Common “Since” … December 31, 2012

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Layovers.

For several years I toured the country by air–right before flying the skies began to resemble a prison transfer bus, complete with cramped quarters, armed guards and frisking. Like everyone else, I always found layovers to be unpleasant. After all, getting into that big, long tube once to fly non-stop to your destination is the ideal, but is occasionally impossible because your destination may be a smaller city or you may need a more reasonable ticket.airplane on the tarmac

So rather than complaining about layovers, I tried to start using them as a vehicle to attempt a productive project. Sometimes I tried to hook up with the people I knew in the town where I was going to spend a couple of hours and have conversations, or purposely plan a writing pursuit to fill the time. I became very aware of a phenomenon in human life which we shall refer to as the “since-then” syndrome.

“Since I’m stuck in an airport, then I choose to do the following…”

“Since my tire is flat and I’m going to be late, then I will change my plans and do this different thing…”

“Since I didn’t get the original amount of money I intended to receive, then I will adjust my budget to make it appear that I’m solvent…”

It is probably one of the most powerful principles you can teach to yourself and others in order to maintain the decorum which allows you the dignity to survive adversity and await the next opportunity that sprouts the unplanned-for blessing.

I ran across this same philosophy yesterday in Boynton Beach, Florida, at my gig. The pastor of the church told a story about a woman with a brain tumor, who developed the further complication of bleeding on the brain. The family, rather than looking on it as a setback, was grateful–because the bleeding was treatable, and in the process of taking care of that particular difficulty, they were praying that in some way the brain tumor itself would be addressed or perhaps even eliminated.

Now, the normal reaction from the average person to this kind of idea would range from admiration to mocking. But really, neither of those takes on the situation are on point with the value of their thinking. What I heard was that this family understood the “since-then” concept. We all have things happen to us that we have little control over–except to meter our reaction in the direction of the continuation of life rather than complaining about our lot.

I thought it was brilliant. It is actually a perfect example of faith. For after all, faith is not a foolish whim spoken into the wind in a dreamy sort of psychotic haze. Faith is accepting what has come our way, yet believing that God is looking for a path to increase our possibilities instead of limiting us.

I went Christmas shopping three times this year. I haven’t done that in five years. I gleefully go grocery shopping every week now. I found that very painful to accomplish over the past couple of years. All of these things are made possible because when I discovered my knees were failing, rather than giving up on my potential, I merely sat down in a wheelchair, and in so doing, increased my range. Since I am presently mobile only by using wheels on a chair, then I will take that new mobility and use it as proficiently–and frequently–as possible. I could even fly again if I want to.

See how it works? Since I am here, then I will do this. Since I write a daily column, instead of fretting over whether anybody reads it, then I will do my best, knowing that at least I have a strong readership in the heavens.

Of course, the supreme example of this is Jesus, who was given a cross–and since he was, then he turned it into salvation.

Layovers–you can either take the time to look at your watch … or use the time to watch and look.

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I’m Proud … December 30, 2012

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I’m proud of my country. I haven’t seen folks handle so much crap since Ben from the fertilizer store moved his family, complete with inventory, from Sunbury to Galena.

It’s been a tough year. I guess we aren’t supposed to say that. If you’re a Democrat, they’ll tell you that you don’t believe in the President. The Republicans will snipe at you and suggest you should have voted for their paraded puppet. The optimistic sort believes we should always look on the bright side of life. The pessimist will leap in, explaining that you “don’t know the half of it…”

Just like any other year–too many dead people, not enough explanations. Too much debate, not enough progress. Too much self-esteem and not enough true esteem over self.

It was a horrible election year. Maybe I should use a different word than “horrible.” How about “yucky-puckey?” No, that’s too cute.

We’re very good in America at assessing blame and being satisfied with discovering who is responsible for the crime, without ever making attempts to satisfy the victims or assure ourselves that it needn’t happen again.

But you see, I was out there all year in the midst of what we refer to as “everyday people,” who are really the people who make sure that one way or another, we have an every day.

They are a brave lot. You would barely be able to tell that they were in a hailstorm of adversity–if you didn’t look closely and see the dents in their armor.

We don’t smile enough. We clap instead of laugh. We need to be entertained to relax. Conversation is limited to tiny bites of half-words, quickly typed on miniscule machines in an attempt to eliminate the need for either confrontation or communication.

But I’m still proud of us. We’ve reached the end of another year and have not imploded with the sheer lunacy of intoxication from reality shows. We have actually listened to the best of Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and a host of others–and have mercifully not run en mass and burned down their stations.

We were given a choice of two men, neither of whom knew what they were doing, and we intelligently selected the one still living in the house–so as to avoid paying moving expenses. We didn’t like either one. We didn’t favor their views and we certainly didn’t approve of their lifestyle–that being a politician.

I’m proud of this country. I’m proud to be an American because after we get over our fits of arrogance, we do actually settle down, look at our history and realize that we’ve got a long way to go on our way to celebrate how far we’ve come.

There were a couple of times this year when I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it. After all, movie theaters and elementary schools were never meant to be shooting galleries. But we will keep our guns because no one has the ability to make amends. We will stubbornly continue to believe it’s someone else’s fault because catching a glimpse of our true selves in the mirror is much too frightening.

But there will always be the folks I met on my journey. They start off cranky, fussy and unwilling–but after a few brief moments of levity, silliness and honesty, they begin to unpack the soul they’ve kept hidden behind false memories.

I was proud to be in front of them. Doggone it, I’d be proud to be behind them. I’m proud of this country and I’m hoping that in the coming year, we can do something we’re really proud of… something more eternal than survival.

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The Sexiest Thing … December 29, 2012

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Everyone thinks they’re sexy. If you don’t believe me, just challenge their prowess in the bedroom between the sheets on the magical bouncy bed. Total and complete prudes will turn into defensive, cornered animals at the notion that they lack any ping in their pong.

I remember counseling a minister a few years back who had fallen from grace by having an affair. Actually, he had fallen ON his secretary, Grace, causing quite a scandal in his congregation. He was in tears. He was contrite. He wanted to make a new start with his wife. And then I asked him to explain how the relationship had flowered. Suddenly he transformed into a sixteen-year-old boy, telling a tale of romance and first love with complete detail, including the lavish compliments his lover had heaped upon him for “rocking her world.”

It was so gross. (But as a counselor, you have to listen to such nonsense while nodding your head and choking back the gag reflex.) Our society is the worst. Somehow or another, women have begun to believe there are magical men out there who have cornered the market and know how to “oom-pah” better than other polka performers. It’s embarrassing.

Here’s the truth: sex is just as good as the excitement we feel prior to it with the person we’ve decided to include in our personal fantasy. If you’re not excited over the person, the magnitude of the thrill of the roller coaster diminishes greatly. That’s why I’m going to briefly share with you the sexiest thing I’ve ever done.

I was seventeen years old and had invited my girlfriend over for Thanksgiving dinner. We barely made it through dinner, which included turkey, dressing and all the trimmings–each one prepared in some way with Mazola corn oil, which my mother was convinced was the least offensive to heart health. We stayed at the table as long as our young hormones would allow, finally excusing ourselves to trip down the stairs to our basement, where our “couch of love” awaited.

Now, we didn’t have sex. What we did was every contortion, exercise, endeavor and passionate move that was permitted to us while still allowing us to sport the chastity card printed for the senior high youth group at the local Church of Christ. The whole marathon of lovey-dovey was exhilarating and exhausting, especially on a full meal. After about an hour of pursuing the odyssey of carnality, I pulled away, fully satisfied that I was Mark Antony and she, Cleopatra.

She, on the other hand, looked a little green. The first words out of her mouth were, “I feel nauseous.”

My thought was how cool I was to be dating a girl who used the word “nauseous” instead of “sick to her stomach.”

The second proclamation from my dear girlfriend was, “I think I’m going to throw up.”

This was immediately followed by her fulfillment of self prophesy. She vomited all over the basement floor. It wasn’t very sexy. It was nasty, and I was hoping that no one upstairs caught ear of the process. My girlfriend was embarrassed–mortified.

I glanced down at the ever-expanding circle of ick, and nearly got sick myself. There were only two things I knew at this point: (1) God, I wish I was somewhere else; and (2) somebody will need to clean this up–quickly.

I didn’t want to do it. But on the other hand, I thought it really cruel to make my girlfriend get on her hands and knees and scrub up her own urpings. So I did something really sexy. I grabbed a bunch of paper towels and Clorox, and I cleaned it up. In the background, as a soundtrack to my project, was a chorus of varied apologies from my make-out partner.

But I did it. It was then that I realized what it means to not only love somebody on the outside, but to love their insides, too–even when the contents are the unnerving remains of a Mazola-oil-soaked Thanksgiving dinner, digested for only one hour.

It was sexy. And even though that girlfriend of mine, who is now my wife of forty-two years, probably doesn’t remember everything I’ve done or said, I guarantee you that she will never forget the night I got on my hands and knees and instead of proposing marriage, cleaned up the remains of her tummy-wummy.

That’s sexy. It’s not pleasant to relate to you, but it is sexy.

Sexy is when we realize that somebody is willing to see us naked without laughing or later whispering her personal disappointment to her girlfriends.

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Remarkable … December 28, 2012

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It really is quite simple.

To solve all the world’s problems is not a complicated cypher. All you have to do is decide between remarkable and re-make-able. Am I going to treat the human beings around me as remarkable individuals, or am I going to follow my culture in the continual, futile task of remaking them?

We are notorious for this. We meet someone for the first time, and before we know it, our brain is already trying to take them back to the drawing board, where God drafted their being, and correct the original design.

  • We quickly discern if they’re too fat.
  • On the other hand, we wonder why they’re so bony and skinny.
  • We’re curious about whether that mole in the middle of their forehead makes them self-conscious.
  • We notice skin color, although we fervently resist the inkling.
  • “Pretty” and “ugly” leap to the forefront.
  • “Nice” or “mean” is a split-second piece of discernment, with a vengeance of judgment.

We begin to reform them from the dustiness of our minds, evolving them into different creatures that we think would be better suited for life on this planet–especially in front of us.

Here’s the killer–we don’t even have to say anything. Our body language, our look, our deference and our avoidance speak volumes.  It puts people on edge.

Of course, meanwhile they are trying to remake us.

So when you take a world of remakers and thrust them together, they all piously begin to believe that if their will were enacted on earth, then it would truly be heavenly. To overcome such a dastardly practice, you have to decide to become a person who is looking for the remarkable.

It happened to me yesterday at the swimming pool. I went down for a quiet swim and a little exercise. Even though the weather was a bit chilly, I persevered and attempted to brave it. Just as I arrived, a mother with her four children came through the gate. Now, I want to tell you what my Midwestern, German upbringing immediately sprouted in my brain:

  1. Darn it, here come some kids.
  2. She’s a black woman. I hope she doesn’t think I’m fat and white.
  3. Do I really want to get in the pool in front of a bunch of children under the age of ten?
  4. I should have come down sooner.
  5. Why is she looking at me so grouchy?
  6. Is she noticing that I’m displeased?
  7. Maybe the water will be too cold and they won’t stay long.

Now, none of these thoughts took very long–and as each one came to my mind, I was disgusted with myself for birthing the little boogers. But bratty thoughts will hang around until they are replaced with better offspring.

So I decided to converse with this woman, talk to her about her children and include the youngsters in surviving the frigid waters. It was beautiful. By the end of my visit to that pool, the dear lady had warmed up, even deciding to move from her perch where she had originally situated herself, surmising that it was going to block my exit from the waters into my wheelchair.

It was a massive success. But it did require that both she and I pursue finding the remarkable instead of pandering to our picky, nasty attitudes of the re-make-able.

Here is one thing for sure–people change slowly, even when they have to. So most certainly, they will never change because I want them to or even have a good suggestion. The only thing I can do to make my journey fun is to find the remarkable in what other folks want to view as the re-make-able.

So I don’t care if you’re black, white, red, green, gay, straight, atheist, Muslim, Chinese or Yorkshire terrier. It is my mission, as long as God gives me breath, to find the remarkable in everyone sent my way, and in the process, remove the curse of trying to remake the world around me.

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Published in: on December 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Big Tow… December 27, 2012

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Yesterday at 2:46 PM I walked out of my motel and into the parking lot to discover that my van had been towed away. Let me share the three steps that led to this dispersion:

1. The motel was painting the floor where I usually go to my room via the wheelchair ramp.

2. I had to find a parking place in the back near another ramp.

3. As it turns out, my selection of parking places was their tow-away zone, and rather than calling me on the phone and asking me to move my vehicle, they apparently took some glee in punishing me.

Let me make a long story short. Both Jan and I went to the front desk and explained our situation as calmly as we could, considering the fact that we were battling a bit of anger, and they corrected the mistake, took us to pick up the van and it ended up costing us nothing but a bit of time.

But it did get me thinking. (I guess if you’re going to write a daily column on the Internet, you should think occasionally. Otherwise you get boring not only to yourself, but also end up disappointing your readers.)

You see, what happened here was that a simple error was overly punished because no grace was given. We talk about grace a lot in religious institutions, and I have never been satisfied with anyone’s definition of this magnificent virtue. The classic definition for grace is unmerited favor.” Whether a church is liberal or conservative, they all contend that human beings are a lost cause and God tolerates us by offering us salvation because we’re helpless.

I don’t think that’s what grace is. If those people at the front desk of my motel had just picked up the phone and given me the opportunity to change my own circumstances by moving my van, I would have been more than happy to do so. But to trap me in my accidental mistake and to follow through with swift judgment, with little regard for my feelings, does not make me very appreciative, even when the outcome is to my favor.

See what I mean? Telling me that God thinks I am a miserable, despicable individual who Jesus came to die for on a cross, and that without accepting his gift of blood atonement, I am destined for a hell-of-an-ending to my journey doesn’t make me particularly glad that I believe in God.

If that is the way you view our heavenly Father, you are welcome to continue to pursue that theology. I find it repulsive. I, being a father, certainly would not treat my children in that way–and I expect God to exceed my efforts.

Here’s what I think about grace, in the form of what I needed from the front desk people at my motel:

1. This person with the big black van is a guest of ours. I don’t know why he ended up parking back there–maybe he was ignorant of the rule. Let’s give him a chance to make it right.

2. Let’s not assume our guest is helpless, and let’s not believe he’s hopeless. Let’s take a moment and just believe that he made a bad choice.

3. Give him an opportunity to do better work.

You see, I don’t think God believes I am a depraved sinner. Why? Because God, for a while, wore a human body when his name was Jesus, so He knows what it’s like. He understands that it often is not an issue of temptation, but rather, too quickly choosing convenience over being smart. He doesn’t want to trap us in our moments of dumbness. He believes there is better in us. If He doesn’t, He’s a lousy Father.

Grace is giving people a chance to realize their error and do it again before any punishment has a chance to arrive. Therefore my life isn’t over when God saves my soul. I’m just given a clean sheet of paper to do better scribbling.

Because the people at the front desk decided to be judgmental instead of generous, they ended up paying for a tow that they thought would be levied on me. Such is the end of all vindictiveness.

Let’s learn grace. Grace is when we believe that people still have a chance to do good… because they came from good stock.

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Decency and Order… December 26, 2012

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It was the first thing Jan asked me this morning. What did I think about yesterday’s Christmas celebration? That was easy to answer. Total, marvelous chaos.

Unfortunately, as people get older, they seem to deny the value of such an occurrence. They become like the Apostle Paul in the Book of Corinthians, who said, “Let everything be done in decency and order.”

What a priss. You gotta be kidding me. To achieve decency and order, you’d have to remove every human being from the room and every electronic piece of equipment that plugs into the wall. What you would have left is a bunch of microscopic organisms which you could not see, as they were being indecent and disorderly.

Our Christmas consisted of fifteen people in a room suited for eight, ranging in ages from five months to sixty-one years (and by the way, I was thinking about being cute by translating the sixty-one years into months, but it was too exhausting).

At no time was anything in control. Mingling torn paper with broken boxes, stocking candy everywhere and everyone’s personal preoccupation with their own gifts, decorum was abandoned in favor of basic survival. I wanted to be grumpy–partially because it’s my responsibility, as an aging American, to fill that position–and somewhat because my business sense told me that efficiency was being lost in moments of glee.

But since  Christmas morning has nothing to do with business nor is there any particular necessity to stifle glee, I laughed at myself, sat back and observed the process, occasionally participating in the fiasco with my own contribution of wild abandon.

Last night we had another situation during the evening meal, when one of the little tykes became very dissatisfied with the seating arrangements since he was not going to be able to sit next to his friend. He threw a fit in front of the whole gathering. Naturally, because we are all grown people who wanted to silence the racket as quickly as possible, the instinct was to give him his way, allowing him to sit anywhere he wanted so that the noise would cease and we could resume munching many calories.

But you see, that’s not the way it works. So instead, we made him sit where he didn’t want to sit but needed to sit, which caused him to launch into a rage and fury similar to a man heading for the gallows who knows deep in his heart that he’s innocent. It was very loud–so clamorous, matter of fact, that after a few moments it became funny. But because we decided to continue our lives over the top of the volcano of voice, he eventually calmed down and donned a sweeter disposition–mainly because he felt really stupid.

It was disruptive. It was loud. It was ill-contained, and it certainly would have pissed off the Apostle Paul, who would have insisted it was indecent and disorderly. Let’s be honest–nothing of quality is ever corralled. That’s just good horse sense.

Take our country, for instance. America is ugly. We do everything ugly. We brought slaves into the country ugly. We treated them ugly. We got rid of slavery ugly. We handled the issue of racial equality ugly. Can there be anything uglier than a Presidential election in America? The only “prosper-ers” are the television stations which make billions of dollars from the negative ads.

Evolution is a violent, often non-sensical process which offers no explanation, nor does it apologize for its scream.

I always get tickled when pastors of churches tell me that their congregation is run by committee. If we were going to invent something that would personify disorder, disruption and often meaningless behavior, it would have to be the committee.

No, we must be honest. Even though we get older and want to turn down the volume, it’s going to go up. The process of spirituality, growth, expansion, inclusion, equality, and freedom … is deafening.

And sitting with a room with people opening up Christmas presents who loved each other enough to get to the same locale but now have entered an “every man for himself” mode, is always going to be bizarre. I am determined to refuse to become the old man in the room who asks the children to calm down so his pacemaker won’t malfunction.

Life is chaos. If you agree with Brother Paul, that it should be in decency and order, be prepared to be on the wrong side of history. For after all, when God created the earth, the first review on His work was that the place He created was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

What a mess.

But you see, God’s not like us. He likes messes. Otherwise, how would you get a chance to clean things up?

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Have Yourself a Mary Christmas… December 25, 2012

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1. Don’t be afraid. God really IS love.

Mary and Jesus

2. So therefore, God uses young and old alike. He picked a teenage chick and an old dame to birth two children of promise.

3. Your partner will come around. Don’t expect people to understand the seed that’s been planted inside your soul. If they love you, they’ll find you–and end up listening to an angel of their better natures.

4. Outsiders are critical. That’s why we call them “outsiders.” People who are frightened of change are either overly curious, jealous or prejudiced. It’s not that you can’t please everybody. If you’re trying to please people, you won’t end up with anybody.

5. It never happens the way you think. Everyone would love to birth their idea to great applause, notoriety and success. Yet every great idea has to spend its time stuck out in a barn somewhere.

6. Be prepared to travel. When your new idea of blessing and what you’ve birthed through your talent and faith is not immediately received by the hometown folks and is even attacked, you might want to slide on your shoes and see how you will fare in another locale. Remember, God never told you that what’s in your heart will be received by those who are closest to your heart. God just told you it’s important.

7. Leave a little bit of your own personality imbedded in the miracle. Sometimes we think that Mary was just a birthing chamber for Jesus. But she was his mother. So even though he had his Father’s soul and wit, the young Nazarene had his mother’s humor and determination.

If you believe that Mary of Nazareth was a one-hit wonder which will never be duplicated again, you will probably be willing to sit back and watch our generation flounder without the needed infusion of renewal, renovation and revival.

But if you realize that she was just a young girl who was willing to let the Spirit touch her in a unique way and then see it through instead of giving up, you can take a little bit of her spirit with you every day.

Yes, I have a little bit of Jesus in me–because of Mary. So on this beautiful day, when we celebrate the birthing of the Prince of Peace, let’s remember that his mother made it all possible.

So have yourself … a Mary Christmas.

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