am one smiling dad here.  My wife also has this perpetual grin, and I know it’s not because she can’t wait to prepare this year’s turkey.  I love helping out in the kitchen, but that’s another story.

As an educator, I thought I had seen and heard it all.  My goodness, was I ever wrong.  it sure seems that other professions have just as much a handle on faux pas as does mine.  Whether legal, medical, or educational, we all have our stories.  Let me share a few of what has me in “stitches” this morning.  You might not think Dr. comments on patient’s chart are funny, but “suture” self.  I think doctors are a real “cut up,” a genuine “cast” of characters, to one “degree” or another.  They can dangle participles with the best of them, use misplaced modifiers that result in typos and innuendo.  So have a look and “judge” for yourself . . .

Thanks to the very busy graduate, professional students for the following chuckles.  We love you guys:

1.  Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circussized.

2.  The patient has no previous history of suicides.

3.  Patient has left white blood cells at another hospital.

4.  Patient’s medical history has been remarkably insignificant with only 11 kg weight gain in the past three days.

5.  She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night.

6.  Patient has chest pain if she lies on her side for over a year.

7.  On the second day the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared.

8.  The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.

9.  Healthy appearing decrepit 69-year-old male, mentally alert but forgetful.

10.  Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.

11.  She is numb from her toes down.

12.  While in ER, she was X-rated and sent home.

13.  The skin was moist and dry.

14.  Occasional, constant and infrequent headaches.

15.  Patient was alert and unresponsive.

16.  Rectal examination revealed a normal0sized thyroid.

17.  She stated that she had been constipated most of her life until she got a divorce.

18.  I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.

19.  Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation.

20.  The patient refused autopsy.

21.  The lab test indicated abnomal lover function.

22.  Skin somewhat pale but present.

23.  Large brown stool ambulating in the hall.

24.  Patient has two teenage children but no other abnormalities.

Open Doors

17 Nov

The way I figure things is very simple.  If God grants me another day of life, it is an open door to make a difference.  How can I not be grateful for the opportunity? 

Yes, I know there are some people who think I have gone bonkers.  Welcome to my world.  Living in bonkerdom has its advantages, I believe.  I’ll crack open my mind for a few minutes and allow the reader an inside peek.  Now is your time to run for cover, if you are squeamish, or get lost easily in mazes. 

Today, I asked my students a series of abstract and concrete questions.  The first of these questions was, “What does it mean to speak literally?”  Interestingly enough, my students began to offer figures of speech to describe the “literal.”  I chuckled as I heard:

“It’s like when you tear your heart out.”

“Mow the grass.” 

“Eat everything on your plate.”

After I accepted many of their supposed literal statements, I asked what how they would interpret one of my statements to “them.”  I then said, “I love you!”  “What does that literally mean?” It was chirping crickets dropping pins at the same time. 

Enter an open door moment.  Nice play on words, ehhhhh?

We then begin to discuss the four types of “love,” as found in classical Greek.  I began to connect these types to the methods of interpreting the Constitution by the Supreme Court.  One of these methods was the “Literal, or Strict Construction Method.”

Throughout the course of the hour, I illustrated the four types of love by defining love by its context.  You should have seen the jaws drop.  Teachers describe light bulb moments, when things click for their students.  This was one of them. 

Students heard that eros is completely out-of-line for teenagers and that any relationships that come about between teachers and students is flat-out wrong, let alone creepy.  They know this type of love is out-of-bounds and therefore not what I meant when I said “I love you!”

“I’d take a bullet for you guys,” I told them.  And I would! 

They got it, and I got it too!  I mean I got THEM. 

Hugs, that is, after class.  Love at it’s best!  Brotherly, relational, and fuzzy . . . I am learning to see each day as an open door.  The only question will be “What do I do if multiple open doors present themselves on a regular basis?” Not a bad problem to have, actually.

Hearts are as much open doors as are minds.  Combine the two and stand back.  Passion-for-living-squared!

Welcome to my world.

What’s In Your Closet?

16 Nov

They we were, in our darkened kitchen, just a few short years ago.  My wife, our daughter, and her visiting friend—surrounded by all sorts of “goodies.”  We were huddled around the kitchen table for an additional and unconventional kind of holiday goodie. 

But first a little background.  A few years back, our daughter was home from college for the weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family.  It was such a great time.  The day was peaceful, the food delicious, and the fellowship fun.  Fun, that is, until someone suggested that I break out the old 16mm film projector.  I winced at the suggestion.  However, I am such a softie when it comes to those kids of ours—and my daughter is no exception.  So, when she began the “please dad,” routine, I gave in and headed for the closet under the stairs.  I hate the closet under the stairs.  That closet has a door for a reason.

When my kids were very young, I made up this story that a spanking machine was hidden in the deep, dark recesses of that closet.  Not sure why I said that, but it seemed to work as a deterrent for awhile.  They stayed out of the closet.  The door stayed closed and everyone was happy.  Happy, that is, until I acquiesced to the heart-tugs of the day in question.

There I stood, like a man about to head off to war—a real dilemma on my hands.  Finally, I decided to tackle the challenge.  As I opened the closet door, I was one sorry man.  How in the world could so much junk be piled in such a small closet?  I live with a group of wonderful people, but let me tell you something.  There is a philosophy that pervades my busy family. The philosophy is this:  “What we can’t see can’t hurt us.”   Sheeesh!  The converse is equally as true.  Things fell down onto my feet and I let out frustrated, “ouch!”  Snickers were heard from the kitchen. 

“Funny,” I yelled.  Snickers turned to cackles.  For a second, I thought I lived with a bun of hens.

Instead of going through the accumulated piles of junk and discarding what is NOT needed, my family loves to just transfer messes to other vacant spaces.  Believe me when I tell you this:  THE CLOSET INTO WHICH I AM STARING IS TOTALLY FULL!

There I was, dealing with someone else’s junk pile just to find the projector. 

“Happy Thanksgiving to you too!”

The deeper I dug into the middle of the pile of papers, furniture, blankets, etc., the more I became frustrated.  I was frustrated now for a little different reason.  I was realizing most of the junk I was tossing about was MINE–ALL MINE!  I could not believe I kept all that stuff.  I was surely glad no one was videotaping my search for the distant past.  But being the man on a mission, I kept my discoveries quiet.  A guy’s got a reputation to uphold, you know.  [Now, I am snickering]

Anyway, let me get to the point.  I did find the projector and the old reels of film in the same box.  I yanked the box from its mooring, which was between two chairs.  I snatched up the box and paraded back into the kitchen like some sort of hero. 

Soon, we would begin the trip down memory lane.  I thought to myself, “this is going to be fun.” 

There is something special about the clicking sounds that accompany the showing of 16mm films, as the projector labors to advance the film frame-by frame.  There is a certain synchronicity that is almost mesmerizing to the listener.  One good thing about silent 16mm films is that running verbal commentary does not at all harm the viewing.  Some people can be so rude to the elderly who just like to reminisce out loud. 

I guess the reasons I am sharing this story are highly personal and somewhat simplistic.  You see, as the projector clicked and clacked, I watched my own life roll before me.  As the images flashed on the screen in faded colors, I began to stare at my wife.  I then extended gazes to my daughter and my son.  Amidst the comments of how skinny and young we were, the baby baths and tricycle rides–and the laughter about our clothes and hair styles–there were so many nonverbal sensitive moments.  I felt a little like a god, watching his creation adore the very objects which I adored, and in which I played a role in making.

As the last film reel neared its end, I was struck anew with the reality that none of us is immutable–yet can love and be loved consistently and unconditionally.  Our lives are but whispers, non-ubiquitous and momentary, yet here we are–STILL!.  Our whispers are slowing and our ubiquity not as prominent.  The years do take their toll.

There is something about the past that provokes a sense of urgency.  For me, that night, the past cut through the present clutter of life and allowed me to resurrect reality in fresh ways.  Definitely, I am little heavier.  For certain I am a lot older, and a little grayer.  Despite these realities, I am a whole lot more appreciative.  I appreciate my wife and my children so much more.  I am struck with a line from Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  Senator Jefferson Smith, speaking via his filibuster in the Senate, stated:  “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these senators didn’t start out life as boys.” 

Some people find skeletons in their closets.  My life is no exception.  It’s just that some of these skeletons are a little younger and a lot more nimble, so as to hide themselves in life’s clutter.  There was no spanking machine at the back of the closet.  There was only a box of memories that gently patted my heart. 

This Thanksgiving will be the first holiday without my father.  He passed away from nasty brain June 6, 2010.  I plan to wear my specially made cremation jewelry, so as to keep him with me as I carve the turkey.  It was my dad’s gentle hand of guidance that showed me how to carve the delicious bird.  I am sure when I get to those special parts of this year’s ancient film festival, where my dad appears, it will bring both old and new emotions to an emotional junction.  But it’s all good.  It’s all purposeful.  It’s all from God.

God’s gift to us is people.  God’s gift to other people are our memories of them—the likes of which can never be kept hidden in a closet. 

What’s in YOUR closet this holiday season?  Care to make some special memories during this year’s holidays?  It might very well be the last ones you will ever make.  Go ahead, I dare you.  Open the door . . .

Hope

12 Nov

Here I am sitting at my desk on this lovely Friday late-afternoon.  The sun is making its way downward in the western sky.  The air temperature is dropping every few minutes.  It is such a lovely day here in my slice of California paradise.  Days like these provide so much hope for the morrow–which brings me to the point of this blog:  We are creatures of hope!  I am a man of hope!

Creatures of hope see that there are possibilities in life.  Creatures of hope celebrate the optimism that there will always be a brighter day and things in the present will pass.  Creatures of hope are full of the “what ifs” in life, and not stunted by the circumstances that befuddle or distract from the things which are envisioned by them.

As an educator, I find it truly amazing what occurs in the confidence levels of students when they sense hope, even directly after a failure.  We all fail.  But we are not failures waiting to happen.  Certainly, nothing shatters confidence like feelings of hopelessness and despair.  Life can be cruel to some people.  Sensing there is no way out of a predicament is a miserable feeling.  Yet, this is a reality for many students who have given up hope.  It is a reality for many adults who feel lonely and lost in this life.  They fail to see the incentive to living.  They are blinded by despair’s carnivorous actions upon the heart.

I cannot help but think of the students in inner cities who are bound to their neighborhoods and schools.  Most of them must feel hopelessly stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty, with no ways out.  It is one thing to be an adult without options.  But a child who has no tangible hope is a terrible thing.  My heart breaks for those in circumstances beyond their control.

As a Christian man, I believe the Church must do more for people.  Sadly, many parishioners are the very people who sense despair and have lost hope.  They come each week needing the “spiritual hospital.”  What to do?  Many of those who should be helping others are themselves in need of being helped.

First and foremost, we must love our fellow humans enough to see beyond their despair and step alongside them as a “paraklete,” as we can.  Working through the garbage of life is necessary, in order to instill hope.  Listening to those who have come out of the very circumstances in which they presently find themselves is paramount in conquering hopelessness.  It provides hope.

Second, befriending people who are unlike we are goes a long way in sharing love that counts for more than words and feelings.  The problems of this life are huge and no one of us can solve them for everyone. 

Third, I do know this one thing.  I am an ambassador on this planet for the Almighty.  I am not alone in believing we are here for many reasons.  Helping others is just one of these reasons.  We are God’s instruments to do “even greater things” for Him, with Him, and with others.   

When people affect lives, the changes ripple exponentially into many generations.  One never knows what our actions of today might cause to occur in the future.  So, we must not be overwhelmed with the problems of ourselves and others.  I am always amazed at what comes about when serving others.  My problems seem to diminish when others come first.

In closing, yes we humans are creatures of hope–and we must be.  We have a “blessed hope.”  In the midst of despair and feelings of being lost we have a “comforter,” who understands our plights.  I just wonder how many of us tend to bury the comfort inward, behind the doors to our souls, instead of in the directions of others’ hearts.  That remains the work to be done.  Want to join me in the effort?

Crossroads

12 Nov

There have been so many times in my life when I have wondered whether my choices were the right ones for my family and me.  There were opportunities missed, and opportunities gained–all by my choices.  My wife and I talk a lot about the “what-ifs” of life.  In many ways we are your average couple.  When life brings us to those places where choices exist and pathways glimmer in the sun, how do we know which to take?  But I am just abnormal enough to cause others to sit up can take notice. 

Well, the easy answer to the question I just posed is to wait and see what the choice brings.   What is the result of choosing one thing over another, or one path over another?  Consequences and results are good teachers for the next set of choices.  Outcomes do speak volumes.  Common sense prevails in most cases.  Yet, there are those times when common sense is the very thing we feel compelled to avoid.  Choosing an unconventional path is as scary as it is exciting.  Welcome to my world!

Most of life’s crossroads are not of the life and death variety.  They are so much less impacting–yet important, nevertheless.  So, how to choose, then?  What fork do we take when life offers such options?

I do know what NOT to do, in considering choices.  I know not to do evil, cut corners, lie, steal, or anything like that.  If any of my choices involve illegal actions or immoral practices, those are not valid choices for me.  If any of my choices endanger the lives, reputations, or upset the “rearing time” of my children toward instability, then I must not choose these paths. 

We all work so hard to nullify those choices and teach our children the same, that making choices to follow after such evil is simply unwise, to say the least.  So, any choices I make at the crossroads of life must be based on truth, love, faith, and various other qualities that are character and life-affirming.  If one adds seeking the will of a personal God into the mix, then waiting and patience are essentials, as well.  Choices made may be choices regretted, simply because they were made too soon, based on excitement, rather than timing for all parties involved.  I have learned that most choices involving people and employment in life cannot be unchosen by simply making another choice.  There are consequences for choices made and choices NOT to choose.

Crossroad opportunities often involve the passions of our hearts.  Since we are called to be good stewards, making choices that are less-impacting on our families, economics, our church family, and our current employment/ministry are vital elements to consider.  Yet, in being a “faithful” steward, we serve a higher calling than just those elements previously mentioned.  We also live by faith.  However, this faith is not just my own.  If God is in something, the crossroad opportunity will be an issue for all the members of my family, particularly our spouse.  He will also be preparing those on the other end of our choice. That’s just the way God works–both with the big picture, and individually.

I can say that I am a risk-taker in many ways.  But taking risks for myself is never to be the family dynamic.  In order for a crossroad experience to be successful, it has to be a relational decision, not just a personal one.  Relationships are “we oriented,” even though they might very well be “I decided.”  So, making serious life-decision choices is not just about “me.”  It is about “us.”  There should at least be a vicarious passion, or heart-felt assent that exists in a spouse, or there may be trouble ahead.

We all get to the point where we simply want to change our circumstances.  We get tired.  We dream about this or that.  Well, in changing our attitudes, we often immediately change our circumstances.  Leaving one job, let’s say, will not make us any different if we have not changed our attitude toward work.  Rather than run away, I run toward.  In an instant things often change.

But what about challenge, particularly if we are so close to retirement.  Shouldn’t we just hold out until that day arrives?  Those with aspirations of retirement only have already made a choice not to be open to anything until that time.  That’s not me.  “I am an anytime, anywhere God” kind of guy.  I will never retire from life.  I will always have a job.  The truth is, though, I have not worked more than a couple of weeks in the last 10 years.  I love what I do and I love the people I spend time with each day.  Circumstances cannot change this about me.  It is my personality.

Where some people see stop signs, I see crossroads.  Where there are mountains, I climb them to see the horizon.  Those who long for lounge chairs can sit back and watch me swim.  There is way too much yet to experience and so very much to do. 

I am way too interested in the options most would not choose.  Those are the challenges.  We only live on this earth once.  Now that the kids are grown, we are in a position to make those exciting choices that have been simmering for some time.  As I said earlier, crossroad choices often follow one’s passion. 

I am one passionate guy!  [smiling here]  Stay tuned!

When I Was Your Age . . .

10 Nov

“When I was your age . . .”  Words that transcend generations.  Words that evoke eyerolls and predictable responses.  Words that resonate, nevertheless.

Teachers use this phrase; parents use it, and so do grandparents.  I think each new generation thinks it has a handle on life and that no one truly understands what they are going through.  Blah, blah, blah.  Those of us who have lived long enough to know better, chuckle at the naiveté of the current generation–as if ours was somehow different.  We were all wise-guys once.  Now we are just wise.  Can I get an “Amen,” please?

Do you recall any of the “When I was your age” stories told by your parents?  I heard stories are about the Great Depression, sharing clothes, having no heat in houses, and all sorts of “character-building” moments.  Yet, our parents somehow made it through those difficult times.  Were they really as bad as they say?  My father-in-law says everyone lived similarly, so no one knew what was out of the norm–they were all poor in those days.

 I can honestly say that when I was young, the snow actually was deeper, the temperatures colder, and people were different.  No, really.  It’s true. The snow came up to my waist.  I remember it vividly.  In fact, my friends’ houses were long walks from my house.  My schools took forever to get to, and the walk home took ages. as well.  At least that’s the way I remember those things to be.  Was it because my legs were shorter? 

This past summer I visited every one of my old haunts, from my old house, to my old schools, and even walked the terrain of neighborhoods.  For some reason, everything seemed a lot closer, a lot shorter, and took no time at all to get traverse.  Hmmmm.  There were the same broken-slated sidewalks, overgrown trees, and all sorts of things I remember.  Current reality somehow does not match my “recollective reality.”  It’s not that my memory has faded.  It seems the enormity of reality then was much more impacting that it is now.  Memories have a way of being enhanced, at least in my mind.  Are our memories generally larger than life?  That remains a distinct possibility, given the age and biology into which they are contextualized.

Aside from the obvious silliness of “When I was your age, we walked to school uphill, both ways, in blizzards, etc.,” there is some aspect of pride in having lived years ago.  Accomplishment of making it through those weird, awkward teenage years is a badge of honor.  Could it be that the awkwardness of life as a teen jades much of reality, and thereby affects our emotional recall of life’s experiences from that time?  Another good question.  I think the answer is realized in the affirmative.  Teenage emotions are very hyper-active, and often are not based in level-headed reality.  So, recollections of that package might be a bit enhanced. 

So what does this mean?  Does it mean that my first kiss was not as I remember it?  Does it mean that my first soccer goal scored in high school, or college is really different from I feel it to be today?  Were the temperatures really not as cold as I remember them to be?  Well, maybe going out of the house on a cold winter morning with wet hair, and no jacket had something to do with all of that.  Do you think having less body fat during those days had anything to do with feeling colder?  But, “yeah,” things are not always as we remember them to be.  This is as much a good thing, as otherwise.  Negative experiences might not be as bad as they actually were.   But the converse is equally as valid. 

So, why is it that our minds do not register age, but our bodies do?  In my mind I can still do what I did as a teen–until I get off the couch, that is.  Aren’t we all still 18-years-old?  Can’t we all stay up all night and then go to work, or classes in the morning?  can’t we all eat anything we want, because our metabolism will burn it off, anyway?  Want to borrow my reading glasses?  [smirk]

When I was your age, I was simply YOUR age, sonny.  One teenager was overheard telling another teenager, “The trouble with my dad is that he remembers what it is like to be young.”  Isn’t that a fact?  We know exactly what it is like.  We know what we did and what we got away with.  Maybe that is why we are so tough on our kids.  Sure, things are different today.  But in many ways they are the same.

When the current generation of young persons is our age, I bet they’ll say, “When I was your age, we used to get driven everywhere.  We had it rough.  We had soccer, piano, ballet, football, baseball, and youth group.  We spent so much time in the car, it wasn’t even funny.  We had cell phones so our parents would always know where we were.  We had computers and text messaging, so it was time-consuming talking to everyone all the time.  Then there was college preparation.  Visiting all those schools and getting good grades was a lot of pressure.  And having my own car, and a job was a lot of responsibility.  Life was annoying, tiring, and pressure-packed, when I was your age.” 

Are you, the reader, smiling yet?

Yeah, when I was your age, young lady, there was plenty of time to be bored.  There was time to sit around at the park and talk person-to-person.  We had one car for the longest time, and dad used it for work, when I was your age.  We walked everywhere, were less obese, and had a tougher character.  When we got into fights, we used our fists.  When finished, we shook hands and walked away.

Times sure have changed.  We have names for everyone:  Racists, bullies, phobes, haters, perps, stalkers, and the list goes on.  We have no time for people anymore.  Speaking of which, I hate to cut this short, but would you all excuse me?  I have several IMs, dozens of emails, and several texts on my phone to get to.  Family, parents, students, and friends all need something from me today.   

Hey kid!  When you are MY age, you’ll understand.  How the heck do I find the shift function for ALL CAPS AND BOLD?

Motivated By Anger?

8 Nov

I just finished reading a blog, where a woman was ripping her ex-husband for leaving her after more than two decades together.  She was making fun of him, and allowing others to join in at his expense, as if the blog was a form of bully-gang catharsis.  Divorcees, and those equally as angry at their own states rallied to her plight.  She was still angry and playing off it to feed her ego.

As I read her blog, I found out some things about men–most of them negative.  Single women despise their exes.  Married women applaud her choice to move forward, and tell her to “laugh and celebrate herself” along the way.  I thought to myself, isn’t it the “self” that is the root cause of all of her plight?  And her friends want her to celebrate self more?

As I write this blog, I want to make it clear that I believe marriage is once per person, for life only.  That’s my personal belief, and all of my friends know that should I ever find myself single, due to any circumstances, another marriage is not even a consideration. 

Are men really the scumbags women make them out to be?  You see, in reading the woman’s blog, I noticed she had said that her anger had motivated her to lose 190 pounds.  My eyes bugged out–190 pounds.  That’s me, I thought!  In fact, she credited the divorce as her motivation to lose the weight.  So, anger motivated her?  I ask myself why she did not lose that weight for the “bum” that left her?  Was he not worth the effort?  I know the sob stories . . . “He abused me.  He ran me down.  He took away my self-esteem.”  I find it amazing that when a person cares for his or her body, self-esteem soars.  Talk about anger management? 

Now that she is single again, she decided to work on her body.  Why do men and women do this?  Why do they NOT want to present their bodies in the best light possible to their spouses?  Doesn’t SHE bear some of the responsibility for the relationship?  Apparently not.  She just expected him to stick around while she grew a second human being. 

Just what are people waiting for.  Is it because they just don’t care?  Is it because they expect the one that took vows to ALWAYS be there?  What about a very important aspect of marriage–SEX?  Men are visual creatures and we can’t stand hearing our wives complaining about their bodies and then doing nothing about them.  Taking vows is no excuse not to care for our bodies–if only for the sake of our health. 

Anger is a motivational tool, most definitely.  But when does it subside as such?  What part do we have in helping relationships to end–even before the official end?  So, now her ex-hubby is balding, have a stomach like a “pregnant woman,” and she tells her adult children, “Aren’t you glad you have my genes, and not your father’s?”  How asinine.  Those statements coming from a woman who was 190 pounds overweight?  As long as she is still angry, any future relationship will be unable to support this excess baggage.   

The man in question could have been more supportive.  He could have been right there encouraging his wife and her feeling of self-worth, working with her to build a better relationship.  Who knows what he did or didn’t do.  One thing is certain, the woman in question is currently living a life of a teenager.  Anger motivates all right.  It can also keep us from growing up and dealing with issues like adults.  The next generation is watching and they will indeed practice what we claim for our own lives.  If she truly cared about her marriage, she would have lost some “bum” for the “bum.” 

In closing, I must say that we Americans have so many issues.  Affluence, vices, food, addictions of all sorts, laziness–YOU NAME IT!  We are a messy bunch.  It’s the same with our apathy toward God.  I am left to wonder what we all need to lose to get things right with Him.  But that’s another blog, in and of itself.

Is there something we can do to increase our mates attraction toward us?  Begin today.  it’s not too late.

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