Saturday, November 3, 2012

Back From Honduras But A Part of My Heart Still There

I ask if I may enter her little shack.  She smiles and welcomes me.  There is no floor, just mud.  It's the rainy season.  There are massive cracks between boards and metal serving as walls.  The shacks are always dark and dismal even if the sun is brilliant.  They cook over an open fire in the house. The black soot covers the ceiling and walls and surely her children's lungs.  The wind blows not against but through the walls.  The rusted flat metal roof leaks.  I've seen women point to just above their ankles to indicate the amount of rain that may fill their house in any given storm.  Chickens run in and out of the house, as does the emaciated family dog.  It's hell but they take pride even in the hell-hole of a house; I see women sweeping the dirt of their abode with facsimile of a broom.  And you see flowers growing in this hell. Beautiful flowers testifying that these walls may crumble but the spirit of these moms remains strong.
We talk for a while as she tells me her story and then we begin to build her a new house.  She has lived in this squalor for 9 years and been on the waiting list for a new house for two of those years.  Today is the day we begin and she smiles in anticipation.  She is responsible for eight children and 5 grandchildren.  I ask her how she provides for her family;  three days a week she does the laundry for rich people, earning five dollars a day.  I have no idea how they do it.

I visit a thirty something mother for whom we built a house last year.  As I approach she recognizes me and comes running, her eyes full of anticipation.  We hug and enjoy the reunion.  She loves her new home.  It's dry and it provides dependable shelter and even has a front door that she can lock.  She needs to.  Her husband beats her.  She made me aware of this last June and before we left Honduras then I attempted to put in place a support system, but with little success.  

She is proud of her new home and eagerly invites me in.  Even though she is beyond grateful for her house, life remains terribly difficult in light of the abuse.  She admits to me that she has had periods of wanting to kill herself, as she questions her worth and value. As she reveals her sadness I get an idea, a "nudging,"  what I call a "prompting," and determine to follow through with it the next day.  

The next day I return to her house, interpreter by my side.  We sit down and I pull out a bottle of grape juice and a small 6 inch loaf of bread.  She looks confused.  She has little religious history or background.  She knows very little but enough to feel completely unworthy.  I explain these symbols of Christ's death and that God has such a high regard for her--God himself values her so highly--that his Son died for her.  I ask her of she wants to participate and we will share in this ritual together.  She wants to, but her shame tries to talk her out of it.  She tells me, "I've done some very bad things. . . " hinting that her history would preclude her from partaking.  I assure her that it is exactly people like her and me that Christ died for.  We eat a piece of the bread and drink some of the juice together, and I trust and hope that in that moment she also eats and drinks and consumes Christ's love for her. 

I say goodbye, assuring her I will see her next June.

In the meantime, God, hold her in your arms and protect her from her husband's hands.  Give her grace to remember the sacred moment.

Friday, October 19, 2012

On Turning 63: Some Reflections

I am now 63.  Some reflections:

Whoever said, "You don't have anything that Prozac and a polo mallet can't cure," was wrong.  The wrongness runs deep and healing isn't easy or simple.    I still believe and trust in my being an image-bearer of God, but I thought I'd be a better man by now.  Not saintly, but, on the other hand, not nearly still so ego-centered.

Looking back on those early years of marriage, I would have studied less and come home earlier.  I got the M.A. and summa cum laude --thank you-- but I'm not sure my wife got much.  I'm blessed and thankful for a wife who has been in this marriage not for what she could get, but what she could and can give.  

As a dad I would have yelled less and held more.  I'd have avoided less and attached more.  I can come up with innumerable excuses but no reasons.

I'd have rejoiced over the pearl in the poop instead of complaining about all the shit I had to wade through.

I'd have worried much less about what others might think; I gave their opinion entirely too much weight.  

I let fear govern or inform too many of my decisions.  Fear has crippled several dreams.  They are still alive but I am yet to pursue them, and time is running out.  Instead of merely thinking about and entertaining my dreams I would have acted on them.  I'd have pursued them and not allowed the fear of failure to stomp on my neck.  I refuse to give up and by God's grace I will go for it.

I'm grateful for what I'm becoming. The desire to be like Christ--the longing for transformation--is still intense. I do not notice significant change but am told by those wiser than me that the desire itself is a holy and promise-filled thing.

I like being comfortable in my own skin.  I used to hinge my actions and words way too cautiously, fearful of offending or upsetting the moral police.  Now they can ticket me all they want.

When I was a kid my best buddy and I would share a snack consisting of a big pile of peanut butter covered -yes, drenched--in  clear Karo maple syrup.  Each of us ate it by the spoonfuls.  A nearly unparalleled sensual experience.  An epicurean delight.  I need to enjoy more of the simple pleasures in life.

For decades  I have battled and continue to fight depression.  I regret I have allowed depression to win too often.  Too many times the lethargy, the lack of motivation  has caused me at end of day to wonder what in the world I accomplished, seemingly having nothing to show for the 24 hours--except sleep. Too many times it has nearly defined me rather than merely influencing me.  I am determined to fight it.     I am determined to rejoice in the light; I've spent too much time lamenting the darkness.

I still chew my nails.  Embarrassing.  How is this going to look when I'm lying in the coffin, hands folded and people filing by as they whisper about my unsightly hands.  Really embarrassing. I can't imagine how would they would react if they knew I didn't have any pants on.

For the most part I do not like aging.  I'm more forgetful.  I get injured more easily and heal more slowly.  Oncoming car lights bother my night vision when I'm driving.  I'm more forgetful.  I already said that.  I look over not through my reading glasses.  I don't want to die a crotchety old man.  I want to be joyful, I want to laugh more, cry more gentle tears of gratitude.   I want to inspire.  I want to mirror Christ well.

I can't think of a better note on which to end.  So I will.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Finite Understanding of the Infinite God

I've begun reading How (Not) to Speak of God, by Peter Rollins.  Great read so far.  If God is infinite and completely "other" than us some would conclude that therefore we cannot speak of God at all--words are useless and totally inadequate.  Others conclude that because God is infinite and transcends us it elicits volumes of words in attempts to describe or praise him.

He cautions against an easy familiarity with God and encourages a humility in our claims to know who God is.  Some people make all-encompassing descriptions of God as though they have him all figured out and any differing descriptions/theologies are, of course, false.  He urges us to hold loosely to our supposed certainty as to what we believe about God.  In that regard he tells the following joke:

A mystic, an evangelical pastor and a fundamental preacher die on the same day and awake to find themselves at the pearly gates. Upon reaching the gates they are promptly greeted by Peter, who informs them that before entering heaven they must be interviewed by Jesus concerning the state of their doctrine.  The first to be called forward is the mystic, who is quietly ushered into a room.  Five hours later the mystic reappears with  a smile, saying, "I thought I had got it all wrong."  Then Peter signals to the evangelical pastor, who stands up and enters the room.  After a full day has passed the pastor reappears with a frown and says to himself, "How could I have been so foolish!"  Finally Peter asks the fundamentalist preacher to follow him.  The fundamentalist preacher picks up his well-worn Bible and walks into the room.  A few days pass with no sign of the preacher, then finally the door swings open and Jesus himself appears, exclaiming, "How could I have got it all so wrong!"

Finding myself somewhere in the mix, I feel humbled but not shamed and will continue reading.

Hopefully, I will continue living with the tension of less certainty yet more faith.

Friday, September 28, 2012

See the Other as You Want to Be Seen

There are the safe people, the good people, honorable, trustworthy and noble; that would be "us."  And then there is everyone else.  The "other."  And we often view the "other" as possessing none of those same qualities.  The "other" easily can become the enemy.

Whether individually or collectively as a nation people upon encountering someone "other than" themselves often look downward at them rather than eye to eye.  Someone of a different color moves into the established family neighborhood and they are often viewed with suspicion before even meeting anyone.  The person who doesn't speak our language is told to learn English and abandon his native tongue; his language is "other" than ours and obviously inferior.     I look down on the guy that wears his pants halfway down his butt; I doubt his mother has a " My Son is an Honor Roll Student" bumpersticker.  Notice I mention his mother, because I doubt his father is around.  The young man is the "other."

George Byron Koch, in a paper, "The Ministry of Reconciliation," illustrates how profoundly this lens can affect our viewing of others.

Several years ago my brother was staying in a small village in Ireland.  He asked in the local pub about a similar small  village a mere 6 miles away that he was considering visiting.  He was told sharply that the village he was in had nothing to do with the other village, would not speak to anyone there--ever--and that they had no information to share with him about that village.  The anger and distrust in their voices were obvious.  The nearby village was "other," the enemy.
Nonplussed he asked about the reasons for their anger and distrust.
They said, " In 1066 when William the Conqueror came through Ireland he attacked that village first.  They didn't send anyone here to warn us that he was coming."
So "they" couldn't be trusted.  "They" were a danger.  And for nearly a thousand years "they" had remained "other," the enemy.  

At first glance this seems so appalling.  How could "they" be so narrow-minded and short-sighted?  But a look in the mirror silences my judgment.  I, too, tend to look through the same lens of distrust and suspicion. Different target, same lens.  

We all are created in the image of God and, therefore, each of us  and each of "them" are image-bearers of God.  I have to make a conscious effort not see "them" as "other" but as my brother and sister.  I need to step down off my ladder of superiority and look eye to eye at this "other " person.  

To rid myself of that downward look I need to look upward and seek God's grace to do so.  Sixty two years of will power alone hasn't worked so far. 

What a beautiful world it would be if we all could look at the "other" through the same lens that we would want the "other" to view us.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

High School Reunions: The Agony and The Ecstasy

A reality check--attend your 45th high school reunion.  

Seeing my former classmates was like a look in the mirror.  I look as old as they do.  That was one sobering glimpse.  In my state of denial I choose to believe that my physical appearance hasn't changed all that much through the years.  A reunion asserts loudly and clearly, "You gotta be kidding."

It's a hard adjustment when, if your mind works similar to mine, you remember people like they were, rather than like they are.  I recall "Bill"* as the class playboy; seeing him today I doubt he can even remember the last time he had sex.  "Virginia"* was captain of the cheerleader squad--outgoing and gregarious,blond, body of a goddess.  Add 50 lbs and subtract her personality she only speaks when spoken to. Fortunately, "Steve"** is still charming, confident, debonair, engaging, --the list goes on.  And completely psychotic. 

A 45th reunion serves as a sobering reminder of our mortality.  Of a graduating class of about 70, 10 are deceased.  That seems like a high percentage that the Grim Reaper has claimed for his own.  It reminds me to treasure each day and live it in a full way because I might also be living it in a final way.

I grew up in small-town America, graduating from Hicksville High School.  Seriously.  Upon graduation I left and never turned back,  escaping my sheltered existence and wanting to experience all that life has to offer.  I wanted to travel and explore.  I've lived with all the jokes about Hicksville.  Do you know what it was like to sit in front of a prospective employer and as he is going through your resume he notes aloud, "So you say you graduated from Hicksville High.  Are you trying to be a smartass?"  I do my best to convince him of my truthfulness but he looks at me, squinting his eyes in suspicion.

Truth is, though I don't miss small-town America  I can say with certainty there is a loyalty to each other, a mutual care and pulling together when a friend is down, a camaraderie that is seldom found elsewhere. The reunion reminded me of those glowing qualities in my friends who have remained in Hicksville.

I look forward to the 50th reunion.  I was asked if I would provide the sermon on that Sunday morning.  Talk about planning ahead.  Then it dawned on me.  I was given so much notice because they probably figure it will take me five years to come up with something of substance to say.  

Some things haven't changed at all.

*    not actual name or person
**  my actual name

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Snake and The Church: Each Can be Deadly

Venom is typically derived from snakes, but lately I think you could obtain a lethal dose from many of my fellow believers.  (hiss) 

I am appalled at the vitriolic criticism of President Obama, particularly the scathing attacks by my evangelical, conservative friends.   I am not thrilled with some of his policies, the state of the economy,  the hell of healthcare, etc.   But the hateful posts on fb both frighten and embarrass me.  Just today a friend called Obama "a traitor and "unpatriotic" and urged that he be impeached.  And this is one of the kinder, more gentle posts of late.

Many of these friends regard themselves as patriots, but it appears we are patriots as long as the one in office is the one for whom I voted.  Respect for Reagan, admiration for Bush, absolute disdain for Obama.
What became of Christian civility?  Can we disagree, but respectfully?  Can we challenge the existing administration without resorting to name-calling?  If we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ then shouldn't our conversations, our  social networking be characterized by Christ's qualities of grace-giving, meekness, and mercy?  

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied about this coming Messiah and described him in this manner:  "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering reed he will not snuff out. . . "  He will not crush even the weakest and seemingly useless reed nor put out a flickering candle, as little light as it might provide.  That same spirit seems to be missing in many of us, his followers.  In contrast, during this political season we are consumed with crushing and would love to snuff out the political opponent or the enemy.  

Another  friend posted a photo of a gun and a Bible and the caption read (close paraphrase), Two things that belong in every home and neither of which are taught in our schools.   Maybe I am hyper-sensitive but doesn't that urge a violence of spirit?  I daresay that if a Muslim had posted the same photo of a gun and the Koran with the same caption that he would be been castigated and condemned by us, but we apparently have a Christian prerogative to post such things because, after all, we are right.

As Christ followers we are to be flavoring society.  Jesus called us "salt" and "light."  Salt adds flavor to bland foods.  Light shows the way, rather than condemning everyone else's way.  Richard Rohr, in Breathing Underwater:  Spirituality and the 12 Steps,  pegs us well:

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We often given a bogus version of the Gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of "Christian" countries that tend to be as consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else-and often more so, I'm afraid. 

May God give us grace to avoid our automatic knee-jerk reactions and to hit the pause button before spewing.  

May God work more deeply than that.  God, shape me, form me into the very likeness of Christ.  May my own core, my spirit become loving like yours, so that I'm not merely engaging in behavior management and conversation policing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I'm Back at the Helm, I Hope

I'm back.  More accurately, I nearly went down with the Titanic.  

I have wrestled with chronic, underlying depression for decades.  Typically, I am aware of it, feel it, but it doesn't significantly impair functioning.  I will have seasons wherein it comes to the surface and I feel its tentacles begin to wrap around my throat, but for various reasons it has released its grip and the dry, barren season tapers off.  Not this time.  

About a year and a half ago I could sense slippage.  I began to neglect responsibility.  I procrastinated more than my usual.  Motivation began to take a hit.  My energy slowly dissipated.  This has been steadily eroding my spirit, my psyche and, to be honest, and has continued to do so.  To clarify and to assuage any of your concerns, I am not suicidal.  I do not contemplate killing myself, I do not formulate plans, blah blah blah.  So knock off any unwarranted alarm.  I just don't give a crap about nearly anything.  Formerly, the task or activities that I wanted to do I now have to make myself do, including this post.

However, I am somewhat excited and maybe hopeful in that after months of writer's drought I am actually sitting at my keyboard and communicating with you.   I hope to continue posting with some consistency. I say "hope to" because while still in the throes of this prolonged dark night of the soul I am hesitant to make any absolute commitments, fearing that if I fail that will further depress me.  

I apologize for the delay, for dropping out of sight without providing any of you followers any explanation.  

There's no doubt about it--I was drowning, feeling like I was going down with the ship.  I'm not suggesting that now I'm sipping pina coladas and basking in the sun.  Not close.  But I do feel some minimal stirring of energy and motivation.  A level of nudging that  previously was not there.  We'll see.

As the song goes, "I'm in the dance band on the Titanic, singing "Nearer, My God, To Thee.""

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Who Am I to Judge? Nice Thought, But Impossible

A guy walks  into a bar and orders a beer.  He takes a sip and tosses the rest in the bartender's face.  Sobbing, he says, "I'm so sorry!  I can't help doing that.  It's so embarrassing!"  The bartender sees his sincerity and suggests he sees a psychiatrist. Six months later, the guy is back.  "Are you seeing a psychiatrist?"  With a smile the guy says, "Yep--twice a week.  He's great!"and then throws his beer into the bartender's face.  "Great?? You just threw another beer in my face."  "True, but now it's doesn't embarrass me."

At first I laughed at the joke, but then I began thinking about its ramifications and I suggest that it is a commentary on our culture in general, and a significant segment of the therapeutic community, in particular.  There is a pervasive belief that  there is no objective truth, no absolutes; rather, it is all subjective.  It's all about "what is true for you."  It's all about your own personal truth, which will vary from person to person, so you are neither sensitive nor politically correct if you disagree with or challenge someone's attitude or behavior.  It's all about your "personal preference."  If  I disagree with someone's personal preference I am regarded as imposing my values on them.  

The prevailing sentiment is "There is no moral or ethical absolutes or standards, and therefore who are you to question or challenge or my actions?"  It seems as though the goal is to rid ourselves, free ourselves from this prudish Victorian remnant which we call a conscience.  Tossing his beer in the bartender's face was not wrong or inappropriate. The beer-toss was his personal preference; who are we to judge?  The therapeutic goal was to get over the embarrassment.  The embarrassment is the problem.  Feeling guilty for his actions is antiquated; it interferes with his self-actualization.  

The problem with this predominant worldview is this--we cannot live consistently with that view.  It collapses on itself.  Sure, I'm fine tossing a beer in your face and who are you to judge me--are you going to judge me for exercising my personal preference?  But the minute you toss a beer in my face, how dare you!?! How insensitive and thoughtless can you be!?!  You're such a jerk.  What right did you have to do that to me?

Do you understand the inadequacy of the prevailing worldview?

If you don't, wait til  a guy tosses a beer in your face.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Eating Humble Pie

There are times when life affirms us; there are times when we are reminded there is no hat big enough to wear on our ego.

Last week I had a gentle and made-me-laugh experience of the latter.

My wife and I had a few hours with two of our grandchildren and went to play in a park.  They used their rich imaginations and turned a Jungle-Jim/monkey bars into, as they put it, a "rescue bus."  The scenario they created was that Nana and Papa were in a horrible car wreck.  (Aren't they beautiful kids?)  Their mission was to rescue us and save our lives.  Nana and I were moaning and groaning in life-threatening fashion. I made it clear that we could possibly die if they didn't get us to the ER asap.  "Mary" responded by slapping a band-aid on my hand.  Ok. I'm feeling relieved already.

"Mary" and younger brother "Chad"  assisted us into the rescue bus and Mary hopped into the driver's seat.  I was yelling, "Hurry! Hurry!"  She took off and we were en-route to the hospital.  Suddenly, she said,  "Oops.  We have to turn in here."   I screamed, "What's going on?!?   Why are you turning here?!?"  She replied, " It's the Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-thru."

I know it's gotta be an agonizing decision--KFC or grandma and grandpa dying--but REALLY?

I am feeling much more humble lately.  And I'm boycotting KFC.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Roxanne Volkert Moment: The Power of Our Words

It came out of the blue—a memory which had remained hidden for over 50 years.  It was a Roxanne Volkert moment.
Some background.  I was raised in a doctrinally rigid, emotionally frigid home and, as a child, felt very insecure and starving for affirmation.  As you can imagine, this led to some very poor choices on my part in my adult years, but I’ve learned and grown. God and I are still working on that insatiable need for affirmation.
 Recently, this memory surfaced and I was transported back in time to when I was a child. Maybe 6 years old.  I’m in church, standing by my mother and Roxanne Volkert approaches.  She was a beautiful woman, a wife and mother,  and through these 6 year old eyes she was a blond angel sent by God. She leans over and smiling at me says to my mother, “He’s such a beautiful boy.”  End of memory. End of any contact with Roxanne Volkert.  I have not seen her in 50 years.  This much I know—her words of affirmation were soaked up by my soul and psyche. Those few words she spoke about me were so powerful that 50 years later I am cherishing them and basking in their warmth.
This is a twofold testimony.  It attests to the powerful abilities of the mind to recall and store God-given experiences.  More importantly, it suggests that our words and actions have much more impact and influence than we realize.  I’m sure Roxanne Volkert was not on a mission to be charitable and reaching out to the down-trodden little Steve’s of the world.  She was simply expressing an affirmation.  She didn’t give it a second thought and surely would have no memory of that brief conversation. But, for me, those words constituted validation and blessing and have stuck with me for decades.
I encourage you to create memories.  You and I have no idea of the power of our everyday words, our acts of seemingly ordinary kindness.  Do not allow words to remain internalized--speak them.  If you get one of those “nudgings” act upon it.  You have no idea the blessing, the affirmation you may be imparting. 
I encourage you to create Roxanne Volkert moments in the lives of others.  You see, those moments last a lifetime. I know that to be true.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Draw of the Cigarette: Life Goes Up in Smoke

Smoking kills.  But if you package it right, millions will take their chances.

According to the Federal Trade Commission Report of 2006, the annual marketing expenditures by U.S. tobacco companies was approximately  1.25 billion dollars--in 1970.  In 2006, it was 16.7 billion .    In 2008, they spent nearly $29 million each day and 52% more than they spent at the time of the 1998 settlement of state lawsuits against the industry, which was supposed to curtail tobacco marketing.

Yeh, I know.  An individual has a choice; the tobacco industry does not and can not force anyone to inhale.  But they do a masterful job of alluring, enticing, and convincing someone to take that initial drag.  And, in time, the addictive substance begins to alter one's sense of choice.

Smoking is marketed to the child/adolescent and adult market as being cool.  The "in" crowd.  Virginia Slims and others entice girls/women who are assaulted with body-image difficulties.  Men are portrayed as manly and rugged if smoking. Or cool ( my James Dean poster would not epitomize the cool factor if he had no cigarette in hand.)

The tobacco companies spend billions to convince us.

I wish the marketing gurus had been with me last week at the visitation as I stood and wept with my friend, now a widow of three days, as she mourned the loss of her 51 y.o. husband who had smoked for a long time.  Married only 8 years she had found the love of her life only to lose him and with a mere month's notice as the cancer ravaged his body.  

There was nothing cool or manly or rugged about it.  

I would think marketing meisters avoid standing in visitation lines.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Sincere Prayer If There Ever Was One

We were visiting one of our daughters and her family.  Seven year old Keegan and I were downstairs in the lengthy family room shooting child-high hoops and throwing a football back and forth with only a mishap or two.  His mom called down, informing us it was time for lunch.  We all gathered around the table and being the patriarch I was asked to say grace.  We all bowed our heads and I thanked God for our family, for providing this food, and asked his blessing upon us.  Amen. 

And before we even had time to raise our heads, Keegan chimed in, "And please don't ever let that football hit me in the nuts again."


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shakin' Bootie by the Time They're Ten

If a girl is "sexy" at 10, what is she by the time she's 12?  Slutty?  And by 16?

Let me explain my intensity.  My daughter called me and said she had just attended a fourth grade boys basketball game.  And there were 15 fourth grade girls comprising the cheerleader squad, pompomming them on. First of all, on frivolous note, why do the boys need cheerleaders?  Fourth graders aren't going to make any baskets, so what's there to cheer about?

Now it gets serious.  The 10 year old girls performed a halftime show.  They choreographed their routine to "I'm Sexy and I Know It."  REALLY?  10 year old girls are sexy?  And they're flaunting their supposed sexiness?  And the parents are encouraging and applauding their daughters in this endeavor?   How and what does a parent affirm?  "Nice pelvic thrust, Hillary!"  "You know what your Daddy likes!!" 

Here is a sampling of several lyrics, in case you're not familiar.  "I got passion in my pants and I ain't afraid to show it."  Have we plummeted to a moral low wherein we endorse aggressive sexual behavior in our 10 year old little girls?  Are we really prodding them on to cultivate, at 10, passion in their panties?  And there's no hint of modesty or self-restraint--"I ain't afraid to show it."

Another lyric-- " I pimp to the beat walking down the street. . . "  Are we grooming our  little girls to strut their stuff down the street?  Sorry, but they don't even have "stuff' yet to strut; I guess it's never too early for Mom and Dad to exert their decadent influence.  We're teaching our babies to shake their bootie.  Sadly, that's not all that's being shaken.  I fear that the very foundations of our ethical and moral integrity are also being shaken.

One more lyric--"I'm sexy and I know it; check it out, check it out."  Have we arrived at such a suave, nonchalant level of sexual sophistication that this is the trajectory on which we are launching our 10 year old little girls?  Are we now encouraging and sanctioning them as they invite boys and men to "check" them out?

We have objectified our daughters.  To objectify means, simply, "to treat, regard  or present as an object."  We do it all the time in other arenas.  In war, we do not regard the soldiers of the other country as "fathers" and "sons" and "someone's daughter."  That would  make it much more difficult to kill them; you can't attribute to them personhood.  We objectify them; they are "the enemy," "gooks," "Cong," "scum," "animals."   It's much easier to pull the trigger on objects.

 We are not only objectifying "the enemy;" we are doing it to our 10 year old girls, as well.  We are turning them into sex  "objects."   That may not be our intent, but it is most certainly the outcome.  Our girls are becoming mere bodies;  in particular, they are becoming body parts for them to shake and others to view and exploit.  And we applaud this in our gymnasiums.  God help us all.

Henry Nouwen, in The Way of the Heart,  quotes Thomas Merton, "Society. . . was regarded by the Desert Fathers as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life. . . these were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster."  Nouwen then comments on this.  "Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul.  The basic question is whether we. . . have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people's fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives."

Nouwen wrote that 32 years ago.  If we haven't already we are perilously close to being so "entangled" and "molded" that we have not only lost our soul but are glibly sacrificing our children on the altar of sexual conquest.

God help us all.

If you're one of those cheerleader parents I ask you to really look at your little girl.  Do you--can you--see her for who, not what, she is?  I beg you to ask her to forgive you for what, not who, you've made of her thus far.  It's not too late--yet.

 I hope all of us can "swim for our lives" and the lives of children we know and love, and chart for them a different course.  Can we teach them to swim toward self-respect and dignity?  Can we teach them to know the difference between loving themselves and flaunting their bodies?  Can we swim against the current of our culture and cherish and protect our children, bestowing honor and instilling moral sense within them?

God help us all. God save our girls.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What Story Lies Under the Cemetery Slice of Marble?

When I am seeking peace and quiet there are times I go to a cemetery on the edge of town.  It was unseasonably warm this past Thursday, Feb.2, so I decided to visit my haven. I was taking in the quiet beauty of the surrounding countryside when a car stopped a few hundred yards from me.  A middle aged woman got out of the passenger seat, walked around the car and assisted an elderly man out of the driver's seat.  She had a bouquet in her hand.  She walked slowly with him, as he had a noticeable limp.  They ambled over to a few scattered headstones.  These several  marble headstones were flush with the earth, no protrusion.  Small and simple, maybe 24"x6".

The old man slowly bent over and began tidying up the marker, pulling grass that had begun to creep over the perimeter of the memorial.  After he completed his task, she stooped and gently placed the bouquet on the grave marker.  She stood up, assessed the placement and bowed again to adjust the flowers of tribute at just the right spot. They stood there, looking down, for several moments and then made their way back to their car.  She opened his door and helped him into the car, closed his door, and after she entered her side of the   car they drove off.

I wondered about their story.  Who had died?  What is the relationship between these two?  What place of honor and love did the deceased hold in their lives?  In light of their ages I surmised that they had come to honor the passing of his beloved wife of years, her cherished mother.  I walked down to the site where they had paid their respects and the first thing I noticed was that the surrounding grave markers--all recessed into the ground as was this one--were commemorating the deaths of children.  I will not make public the name on the marker; somehow to do so feels like it would invade their private sorrow.  The date reads Febuary2, 1981.  Most of the other markers contain the customary two dates--birth and death.  Not this one.

This little girl died the same day she was born.  Was this Grandpa and the still mourning mother of this child?  The child was given a name and, most profoundly, a deep, deep place in the hearts of these two mourners.  Feb.2.  This was the anniversary date of this infant's death.  I am led to believe that thirty one years ago, on this very day, this mother gave birth to this child, to hope and joy.. This grandfather was beaming proud and shedding tears of joy for his own daughter. 

And within hours  dreams were shattered and Grandpa was weeping for himself and his daughter.

What astounds me is this:  it's been thirty one years.  The baby lived outside the womb less than a day.  How is such a deep, irrevocable attachment made in that brief a time that three decades later they are visiting the cemetery?  Are there are times when the heart loves deeply and quickly and forever?   Are there are times when one's entrance is so anticipated that their departure, though immediate, is never forgotten?

Frail infant girl, rest in peace.  You are still loved and missed.
Mom and Grandpa, go in peace.  My heart tells me you are still loved and missed, as well.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Running From and On Empty

I run.  I run a lot.  I run far, I run frequently.  And I often do so sitting on the couch with the remote.  Or surfing the Internet.  Or sleeping.   Sometimes I run by eating.  Or spending.  Anything to avoid facing the dark side of my self.  I distract myself so I don’t have to think.  I numb myself to ward off the demons.  I fear that if I am still very long that either the dark side will suffocate me in the thick pitch of the tar or God will not meet me in the silence and I will completely alone.  There are other times when I run to either deny or assuage the emptiness inside.

So I run.  And our culture values and rewards this running.  If I run by keeping busy I am applauded for being industrious.  “Wow!  That guy is so involved in so many wonderful things!”   In fact, if we’re not busy beyond belief we are regarded as a slacker.  Consequently, this kind of escapist busyness is reinforced by my peers.  I find myself embarrassed if I have time on my hands, particularly time that others don’t seem to have.  A friend calls to set up a time to get together and when he says, “Let me check my calendar,” and I simultaneously say, “My day is open,” I feel so unsuccessful and rather pathetic.  No one else seems to be “free;” why am I?

I run to avoid.  The darkness, the emptiness.  I have come to realize that my running merely reinforces the power of the darkness and exacerbates the emptiness.    I’m like Jackson Browne.  Running on empty.

If it’s the darkness that plagues me I need Light to dispel the darkness but my running prevents my receiving of the Light.  If it’s the emptiness that haunts me I need filling but my running does not allow me to be still in order to experience the needed filling. 

Ironically,  to ward off the emptiness I fill myself with that which doesn't matter and thereby deprive myself of that which ultimately matters.  A busy, preoccupied man visited a Zen master for tea.  The Zen master poured the tea until it overflowed the cup, and still he continued to pour.  Agitated, the man cried out, “Master, stop! Why do you keep pouring?  The cup is full.”  The master replied, “You are like this cup.  You are full of yourself—your judgments, your opinions.  You must first empty yourself.”

Both counter-culturally and counter intuitively, God beckons in this manner:  “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  It appears that it is in silence and solitude that the “knowing” is cultivated.  It is in stillness that  authentic filling can take place. 

It is in the quiet, in the being still that the emptying can take place.  The question I wrestle with is this:
Will I stop or will I run?

These words are recorded by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it..”  You said, ‘No, we will flee. . . “”

Notice wherein lies salvation and strength.  Quietness and rest; silence and being still.  And notice their response.  “No, we will flee.”  That mirrors my typical response.  “No, I will run.”

It’s a new year.  May God give us grace to resist the running and embrace the resting.  May we empty ourselves of the clamor, the distractions, and, in time, receive the Healer and the healing.