Thursday, June 24, 2010

If THAT is Weird, What am I?

A daughter of ours was talking to a grandson of ours who just returned from visiting his biological father. The aforementioned grandson told her that one of his dad's friends, who is around a lot, "is weird." Concerned about potential risk to her son, she asked him, "She's weird? What do you mean, 'she's weird?'" He became very serious and said, ""She has to put her glasses on every time she reads something." Wow! That's way too weird; is she a circus freak?

that is weird to my grandson, I am wondering just how bizarre his picture of me must be? The next time I see him and run to him will he, in turn, run to his mom, yelling, "Stranger danger!!!"? Thank God he doesn't (I pray he doesn't) have a 24/7 web cam videoing my every move. What would he think if he were to see me, my face an inch from the bathroom mirror because my vision won't focus--with or without glasses--and scissors in hand, I'm looking up my nose in an effort to trim my nasal hairs? "And why is Papa growing them out his ears, too?" he must surely ask himself. The next logical question would be, "And why isn't he growing any on his head?" Surely, the kid is totally confused and probably expects that any day now--it's only a matter of time--I will sprout a third foot protruding from my rear-end.

I'm hopelessly and irrevocably weird. I should quietly leave the respectability of my career and run off with the circus. "Ladies and gentlemen!! Step right up and see Nature's Nasty Joke--a man with nose hair grown and curled into a handlebar mustache. See him do what only he can do--the butt walk."

Yep. My grandson's right. I'm weird and beyond repair. I'm giving two weeks notice and sending photos to Barnum and Bailey. If I could just find my glasses. . .

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Farce of Forgiveness: Why Didn't I Blow Him Away?

(If you haven't read my 6-13 -2010 blog, The Freedom of Forgiveness, please read it and then proceed with this.)

Having read that blog, a friend asked me, "In light of what he did to your daughter, why didn't you follow through with your wishes--and kill him?" It wasn't because I didn't want to. It wasn't because of a lack of love for my daughter. It wasn't because he was remorseful and begged our forgiveness (actually,he never even acknowledged that it happened; he denied everything.)

So, why didn't I, at the very least, take batting practice with his head, if not kill him?
There are layers of answers to that question. I believe it was Carl Sandburg who likened life to an onion in that "you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep." There has certainly been weeping in the process of peeling.

I didn't brutalize or kill him because I was chicken. Big thoughts, little action. Loud bark, no bite. I was afraid that regardless of how elaborately I schemed the perfect revenge, I would, nonetheless, be apprehended. I would end up spending years--decades?-- in prison while he would never see the inside of a cell. And I'm also a chicken when it comes to hangin' out with the inmates; boys will be boys and boys will do boys. So there--I was afraid of getting caught. And, to tell you the truth, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to whack him off even if I were handed the opportunity.

I didn't kill him, even if I could have gotten away with it, because my "high"view of him would not allow me to do so. Don't get me wrong: there were many days when I held a very "low" view of him and on those days if I had let myself see him
only as a scumbag, I could have squashed him like a fly. But, as sick and cruel as he was, and likely is, he still bears the imago dei--the image of God. He is still person, not puss. He is still a father himself. He is still a human being who did inhumane things to my daughter. Yes, that imago dei is tarnished, warped and skewed, but he is still an image-bearer. Who am I to extinguish the life of another human being? There is something of incalculable value, something of priceless intrinsic worth in another human being, whether that person is diabolical or divine. Seeing him in that manner did not allow me to do harm.

I didn't harm or kill him because as a Christ follower I believe that to have done so would be a contradiction of essence, a violation of the essence of what it means to follow Christ. It is beyond me, i.e. I have not become this yet, but we are called to be people who "love your enemy," people who "bless those who persecute you," people who "do not take revenge. . . but leave room for God's wrath," people who are not "overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14-21.) That is not yet who I am; it is who I aspire to be. That disposition is, in fact, the opposite of my natural inclinations. That disparity between who I am and who, as a Christ follower, I desire to be is one of the things that has made these years so difficult. My natural inclination says, "Destroy the !!#*?^!!!!" Jesus Christ, on the other hand, beckons if not directs me to somehow, in spite of my rage and tears, to love and forgive the !!#?^!!!! (Notice how I still place myself above this man and speak of him in disparaging terms?) Like I said, I'm not there yet. But it is a loving and forgiving person that I aspire to be.

I didn't harm or kill him because I am not totally convinced that he is fundamentally all that different from me. No, I didn't do what he did. On a behavioral level, he and I are not the same. I am superior, thank you. But on a level of the soul and psyche I have had thoughts, I have entertained desires that are as dark as the coffin in which they and my body will be contained, never to see the light of day. There have been times when I have been in the throes of either fiery rage or excruciating hurt and my mind has entertained thoughts that have spun my head in disbelief. "Where did
that come from?!?" Thoughts or desires that feel as though they were not only hell-bent but hell-sent. You will be relieved, as am I, that those moments are aberrations, not the norm. However, the fact they even exist and careen around the some days hallowed-- other days hellish-- halls of my psyche is terribly sobering and disconcerting. The reality of those thoughts and desires that still clamor for attention begets a humility and serves to prevent me from seizing my deceptive and grandiose moral superiority and destroying all others whom I would regard as less and lower than me, which would comprise the entire rest of the human population.

And so I let him live while I learn to forgive.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Laughter: Medicine for the Soul

Sometimes life is too serious. On the lighter side here is some stuff from Demetri
Martin. I hope you enjoy.

"Sort of" is such a harmless thing to say. Sort of. It’s just a filler. "Sort of" - it doesn’t really mean anything. But after certain things, "sort" of means everything. Like after "I love you" or "You’re going to live" or "‘It’s a boy."

When you have a fat friend there are no see-saws. Only catapults.

Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I’m swimming, sometimes I’m not sure which one it is. I gotta go by the outfit. Pants - uh oh. Bathing suit - okay. Naked - we’ll see.

The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades.

About a month ago I got a cactus. A week later, it died. I was really depressed because I was like "Damn! I am less nurturing than a desert."

I like video games, but they’re really violent. I’d like to play a video game where you help the people who were shot in all the other games. It’d be called "Really Busy Hospital."

I noticed that there are no B batteries. I think that’s to avoid confusion, cause if there were, you wouldn't know if someone was stuttering. ‘Yes, hello I’d like some b-batteries.’ ‘What kind?’ ‘B-batteries.’ ‘What kind?!?’ ‘B-batteries!!!’ And D-batteries that’s hard for foreigners. ‘Yes, I would like de batteries.’

A drunk driver is very dangerous. So is a drunk backseat driver if he’s persuasive. "Dude, make a left. Those are trees…trust me."

I used to play sports. Then I realized you can buy trophies. Now I’m good at everything.

I wrapped my Christmas presents early this year, but I used the wrong paper. See, the paper I used said "Happy Birthday’" on it. I didn’t want to waste it so I just wrote "Jesus" on it.

My favorite fruit is grapes. Because with grapes, you always get another chance. ‘Cause, you know, if you have a crappy apple or a peach, you’re stuck with that crappy piece of fruit. But if you have a crappy grape, no problem - just move on to the next. ‘Grapes: The Fruit of Hope.’

I went into a clothes store and a lady came up to me and said “if you need anything, I’m Jill”. I’ve never met anyone with a conditional identity before.

I love women, but I feel like you can’t trust some of them. Some of them are liars, you know? Like I was in the park and I met this girl, she was cute and she had a dog. And I went up to her, we started talking. She told me her dog’s name. Then Í said, “Does he bite?”. She said “No.” And I said, “Oh yeah? Then how does he eat? … Liar.”

I wonder what the word for "dots" looks like in braille.

I don’t like when I go in a store and they call me “Boss.” “Hey boss, can I help you, boss?” When they call me boss, I go, “I got some bad news… I’m gonna have to let you go, but first bring me the earnings from the register for today. I’ll give you severance, and give me the rest.”

If you can't tell the difference between a spoon and a ladle, then you're fat.

Whenever I'm on my computer, I don't type "lol". I type "lqtm": "laugh quietly to myself". It's more honest.

Employee of the month is a good example of how somebody can be both a winner and a loser at the same time.

I got some new pajamas with pockets in 'em. Which is great, because before that, I used to have to hold stuff when I slept. But now I'm like, 'Where's my planner? There it is. "Keep sleeping." All right, perfect.

I was stuck in traffic and I looked in the mirror and in the car behind me there was a couple having a horrible argument and right below their image it said "Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear." I just thought, man, I hope so because she was pretty mad.

I think it's interesting that 'cologne' rhymes with 'alone.'

If I have to move up in a building, I choose the elevator over the escalator. Because one time I was riding the escalator and I tripped. I fell down the stairs for an hour and a half.

I hate seeing people that look like you. Especially if God's living by the motto "If at first you don't succeed. . . "

I bought a dictionary. First thing I did was, I looked up the word "dictionary", and it said "you're an *#!!??!!".

When someone asks you the question "Are you ticklish" it doesn't matter if you say yes or no, cause they're going to touch you. If someone asks if you're ticklish and you don't want to be touched you should something like"'I have diarrhea, now don't touch me cause you'll make it come out...and yes I'm very ticklish".

The thing about glitter is if you get it on you, be prepared to have it on you forever. Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.

When they were naming vitamins they must have thought there were going to be way more vitamins than there ended up being. "OK let's name these: Vitamin A, Vitamin B...ok, man, slow down; we've got a lot to cover here. B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, B12." Then they got to E and they were like "We're pretty much done. We've got all those damn B's. This is embarrassing. Let's just skip to K and get the hell out of here."

Whenever I see an autobiography for sale in the book store i just flip to the "about the author" section. I'm like, "Done; next!"

I saw a door that said Exit Only. So I entered through it and went up to the guy working there and said "I have good news. You have severely underestimated that door over there. By like a hundred percent."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Freedom of Forgiveness

There are prisons without steel bars. There are chains that incapacitate and confine--chains without iron links. At first glance, when I think of a prison Joliet or San Quentin or Alcatraz or Devil's Island or Folsom come to mind. This morning I was re-directed to consider the prison of my own "heart."

Forgiveness is a tough act. A brutal process. I'm not, by nature, a forgiving person. My initial impulse is payback. Sweet revenge. As is my second, third and thirtieth inclination. Yet, as a Christ-follower I am called to lead a life of forgiveness. As God has forgiven us, we, in turn, are to forgive others--a fundamental principle of Christianity. I don't do that very well at all.

Years ago a family member had deeply offended me, wounded me with their incessant criticism, a criticism that lasted years. I became very bitter toward that person. I harbored a grudge in my gut. I carried that grudge--or did it carry me?-- for years. The phone would ring and I found myself physically tensing up, hoping it was not this person calling. No
caller I.D. in those years, I cajoled my wife into answering the phone, so if, by chance, it was this individual I wouldn't become so angry or anxious by talking with them. Even when there was no trigger such as a phone call I found myself ruminating over the past and what this person had said and how they had treated me. I was living a life of reaction. So much of my time and emotional energy was spent reacting to what had happened, rather than living in the present.

There are prisons without steel bars.

Time passed; years plodded along. I'm at the office and one of our daughters, who at the time was 16 years old, called me and, sobbing, said she couldn't take it any longer and needed to talk to her mom and me. I couldn't imagine what was going on. That evening she sat down with us and confessed to us that when she was 13 she was babysitting for an acquaintance and his wife. The husband had "groomed" her, manipulated her trust, and cultivated a sexual relationship with her. It had continued all this time, until the shame had become unbearable and she could no longer live with herself. He had bought her silence and told her she could tell no one or he would go to prison and she would have that responsibility on her head the rest of her life. This girl was a good girl; she had a great heart and a beautiful spirit about her--and he raped her mind, body, and spirit.

I was enraged. Initially, I was consumed with an unbridled desire for revenge. I plotted ways to harm him. I concocted schemes in which I could destroy him without being apprehended. I wanted to rip him apart and could picture myself bludgeoning him with my fists, and standing over the bloody pulp lying at my feet. The intensity of those early months ebbed, in spite of the perpetrator not spending one solitary day in jail. However, I spent years--yes, years--in my own prison. The prison of refusing to let go; the chains of resentment enslaving me to revenge. To hell with forgiveness! Little did I know that my withholding forgiveness was creating my own hell.

There are prisons without steel bars.

This morning our pastor directed our attention to a parable, a story, Jesus told.
A king had some debtors and wanted to settle the accounts. One of his servants owed him a sum of money that would take a lifetime to repay. The man pleaded with the king and the king canceled his debt and let him go. This same man, in turn, found a fellow-servant who owed him a few dollars. He jumped him and demanded immediate payment. The fellow-servant pleaded with him, but to no avail and he was thrown in prison. Word spread and the king got wind of what had transpired, and he had the brash servant appear before him. The king confronted the servant, "I canceled all your debt. . . shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" The story concludes, "His master turned him over to the jailers. . . " (Matthew 18:21-35)

The unmerciful servant was turned over to prison; the unforgiving servant was confined in chains. I wonder if God, rather than overriding our wills, our intent, grants us our desire not to forgive and, to our dismay, we find ourselves in a prison of our own making? The hot anger will
consume and confine us. The cold bitterness will imprison us. The death of the offender or perpetrator does not assure--at all--my freedom from prison. The perp didn't construct my prison; I did.

It seems it is the painfully difficult path of forgiveness that alone grants me freedom. It is the agonizing, gut-grabbing process of forgiveness that will eventually throw open wide my prison doors. Can it be that forgiveness is what shatters the chains that lock my heart and mind in the past? Can it be that my embracing forgiveness allows me to live in the freedom of the present?

God, would you free us from the prison of our own choosing?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Innocent Compassion in an Evil World

We had been out of state for 2+ weeks and, consequently, out of the loop upon our return. Last week I received an urgent email from our associate pastor. The email said he was on vacation in London at the moment, and just been mugged. His cash, credit cards, and everything but his passport had been stolen, and he received minor injuries in the hold-up. His return flight was due to take off in 6 hours and with no funds he wasn't able to settle with the hotel and they were being insistent on their demands. He needed $2800 to resolve hotel and flight matters, and, obviously, as soon as possible. Could we help and, if so, wire the funds via Western Union.

I immediately informed my wife of his plight and we got on the Internet and our phones, contacting W.U. in a frantic attempt to get him out of this predicament. We thought we should provide some "cushion" in case other expenses arose, so we told W.U. we wanted to wire $3200. They set the process in motion and shortly informed us that our credit card co. was not allowing the transaction. We quickly call them and the initial rep said there shouldn't be a problem and referred us to the accounts dept who would take care of the difficulty. In a minute or two this would be resolved and the funds would be on their way to the United Kingdom. My wife is on the phone with them and my phone rings and I don't recognize the number but decide to answer and it is our associate pastor. "Steve, someone hacked into my email address and stole my identity; disregard any plea for help. I am and have been home." I screamed to my wife, "STOP all proceedings!! It's a scam!!" She told thr rep to disregard everything and hung up. Another minute or two and we would have sent some wannabe homosapien scumbag $3200 of our hard-earned money.

Some lessons learned:

** Hit the pause button; do NOT respond to any request or need immediatley. Get perspective. I'm always telling clients that seldom does a decision have to be made this second; we call those life-and-death circumstances and we typicaaly don't have a lot of those during a given week, do we.
** Do not let the emotions stirred to be the sole driver of a decision. Utilize rational thinking, as well. My heart was freaking out, "HELP HIM NOW!!!" My mind would have said, "Whoa, just a minute. . . "
** Obtain several reality checks. One phone call would have served to either confirm or rule out the veracity of this plea for help.

Particularly embarrassing is the fact that I am, by nature, suspicious of motive and hesitant to trust without one having earned it. I am frequently debunking some of these claims made by some Christians that aren't true, but merely urban legends. I've gotten forwards from friends that make, to me, suspicious claims and I scope it out and typically find it to be fiction rather than fact. For some reason, in this instance, my radar excused itself and took a smoke-break, and I don't think it was tobacco that my radar inhaled.

Jesus told his followers "to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves." (Matt. 10:16) Both qualities are essential. I think we were "innocent" in our compassion; there was a naivete about our concern. However, we weren't exercising any shrewdness or wisdom. We didn't act very street-smart in this incident. In fact, some snake in the grass nearly bit us.

A lesson learned. I'm embarrassed but no poorer.

Feel free to take your best shot and rub it in my face. As an example, see ckd's comment on my previous blog. Go ahead; I can take it.

I just hope this lapse was a mere temporary glitch, and the label eventually washes off my forehead.