Saturday, January 31, 2015

BRUTALLY HONEST


Honesty, Internet Domain

In my later years I’ve found (like most grown children) that our parents were much wiser than we thought when we were growing up. That wisdom we have since learned came mostly in the school of hard knocks with my parents' words echoing in the background. We parents try to shield children and younger adults from the slings and arrows of the world by sharing our wisdom, but unfortunately it is generally learned the same way we learned it. But not always and it’s been written that we don’t have enough time in a lifetime to learn it all, so it is wise to reference wisdom books like Proverbs and wise people to save us a lot of grief—if we’re willing and have the incentive to do so.

The book of Proverbs was primarily written by King Solomon who was quite probably the richest and wisest man that ever lived. Solomon wrote and compiled these wise sayings early in his reign to share his experience and to help us to live good lives. His proverbs on honesty are spot on and show that a man who tries his best to be honest in his interactions with others will ultimately score one of the most precious things in life that can be hard won and easily lost—the trust of others and the trust of our Creator. He informs us that God detests dishonesty (20:10) but delights in honesty (11:1) and those who are truthful (12:22). He is pleased when we do what is right and just (21:3) and councils that it is wiser to be honest because “a righteous man escapes trouble” (12:13).

Dishonest gains are seldom lasting and are really of no value to those who receive them by deceit. And most people ultimately appreciate truth more than dishonest flattery. My mother repeatedly told me that “if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, it’s best not to say anything”. I’ve since found this to be true in most cases, but sometimes your silence betrays you. And sometimes it’s good to speak up to right a wrong even if it puts you in jeopardy. There may also be moments when it may not be such a good idea to be brutally honest. Like the wife who complains while looking in the mirror that everything is either going south or leaving completely. And the husband replies that at least her eyesight is still good!

I recently ran across a three panel cartoon that illustrates the point perfectly. The scene apparently involved a young woman that was being interviewed for a job by a three member panel of company associates. I’ve been on both ends of that interaction all too many times. And there were many times when I had to bite my tongue and harken back to my mother’s words to remain silent or at least parse my words. One of the classic interview questions that goes around is to ask the prospective candidate to elaborate on any of their perceived weaknesses. That’s a delicate question to field. And one should tread lightly and deliberately. Like, “Sometimes I’m too hard on myself”. That’s something we can all relate to and isn’t too toxic. The irony shared in this cartoon is that it deals with honesty (and character). So the final panel which I didn’t share was the young woman’s probable brutally honest final response of the interview; “I don’t give a damn what you think!” Be careful out there.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

RECORDING LIFE


Recording Life, Wrightsville Beach, NC

I’ve dallied in photography most of my adult life. Personal video cameras were just coming on the scene as we were expecting our first child. That gave me the incentive to explore the possibilities of recording the sound and motion of special occasions. And now hardly any important or sublime life event goes unrecorded as most folks carry a smart device on their person to capture the moment. Some of the wackiest get posted on the Internet and go viral around the world instantaneously. Two young men stole a cache of Franklins recently and then had the audacity to post a selfie video with their loot. They were arrested almost as quickly and the video provided law enforcement with the evidence needed to prosecute them!

The most recent incidents of police “use of force” has prompted the integration of body cameras for many law enforcement units. The city of Rialto, California started using the cameras and concluded that use of force incidents where officers used pepper spray, tasers, batons, firearms or police dogs dropped in half for officers wearing the cameras. Complaints against officers also dropped off as now-sober arrestees viewed their behavior when drunk. The study noted that “when we become aware that a video-camera is recording our actions, we also become self-conscious that unacceptable behaviors are likely to be captured on film, and the perceived certainty of punishment is at its highest”.

A correspondent recently wore one of these video cameras for the day to experience this newest technology. His subsequent article reminded me of a television interview I recently watched on the subject of violence in this country. One contributor observed that there seems to be a correlation between lawlessness and the decline of religion. He noted that we can’t hire enough law enforcement officers to replace the natural response to obeying laws and authority when folks respect and believe in a higher authority in their personal lives. I find it very reassuring to know God has promised us that He is with us always and the Holy Spirit is within us as a comforter and a guide. That translates to a 24/7 recording within the bowels of our gray matter of every move and thought for which we will someday be rewarded or held accountable. We intuitively understand that such recordings exist from the accounts of folks coming back from near death experiences who view these memories on fast forward. The good news is that we fallible humanoids are loved unconditionally and we’ve been given the path to forgiveness.

The correspondent concluded his day with the discovery that “I was extra careful in my driving. I was extra polite to the public and my colleagues. And I made sure everything I did was above reproach—because that little piece of technology was a constant reminder that even though I’m human, I can always be better”. We shouldn’t need to constantly wear state-of-the-art electronics to make us aware of that. Our Creator also expects better. We wear lots of different hats in life and we’re pretty good at adapting to our surroundings. It’s been said that if you want to know who you really are, observe the person you see when no one is watching. Except we’re not alone after all and the cameras are rolling.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

KAREN STRONG


Blood Donor & Karen 2003, Blowing Rock, NC

I still intend to do all the physical work that I’ve always done until I sense it’s time to grow old gracefully. For instance, I loaned my extension ladder to a friend a few years ago and then simply told him to keep it. I knew the last time I was on the top rung of that ladder climbing onto my second story roof that I shouldn’t be doing that! Last weekend I schlocked eight bags of Colorado river rock from Home Depot into my car and out into my back yard to extend my garden paths. I sensed that I shouldn’t be doing that after I lifted the first bag off a pallet on the floor into an elevated shopping cart. The consequence of that smooth move was a bleeding internal hemorrhoid. Which prompted a visit to my GP and a blood test.

The hemorrhoid was quickly subdued but the blood test revealed a White Blood Cell (WBC) level over the standard limit. I had also tested over the limit about a year earlier, which prompted my doctor to refer me to a hematologist the next day since I was travelling out of the country in the near future. Elevated white blood cells can be a sign that your body is reacting to an infection and instructing your bone marrow to kick up production of the little white fighters. It can be serious. So I lingered in anticipation of the appointment, understanding that facts are much more useful and more realistic than our human imagination. And I needed a resolution in case I needed to call in my trip insurance policy.

Needless to say I was more than a bit anxious, but I reminded myself that I am never alone and God has promised to be with us at all times. And I had the example of my wife Karen who bravely and strongly met her breast cancer head on and never wavered until the end in her determination to fight it with God at her side. I was fortunate to be in a position to ease into retirement at the time, so I was able to be at her other side through the lengthy ordeal. And I admired her tenacity and trust in our Heavenly Father. So I fell back on her example and constantly reminded myself to be “Karen Strong” whenever negative thoughts crept into my head. And it worked as a warm calm equipped me to face whatever fate awaited me at the specialist’s office.

At the designated time, I found the new offices for the medical center and proceeded on the elevator to Suite 300 on the third floor. Much to my chagrin, the door was stenciled with the bold words “Cancer Center”. The Big C hit me square in the face as I walked into the appointment. But I reminded myself to be “Karen Strong” and I calmly checked in with my medical documents to cover most of the expenses. A technician called me in to siphon more blood from my arm for another analysis, once she mercifully hit the uncooperative rolling blood vessel on the third try. She firmly wrapped my arm in a brightly colored strap. Then a PA called me in to ask another litany of questions such as “Have you lost any weight lately”? My knee jerk response was “Sadly, no”. She then asked if I was “scheduled for surgery?” and I responded “Absolutely No”!

The specialist finally called me into an examination room. My expectation was that my GP didn’t have the heart to give me a straight answer, so he scheduled the specialist to give me the bad news. He quickly informed me that my WBC count was well within range and the ratio of their four components was in perfect balance. I was astounded and relieved so we spent the next ten minutes talking sports and the photos of his daughter documenting her graduation from a local university and their walk down the aisle at her wedding. A quick examination revealed no problems and I was excused.

I can be a bit flippant now that the ordeal is over, but it was getting awfully serious there for a while. And the knowledge that my Heavenly Father was at my side and the memory of my wife’s “Karen Strong” courage is the praise that I will now embrace for the indeterminate balance of my life.

Friday, January 16, 2015

ENCOURAGERS WANTED


Childlike Love, Chicago, IL

I recently ran across a message on the Internet from “the world” that advertised for encouragers, explaining that we already had enough critics, thank you. Much of the world and I have seen a lot of encouragement from Pope Francis ever since he was elected Pope of the Catholic Church. His unscripted off the cuff interviews on flights around the world have caused a stir whenever he offers an observation. The recent carnage in Paris stirred up a lot of attention on freedom of expression. He defended that freedom as a fundamental right and a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good without provoking others by insulting their faith.

It does appear that our world today knows no boundaries when it comes to satire or humor. It does get folks’ attention and makes them think about issues, but it also solicits extreme reactions. You would hope those reactions would materialize in the form of spirited debate and not violence so that both sides of an issue could be heard and understood. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in Paris.

The primary attribute of the god most of the world’s religions worship is love. The primary goal of the worshipers should be to be more like their god. Unfortunately, there are those who don’t look too much like that. We seem to have an abundance of haters and critics these days. We do indeed need more encouragers to provide the impetus toward a kingdom of love right now, right here on earth—a world that embraces diversity and encourages us to take care of one another. Would that it could be so. And it can be so if we work to focus less on changing minds and more on changing hearts, which is what our God clearly sees--if we approach life more childlike, before all the cataracts of bias and prejudice and hate clouded our vision.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SEEING JESUS



Jesus, The Louvre, Paris

My wife and I volunteered to participate in a community mission effort a number of years ago. We gathered as a group in our church Fellowship Hall and were given an assignment for the day to make a difference in our community. And before we all departed, our Bishop gave us a rather daunting instruction. We were challenged to “see Jesus along the way”. We ended up working with a retired law officer who was trying to offer after school assistance to elementary school children. He had received a large number of books from a major school supply company that desperately needed to be organized. In the course of spending the day with this man, we got to know him better and understand that his heart was in the right place, but his resources were woefully lacking. When the kids arrived later, he slipped outside and grilled hamburgers for them on a small charcoal grill and he prepared steaks for us. When we returned to our church for a debriefing, I was able to confirm that we had indeed seen Jesus that day in the form of a man that had seen too much suffering and pain in his career and sought to do something positive about it at its core.

Now that I’m retired, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer in the same area with a more organized national mission staffed and funded by our church. There has been some concern that we aren’t working with an elementary school that’s close to our campus. But in checking, the school where we are currently volunteering is only three miles from there. Perhaps one day we can do both. There seemed to be a bit of divine guidance that led us to this place. Our Vision Team is reviewing the demographics of an area that is within an eight mile radius of our campus. The school is in an area where over ninety percent of the students qualify for free lunch. The racial diversity in the school is quite varied, including us. We work with a coordinator who genuinely cares for these kids with hugs and tough love. We help with homework and reading, go to the gym and computer lab, and send them home after serving a warm dinner. Volunteering in my wife’s middle school Media Center gave me a great appreciation for how critical it is for these students to arrive from elementary school with a proficiency in reading. Without this critical skill, they are at a severe disadvantage in all classes and many become the frustrated distractions that also deprive the other kids of a quality education.

I wouldn’t normally have any contact with children in this school if it weren’t for this volunteer work. I get a few stares when I drive through the neighborhood. One of the criticisms of today’s churches is that their vision can’t see past their buildings. Too many focus on luring people to where they are instead of reaching people where they already are. Sending checks to those in need is very important as money makes things happen. But there’s no telling what positive effect it has on folks when they catch a glimpse of Jesus through other people. God actually appeared to his chosen people in the Old Testament in various forms and in human flesh in the New Testament, but today His work is mostly accomplished through you and me.

I had been helping a young second grade boy with reading a Christmas book and another about a pig that outfoxed a fox. He actually didn’t need much assistance except for just a few foreign words. When a woman with similar features appeared to pick up one of the children, I noticed that the boy was gathering his backpack and putting on his winter coat. So I approached her and mentioned that he had done a very good job of reading two books to me today. She asked if I was from the church and I acknowledged that I was. She then thanked me for helping her family have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas with the donations that had been sent home with every child before the school break. Her eyes revealed a true sincerity. Without giving my response much thought I mentioned that it was all in the spirit of Christmas and it was a two way street. I had experienced a much better holiday season this year because we were able to provide the interaction, presents and food. And it was especially gratifying to observe that this woman was able to see Jesus through the efforts of the people at our church.

Monday, January 5, 2015

GOD'S RELATIONSHIP TO HUMAN SUFFERING


Hard Times, Chicago, IL

This anonymous quote that rationalizes God’s relationship to human suffering was shared by the minister who officiated at our wedding. He found it to be comforting after his young wife’s car was rear ended into a speeding train and was killed, leaving him to raise their two young children:

“Suffering is not God's desire for us, but it occurs in the process of life. Suffering is not given to teach us something, but through it we may learn. Suffering is not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequence of our sin or poor judgment. Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it our faith may be strengthened. God does not depend on human suffering to achieve his purposes, but sometimes through suffering his purposes are achieved. Suffering can either destroy us, or it can add meaning to our life”.

Suffering may not be God’s ultimate desire for the human race, but it is certainly part of an environment where both nature and mankind have been corrupted and one that allows free will choices of good or evil. We do live in a broken world with all sorts of suffering and pain visited upon everyone at some time. And much human suffering is a consequence of man’s inhumanity to man or is brought upon ourselves. Seeing that suffering in little children is especially troublesome. We all share the common destiny of mortal death which can be accompanied by suffering, but we have no understanding of what more serious issues could have been in someone’s path if life were extended. We can generally handle news of a faraway event that rains suffering on a foreign land, but when it strikes close to home it becomes much more personal.

Our response to suffering is critical. For many, a steadfast resolve, deepening faith and inner courage are revealed. Our time of suffering is temporary when viewed in the grand scheme of eternity. In the midst of suffering, this quote could bring some clarity, however. And we have been assured that God will be with us always. No matter what challenges we encounter in life, we will never have to face them alone. God can also help us bring good out of any bad situation.

It’s important that we don’t default to simple platitudes in a sincere attempt to comfort those who are suffering such as, “Everything happens for a reason; It’s part of God’s plan; It must be the will of God; God needed another angel in Heaven”, etc. All these well-meaning phrases we’ve all heard in a time of need wrongly implicates God as the source of suffering which can turn people away from their Heavenly Father at precisely the time they need him the most. Folks can often simply benefit from a good friend’s presence in such times. Silence can be a much better healer than trite phrases which imply that a friend’s suffering has been orchestrated by their loving Creator. And healing does always occur, just not always in this mortal life. We’ll ultimately understand when we individually journey to the other side.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

CHANNELING GRACE


Intercoastal Channel, Wrightsville Beach, NC

Physical channels like the beds where natural streams of water are directed facilitate the delivery of life-giving water all over our planet. Power lines facilitate the delivery of energy in the form of electricity to power all sorts of devices in our lives. The Internet is a wonderful example of networks channeling information and ideas around the world.

Physicians are excellent examples of human beings that channel God’s healing power to others. Surgeons who have witnessed countless miracles of healing understand that they bandage the wounds but God heals them. In ancient times a small cut or wound could easily be terminal once it became infectious. Today, we’ve been given the miracle of antibiotics and new medical practices that are now so commonplace that we don’t even think twice about the miracle of healing that takes place within our own bodies. There’s no telling how many second chances at life we’ve already experienced.

When folks decry the perceived absence of God in their daily lives or the suffering of others, many cry out for God to do something. But in most cases he has done something—he created you and me. We too can become channels of resources, energy, compassion and grace. We manifest and channel God’s grace when we work to heal broken bodies and spirits, making a difference in other lives.