Friday, November 25, 2011


How grateful I am … for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. Philippians 4

Last night I was awakened time and again by a buzzing beside my bed. It was my cell phone. Usually it goes into silent mode when plugged in to recharge at night, but last night it informed me of every email I was receiving throughout the night – invitations to save bundles of cash on Black Friday.


It’s not that I don’t like to save money, but I have learned that one saves a lot more money when one doesn’t buy anything at all; no advertised special can beat that.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in favor of businesses flourishing, for the beeps and jingles of cash registers improve the likelihood businesses will be hiring people. That’s a good thing – a very good thing, indeed – yet it bothers me that the very survival of so many merchants comes down to this “make it or break it” time of year.

Ironically, it’s not good for business when people are “satisfied.” It’s a general sense of dissatisfaction that motivates us to seek more, bigger, better, faster goodies. That is one of the factors that get people into the stores to pick up the latest and greatest whiz-bangs that roll off the factory floors.

Before we start to make our way through the looking glass and on down the deep, dark rabbit hole known as Christmas, I would like to suggest we pause for a moment and consider our options more carefully.

First, we ought to recognize that not all is right with the world. Many people are in trouble, sorrow, sickness, and facing a wild variety of adversities; so let’s at least acknowledge that the jingle jangle of seasonal cheer may be more nerve-wracking than blessing for many; so let’s Keep it Real.

What I mean by “keeping it real” is simply being aware that this season will mean different things to many of the people we meet, so we may want to devote more time to listening than to well-intended (but possibly inappropriate) well-wishing.

When greeting folks on the streets, at the malls, or in their homes, be attentive to what they say and how they say it. People will often “mirror” the attitude of those they’re with initially, but then slip back into their actual mood; so pay attention.

The second thing I mean by “keeping it real” is recognizing that spending money is not proof of love. We are often tempted to keep up appearances by matching our spending patterns with the rest of the world, but money and love are NOT the same thing. We know it, but we sure don’t act like it at times.

When I see the commercials with bow-topped luxury automobiles, or diamond rings large enough to derail a freight train, there is a side of me that believes (for just a moment) that if I REALLY loved my wife, she would find one or both of those in the driveway (or under the tree) this Christmas morning, but I don’t think she would approve the debt load that would put us under.

Keeping things real means shifting one’s focus from ways to spend money to finding ways to exhibit love that are genuine, heartfelt, and timely.

If we struggle to figure out what to give someone this year, maybe we are asking the wrong question. We don’t need window shopping, internet browsing, or advertisements to inspire us. We need to take in a breath of fresh air and ask one question: What can I give of myself to this person (or these people) that will persuade them that THEY matter?

Can you provide kind words as needed – year ‘round? Can you visit or call them from time to time – year ‘round? Can you have them over for a meal, fellowship, and pleasant fun – from time to time year ‘round?

If that sounds like too much work, that’s sad, for love is work – the only work truly worth doing.

Love isn’t defined by or limited to a day or a season; it is a changed life which reflects God’s inner-presence year ‘round. We are the presents God has provided to put around trees and tables this year; and that’s the buzz in this, our world.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I don’t like a man to be too efficient. He’s likely to be not human enough. Felix Frankfurter

I yearn for balance in my life. I often think the only thing that moves me forward isn’t motivation but gravity; I’ve learned the only thing that keeps me from kissing the earth is to keep moving forward.

I was driving down the street the other day and saw a really hot looking vehicle. It was a three wheeled motorcycle, but unlike the standard “trike” with a single front wheel and dual rears, it had dual fronts and a single rear.

As a motorcycle enthusiast, I appreciated the beauty, but I wondered if the new configuration was any better than the older, more standard format. It doesn’t really matter as I’m sure three wheels are less stable than either a two-wheeled or four-wheeled vehicle; but still, I wondered – and it was a gorgeous vehicle!

As human beings, I think we all seek balance and stability. When we stumble, we intuitively reach out to grab something; we make efforts to catch ourselves, to prevent falling and getting hurt. It is part of our instinct for survival.

We seek and desire balance in life, too. We know we need to eat balanced meals; preferably eating less meat, consuming fewer fats and sugars, and taking in more fruits, vegetables, and grains. We need to sit less and move more; we need to engage in exercises that get our heart rates up and which improve strength and agility.

Balance is good. Too much of anything, however – even a good thing, we learn – isn’t healthy. We are taught to drink plenty of water, and yet we also know that excessive hydration can be fatal. We can overdose on almost anything we eat, drink, or do.

I sometimes wonder if imbalance isn’t life’s real norm.

I once had a college professor tell the class that the Balance of Nature is a myth. “Nature,” he said, “is never in balance; and all life survives at the expense of something else.”

Carnivores eat herbivores; herbivores eat plants; plants feed off the decay of herbivores, carnivores, and other plants; and microbes feed off “All of the Above.”

I suppose he was correct. Even the simple act of standing still requires a flood of signals to zip up and down the nervous system, with the brain processing countless bits of information and relaying instructions for microscopic adjustments to be made to the body’s arms, legs, abs, and myriad other muscle groups.

The minute one tries to walk a balance beam, however, watch out! Perceiving danger (even if one is no higher off the floor than the height of the beam), one begins to wobble to and fro. Why? Because the thinking brain can’t respond as quickly or as accurately as the instinctive brain.

Balancing life requires our recognizing that we make our way through life, not so much in balance, but in varying degrees of imbalance, and that’s OK.

People tend to run hot or cold, depending on what they are doing. I suspect people are seldom actually “comfortable”. At home we set the household thermostat at a temperature our family has agreed is least horrible. We simply adjust our layers of clothing to fit our level(s) of activity. That is a system that works for us.

When it comes to keeping balance in matters of the spirit, we need to learn how to listen to the signals the Spirit is giving us.

Sometimes our spirits run cold; at least I know mine does. When it starts to shiver and shake, I know it is time to bundle up. If you’ve seen March of the Penguins at the movies or on television, you know that penguins move into tight formation when winter sends its icy blast; they form a tight huddle against which the weather’s deadly chill is shut out.

When my spirit is feeling chilly, I have found little that buoys me up as well and as effectively as getting packed into the middle of a holy huddle with my community of faith. United we stand. We do not steal heat from one another; it is bolstered for all and, on balance; I believe that’s what we need.

May God help us achieve a healthy balance of joy and peace together in this, our world.

Friday, November 11, 2011

No Problem

To the one who has, more will be given; he or she will know abundance. Matthew 25

There is a saying so well known it may well be a cliché, and at the risk of raising my editor’s ire, I will say it anyway: Practice makes perfect.

I was reminded of that this week as I had occasion to parallel park my car and discovered to my dismay that my skills have decayed horribly. In this day and age of shopping center parking lots and major parking structures downtown – all designed with angle parking in mind – I haven’t had to actually parallel-park a car in ages.

Don’t get me wrong, I know HOW to do it and, in fact, I was once quite masterful at it. I was “One-take” Axberg when it came to street parking. If I had the length of a car and a foot in which to squeeze, I could do it and never threaten to touch either vehicle fore or aft.

Not now. It was work squeezing into a space large enough for an aircraft carrier, and it still took several tries to get it right!

It is true what “they” say: Use it or lose it.

That’s the way of life, though, isn’t it? God has given us gifts and talents and a capacity to use them, and we are blessed when we have opportunities to put them to work. Sadly, the demands made of us along life’s path often require us to set aside the things we like to do, things we enjoy doing, and things that give us joy, delight, and purpose in living.

Why do we do that? Why do we lose the fervor we once had for the things we truly enjoy? Is it possible that we have bought into a culture that only knows how to say “No” to anything and everything that stands before it?

“No” is the safest thing we say and do. As our children grow, develop, and explore their world, we recognize the dangers that abound, and so we say, “No!” It is not our intention to stifle their curiosity, but to protect them from harm, but at what cost?

It becomes habit forming, this world of “No” and it is far easier to say “No” than to have to guide folks, teach them, and actually help them develop the tools needed to think before one acts; or how to solve problems creatively, or to patiently work out puzzles that arise from time to time.

Sometimes it makes sense to say no to something. It is OK to say “No” to things that are illegal, immoral, or outright dangerous. Why should we suffer fools a hospital bed for injuries sustained while doing a stupid stunt in hopes of producing a “funny” video for the internet or cable television? We suffer fools a bed out of compassion, of course, but the point is, we shouldn’t have to.

Be that as it may … God has given us the talents, interests, and skills we need to meet our practical requirements (working together in community), but God has also given us gifts to satisfy our spiritual appetites as well.

We receive daily homework assignments from God to take our abilities and put them to work making this world a more delightful place. That’s important.

It is easier said than done, of course. Taking up a musical instrument requires the patience of Job amongst and around the family. If one only practices when everyone else is gone or away, one won’t likely get much playing time.

But how can we compare the inconvenience of the practice sessions with the beauty of the performance when that time comes?

I think we need to learn how to say “Yes” better and more often. We are very good at putting on the brakes to things we don’t know or are unclear about; but we need to develop a capacity for daring to say “Yes” and allow that sometimes our yeses won’t work out the way we thought they would – but that’s OK.

Great things are never accomplished by saying “No;” only great failures and greater losses. Perhaps we should pray for God to grow our capacity to say “Yes.” At least that’s what I’m praying for this week in this, our parallel universe. Now, off to practice!

Saturday, November 5, 2011


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Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and make good your vows to the Most High. Psalm 50:14

November is Gratitude Month. That makes sense, for the day we most look forward to this month is Thanksgiving.

I don’t think Thanksgiving should be a day or a month, though. It seems to me it ought to be a way of life – a life ordered towards the appreciation of all that is.

At first that seems reasonable. We are thankful for family, friends, and jobs (if we have them). We are thankful for clothes on our backs, roofs over our heads, and food on our tables (if we have them). We are thankful for when the weather becomes more temperate, when water is abundant, and when the hum of mosquitoes becomes scarcer.

There is much to be thankful for in the world of nature and relationships, goodies and sustenance.

But how about when things aren’t so good? Can we be thankful – truly thankful – when life cuts a rotten deal; when health fails and one has no insurance; when year two of unemployment becomes year three; or when those one trusted fail yet again to meet one’s needs and expectations? What of life then? Can one still be thankful?

The answer, I believe, is a resounding “YES”!

I do not look at life through rose colored glasses, by the way. I have been around the block enough to know how many cracks there are in the sidewalk. I know how easy it is to trip and stumble, and experience the horrors of evil.

I know how often seemingly good people can do insanely bad things to one another, and how often bad people continue to do bad things and seemingly never get caught!

Believe me, the Grand Hall of Resentments is probably one of the bigger rooms in my basement; it is easily the favorite space in which to romp and play, but I find it an arena where it is best to keep the door closed and barred, and from which one is wisest to simply stay away.

I’m tempted to think of it as a harmless rec-room, but in reality, I know it is a wreck-room, so I choose to avoid that wing entirely.

I am not as successful at staying away as I would like, of course. I have discovered many paths in life take me there, so I have had to learn how to pass it by for mental health’s sake and for the sake of those around me.

No, I know that life is hard and that many things in life are unfair. We will turn our clocks back an hour when Standard Time resumes, but we cannot turn back the hands of time itself. What is done is done, and what is done cannot be undone – that is both as it is and as it should be.

I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t have regrets over what has happened, or things they’ve done or left undone, and yet it would be a mistake to try to gloss over those events or deny them, or to pretend they haven’t happened. Ironically, we should be happy and grateful for those things. Why?

Because, if anything, we may well discover that our experiences will be of help to others.

A friend was planning on doing some electrical work in his house. I told him about the time I went to change an outlet and got zapped. “What did you do?” he asked.

“Tried to be more careful,” I said. “But I got zapped again, so now I shut off the power at the breaker when I do electrical work.”

To this day he thinks I’m a genius, but I am not sure a genius would have gotten zapped a second time. The important thing is that a negative experience can help others if they want to listen and learn.

If they don’t? That’s why we have ERs, isn’t it?

No, while there is much of my life I would love to shut the door on and forget about, I am thankful for all that has happened – for both good and for ill – for it is all contributing towards the possibility of my one day becoming a productive member of society; and for that I am grateful in this, our world. Thank you.