A Life Worth Living – My Epiphany

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Have you ever had a moment when a bunch of life’s puzzle pieces suddenly come together? . . . when your thoughts converge in such a way that you have what can only be called an epiphany?  Not just a realization or a bit of knowledge you didn’t have . . . something big . . . life changing.  Something that sets you free . . .

That happened to me today . . . the truth is that this epiphany has been years in the making, but several things happened to day that brought the puzzle of life into sharp focus. I’m going to share with you what happened to me today.  I don’t expect you to understand my extreme reaction.  Some of you will absolutely understand . . . others will think something like “Duh!” . . . others might not get it at all.  None of those reactions will bother or surprise me.  The only reaction I’m not looking forward to is from those who will think they ‘get it’ when they really don’t, but there’s nothing I can do about anyone’s reaction to what I have to say.  It doesn’t matter anyway.

A friend on Facebook posted a blog by Hugh Hollowell.  Mr. Hollowel is the director of Love Wins Ministries where he loves the poor and homeless of his city.  I shared his post on my Facebook page, commenting that I thought it was the best thing I’d read on the subject of poverty.  His words echoed my heart about what the Christian response to the poor should be.  I’m no expert on the subject, but I have read more on it than the average person.  This blog post was the perfect summary of it all.  Here is an excerpt from Mr. Hollowel’s post:

“We like to see our prosperity, our good family, our happy lives, our full stomachs as signs of God’s favor, as evidence of our doing “the right things”.
But if that is the case, then I have a few questions:
Why did I grow up in a house with parents who loved me, who passed on a work ethic and taught me how to dream, how to set goals, how to love? I had nothing to do with it – it just happened. I was in the right place at the right time.
Why did my friend Danny grow up in a house where his mamma’s boyfriend beat him with a fan belt, where his mom had to sell her body to survive after Daddy went to jail and where the only male role model in his life was the local pimp? He didn’t pick that life. He was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
When it comes to the economically poor, you need to realize you are not better than these people – you are not smarter, you are not more in God’s favor, you are not more virtuous. You aren’t better, you are just better off.”  Please, please, PLEASE read his entire blog post . . . there is much more there than just what I’ve shared, and it really is full of truth that we all need to hear, painful thogh it may be.  You can find it here – http://www.hughlh.com/why-are-these-people-poor/

I went into the rest of my day with his words echoing in my heart and mind.  I’ve been busy with several projects around the house, and I was frustrated that no one has been terribly enthusiastic about helping me.  I decided to take a break from it all and go see a movie by myself.  At seven o’clock I found myself in a darkened theater enjoying an Americano and a Reese’s peanut butter cup.  I checked myself in on Facebook and settled down to watch the latest Woody Allen flic, “To Rome With Love”.

It’s been years since I’ve seen any of Woody Allen’s movies.  Honestly, when I think of Woody Allen, I always see him as a sperm.  “What if he’s masturbating?  I could end up on the ceiling?”  Okay, that was a bit crass, but you’re not really surprised, are you?  After all, you’re reading MY blog, and I’m writing about Woody Allen . . . anyway, it’s a great movie, if you’re inclined to see it.  My take-away was something I’ve been pondering and lamenting for a long time – nothing matters.  Think about that for a minute.  Nothing matters.  Nothing that we think is important is really important at all.  Nothing that we have created on this earth will endure.

I have to mentioned one last thing that figures prominently in this epiphany.  Not long ago a tragic drama unfolded in front of me.  A young life close to my family unexpectedly flew from this earth and into the arms of God.  I don’t have to tell you all the swirling thoughts and emotions than come when something like this happens.  It doesn’t make sense.  There is no way to make it make sense.  But it happened.  And it happens all over this planet every day of every year since the dawn of time.  Death is a fact of life that we will all face.

The convergence of my life experience to this point into a single day, Saturday, July 7, 2012, is this – the only thing that matters in this earthly life is how well we love.  It doesn’t matter who we are, what we do, or how long we live.  All that matters is how well we love the people around us.

Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that that’s all there is.  Yeah, okay . . . “nothing matters” . . . some ephiphany, right?  All I can tell you is that when I left the theater, lights were brighter . . . music was better . . . I was amazingly energized.  The thought that nothing mattered didn’t leave me in despair – it set me free.  I put on my headphones and played one of my favorite songs, one of those songs that you take into your soul and make a part of you.  And I loved it even more than I did before, because it didn’t matter.  I was free to play it and love it and dance to it and enjoy it . . . I am free!  I made a couple of stops on the way home, just wishing for someone to smile at, someone to talk to, to connect with . . . because nothing mattered – not what I looked like, what clothes I was wearing, what they looked like, whether or not they were nice to me . . . it didn’t matter if the guy in front of me on the road drove too slow, or if someone pulled out in front of me . . . it just didn’t matter!  It doesn’t matter if someone agrees with me or disagrees with me, loves me or hates me, treats me well or treats me poorly.  It doesn’t matter if they are like me or different from me, if they are male or female, gay or straight, black, white, yellow, brown, red, green or purple.  Our differences really, really, REALLY, don’t matter.  What matters is love.

I am free to make the most of the life that has been given to me.  I am free to let others do the same, without judgement.  I am free to love and accept myself, and offer that same love and acceptance to others.  I can relax and love others freely, without pretense, without selfish motives, without fear.  I don’t have to protect myself, and others shouldn’t have to protect themselves from me.  I am free to love, because nothing else matters.  And that is a freedom worth celebrating.  And a life worth living.

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My Manifesto

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Hello, interested parties . . . since your reading my blog, I assume you are interested in what I have to say.  For this post, I have copied and pasted my final exam in my intro to philosophy class.  At the end of it all, this is what I believe, making references to what I have learned in class . . .


 My Manifesto
            What is being?  What is real?  Why do we exist?  These are but a few of the questions philosophers have been asking for thousands of years.  It occurs to me as I ponder them that these questions have something in common – they all begin with us.    What does it mean to be human?  Why am I not like the grass or the flowers or the animals?   If I am sentient and intelligent enough to ask philosophical questions, to be curious about the world around me, that certainly sets me apart from the rest of the natural world.  My ability to raise my head above the flora and fauna of the earth, look toward the sky and somehow reach out with my mind or my soul to whatever is out there is, in my view, what makes me different from all of creation.  Descartes spoke truly those high-sounding words:  “Cogito ergo sum.”  “I think, therefore I am.”  I can think, understand, feel, and dream.  I am not simply a creature of instinct or drives.  I think, therefore I know that I exist.
Plato thought the highest form of knowledge was obtained through the use of reason.  Though I value reason quite highly, I must diverge from Plato on this point – if my own ability to reason is the highest form of knowledge that I may obtain, I am much to be pitied.  Humans in and of themselves are too small; they are incomplete.  Whatever I learn or think or know is still but a cup of water drawn from a vast sea whose end is beyond my ability to see.  Like Thomas Aquinas I believe there are mysteries which lie beyond our ability to comprehend through reason alone.  The ability to reason certainly defines us as human beings in a very significant way, but reason will only take us part way on this journey.
            As we look at the world around us it becomes obvious that we are looking out at it from a particular perspective.  We cannot really see ourselves as we are; we can only see our reflection.  We can look down at our hands or our feet, but we cannot really look at ourselves in the same way we look out at the larger world.  We are a part of it, but we are trapped inside our physical bodies.  We can interact with it, but we cannot escape the view from behind our eyes.  We are caged by our biases, locked up by our experiences of our world, or the lack thereof.  We are utterly captured, believing that humankind is somehow the center of the universe.  We shout our philosophical questions out into the universe, but we have no choice but to find the answers within ourselves.  They will resonate with our personal thoughts, our preconceived notions, our angst, our bigotry, our loves, and our hatred.  The answers will be tainted, infused with the particular odor of each one of us.  Bacon’s Idols are inescapable.  There will be no real answer, no real truth revealed from this heap of human thoughts, though there may be hints of it, faint shadows of truth and illumination.  We are condemned to access only a small portion of the available knowledge of the universe.  I must look beyond my own reason, beyond myself to discover truth that stands apart from my unique thoughts about it.  I must always be on my guard against infusing ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’ with my own prejudices.
            Though it is good to approach philosophical questions with some measure of skepticism, I believe it is folly to be entirely skeptical.  If I really thought I couldn’t know anything about anything there would be no point in thinking at all about anything!  To follow the path of the Academics, to believe that “all things are inapprehensible”, or to suspend judgment as the Pyrrhonists did is to live life as a child, without understanding our place in the world or our affect on it.  We would doom ourselves to always thinking but to no end.  I will take the path of the modified skeptic:  there are a great many things we can know, but we must always approach philosophical questions with humility, understanding that there are will always be a great many things we do not know.  Even what I think I know must be reanalyzed in the light of new evidence.  I must never be guilty of the serious error of assuming that what I think I know is all there is to know.
            Moral judgments must have a foundation apart from what human beings decide is ‘good’ or ‘right’.  The Idols of the Tribe, the Cave, the Market Place, and the Theatre are intricately interwoven into the very fabric of our thinking and our understanding, rendering our judgments less than perfect, to say the least.  If something is ‘good’, it must be good because it is, in fact, good, not because someone has declared it to be so.  Humankind may look upon the good and agree that it is good, but that declaration does not make it good.  I believe that in Plato’s forms, we see a shadow of a much greater truth.  ‘Good’ does exist out there somewhere; I believe that God exists and is good.  Everything we call ‘good’ on the earth is a shadow of God’s goodness.
            I do believe in God; to do otherwise would be an affront to my intelligence.  The entire universe is filled with a beauty and complexity that assaults both our senses and our minds.  As beings who thrive on creativity and invention, it is unthinkable that all we see around us simply popped into being without benefit of a creative genius beyond our ability to fully comprehend.  To believe that everything came from nothing without benefit of a supreme intelligence is to place human beings once again at the center of the universe, a grievous error for anyone who values intellect and reason, in my view.  For humankind to believe that there is no being or intelligence greater than ourselves is to believe that we are the pinnacle of intelligence, the center of the universe.  This, in my view, is folly.  The incredible complexity of life on this planet gives weight to the teleological argument, I think.  Thousands upon thousands of life forms exist on this planet in balanced, symbiotic relationships.  The earth glides strategically around the sun, and all of life on this planet could not exist if its position were off to the smallest degree.  Earth alone has everything that is necessary for life to flourish here:  atmosphere, solar energy, water, and more.  The evidence for the intelligent design argument is heavily weighted in its favor, in my opinion.
            Humankind will never be able to ‘prove’ that God exists or that God does not exist.  There is no perfectly logical argument on either side of the debate.  Therefore the best that we can do is to examine what we perceive to be the ‘evidence’ and decide for ourselves what we will believe.  This is no way speaks to ‘truth’, because truth is what it is, irrespective of our opinions, evidence, experience, or belief.  When we talk about what we believe, we are not talking about what is true.  We are simply talking about what we have decided to believe is true, given the evidence.  Only those who are committed to logic can rightfully be said to have weighed the evidence and come to an educated conclusion.  Everyone chooses what to believe; they either believe that God exists, that God does not exist, or that they do not or cannot know whether God exists or not. To ‘believe’ because one has made a thorough investigation and come to a personal conclusion is admirable.  To ‘believe’ because you’ve always believed or because your culture has taught you to believe is irresponsible. 
            It is my sincere belief that free will is God’s crowning gift to humankind, but man is not entirely free.  There is much about my existence that is outside of my control – the place and time of my birth, my ethnic background, my genetic characteristics, my parents, the circumstances of my family, their socio-economic status, financial situation, etc.  Freedom and ultimate control are not the same thing, neither are they mutually exclusive in my opinion.  The raising of children provides us with a good example.  Children are born into families every day.  No one asks their thoughts or permissions.  They enter a world that was already constructed.  Little clothes have been bought for them, special furniture has been procured, and shelves are lined with books, toys, and all manner of items deemed necessary, all without their consultation.  They grow in the environment provided for them, exercising their little free wills within pre-set boundaries.  “Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue one today?”  “Do you want waffles or cereal for breakfast?”  As they grow in their ability to reason, they begin to understand that there are consequences associated with the exercise of their free wills.  “”You chose to come home one hour after curfew last night; therefore you have lost your precious electronic devices for one week.”  The fact that I cannot choose the color of my eyes or the time period into which I was born does not mean I do not possess free will.  Neither does the fact that there are consequences to my actions.  It simply means that I exercise my free will within a pre-ordained framework.  It means that I am part of an ordered universe.  If I plant a sunflower seed I expect to grow a sunflower.  If I neglect it, I can expect it to die.  My free will does not demand the ability to plant whatever I want and grow sunflowers anyway, or that I be relieved of gardening tasks yet see big, beautiful sunflowers.  I do not raise my gloved hand and shake my trowel at the heavens, upset because I do not have free will or that I reaped what I sowed.  I had all the freedom in the world to plant whatever I wanted, cooperating with the sun, rain, and soil (which I did not create) and, finally, receiving the reward of my labors.
 I do not believe God’s foreknowledge cancels out our free will.  God’s knowledge of what is going to happen before it happens has much more to do with the concept of time.  If God exists outside of time, the terms ‘past’, ‘present’, and ‘future’ have no context for him/her.  In my opinion, the trouble comes in when we try to combine human existence within linear time and God’s existence outside of linear time.  God may have fore-ordained that before my life is over I will have skinned a cat, but there are many ways to skin a cat, and I believe he allows me great freedom of choice as to how to go about it.  I am both blessed with free will and cursed.  Blessed, because God wants to see me explore, create, and flourish because of it, cursed, because I alone will bear responsibility for the consequences of those choices.
Political philosophy brings up many difficult questions.  My foundational belief is that good government is government that works for everyone.  I am not concerned about whether that government is ‘big’ or ‘small’.  My concern is that we create within our societies truly level playing fields in which every person’s life contains the core ingredients of human dignity.  The ‘capabilities approach’, introduced by Martha Nussbaum, focuses more on desirable outcomes than on specific just procedures to achieve those outcomes.  A few examples of those ingredients are the ability to live a life of normal length in good health, the freedom to move about safe from violent assault, and to be able to laugh and play and enjoy recreational opportunities.  In these examples we can see the priorities of the availability of healthcare and an adequate police force to maintain the safety and peace of society at large.
In contrast, Robert Nozick’s libertarian views place the rights on individuals on a higher plane than the right of society collectively.    While I absolutely believe in personal liberty, I do not believe that liberty is absolute.  I live in a world surrounded by people with whom I must interact on a daily basis – at the counter at Starbucks, at the grocery store check-out, in classrooms, restrooms, traffic lights, in my own home.  Only if I were to live alone on a desert island without need of other people could I proclaim my individual liberty as paramount above all else.  I believe human beings are social creatures, whether they are extroverts or introverts – we all need each other to survive.  In contrast, Ayn Rand believed that rights are vested in the individual, never in the group, and that the state exists to protect individual rights.  There is no philosophy that I loathe more than that of Rand; her Darwinian philosophy which exalts the brilliant and creative above the unthinking, undeserving masses denies the value of every person in society.  It is elitist, proud, and unworkable.
In summary, I believe in a good God who exists both in our world and in a cloud of mystery just beyond it.  I believe in the innate creativity and beauty of individual people and in our responsibility to each other and to our planet.  I believe in our collective ability to create a just, peaceful, and beautiful world.

Alice and the Big Blank White Board

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January one . . . the new year stands before me like a giant, blank white board.  I am small before it, my hands filled with markers of every color.  I don’t know what to write . . . draw . . . create . . . My heart is excited with the possibilities of the new year . . . and pained at the remembrance of failures of times past.  The blank board looms . . . like Alice, I shrink ever smaller. 

The truth is that the board isn’t blank.  This year has not yet been written, but an outline created by all the decisions of my life up to this point forms the framework of it.  That makes some decisions easier . . . I don’t have to find a husband or have some children!  But everything I have done so far, everything I have become is not everything I will be.  My life is far from over.

So I look toward this blank year ahead of me, thinking about the things I want to accomplish, the ways I want to change.  Here’s what I’ve decided to do about my so-called “New Year’s Resolutions”:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 
This quote, often attributed to Nelson Mandela, is actually by Marianne Williams.  I am a great lover of quotes, but this one is my very favorite.  With these courageous and powerful words in mind, I make my list of ‘resolutions’.
1.  No fear – never let fear stop you from doing anything, big or small.
2.  Accept yourself as you are – give yourself the same grace and acceptance you would want from others.
3.  Believe the truth about yourself – choose to believe what God says about you, and refuse to believe anything else.
4.  Let the light of the real you shine – be exactly who you are, even if it’s scary.
5.  Choose to see the light in everyone around you – everyone wants others to ‘see the art’ in them; be the one to see it and call it out in the people around you.
So there we have it . . . No Fear, Accept, Believe, Shine, See.
Happy New Year, everyone! 

The Magic of Books

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There is a stack of books on my nightstand; I affectionately refer to it as “the nightstand stack”.  These are the books that satisfy my curiosity, empower me with information, shape my thinking, and effectively create the person I am becoming.  I might pick one up at night for a few minutes before I go to sleep or when I wake up in the morning.  I’ll pick up another one if I have a larger block of time and read a more significant portion.  Weekends are prime time to grab some time to read.  One or more books may find their way into my bag to be pulled out at a local coffee shop.  Three books are always in the stack – Hannah Whitall Smith (HWS), The Message, and my NIV Bible.  HWS is really three books:  The Christian’s Secret of A Happy Life, The God of All Comfort, and The Unselfishness of God.  The rest of the books cycle in and out of the stack, moving to the wooden bookcase or the corner, where all the books that won’t fit in the bookcase live for now.

My books represent the evolution of me.  They come to me when I need to know something.  I find them in the nooks and crannies of dusty, old, second-hand bookstores.  I spot them often at Half-Price Books, one of my favorite haunts.  Rarely, they appear at Barnes & Noble, but if they are not too expensive, they will leave happily in my arms.  Most often they beckon from Amazon.com’s gleaming website where the blue type entices me with an incredibly low ‘used’ paperback price.  Whether driven by some inner turmoil or an insatiable ‘need to know’, I search and I find books.

Books contain information; this information is endued with almost magical powers.  It can supply information on any subject imaginable – cooking, gardening, building things, pet care, children, finances, education, self-help and so much more.  Books are a time machine through which I can explore the mysteries of history.   They are a present connection to times past and times future.  Books are a mirror; they help me see myself in the context of my world.  They help me see myself as I am, as I want to be.  They are the rungs on the ladder that takes me to the next level.

I’ll probaly always have a “nightstand stack”, my ready supply of knowledge, encouragement, and personal growth within arm’s reach.  I never want to stop growing . . . learning . . . exploring . . . so I’ll never stop reading.

Here are some of the authors who have influenced me most on a variety of subjects . . .
Hannah Whitall Smith
Malcolm Gladwell
Donald Miller
John Maxwell
Nathaniel Branden
M. Scott Peck
Dr. John Carl
Suzanne Somers
Dr. Andrew Weil
Loren Cunningham
David Kiersey

Peace, Love, and Hypocrisy

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I read a blog post today; a friend posted it on Facebook.  It’s long . . . three pages long, but completely worth the time it took to read it.  I wish the whole world could read this blog post.  It is just what we need to hear . . .

“Today’s post is not about homosexuality. It’s not about Christians. It’s not about religion. It’s not about politics. It’s about something else altogether. Something greater.  Something simpler.  It’s about love.  It’s about kindness.  It’s about friendship.”

The post is about our propensity to react to that which is different.  We are suspicious . . . we distance ourselves . . . we whisper, point fingers.  Eventually, we begin to hate.  If there is someone ‘different’ in your circle and you are treating them any differently than you would anyone else because of it, THAT is discrimination.  It is prejudice.  If you’re ignoring the guy from the warehouse because he has a few tattoos, you need to ask yourself why?  If you and your work friends go out to lunch regularly, leaving behind the girl who is a different color/social class/generation/religion/whatever, ask yourself why?  If you can’t bring yourself to look someone who’s different from you in the eye and offer a smile, why the hell not?  Back to the post . . .

“People may not be holding up picket signs and marching around in front of television cameras but… come on. Why is it that so many incredible people who have certain struggles, problems, or their own beliefs of what is right and wrong feel so hated? Why do they feel so judged? Why do they feel so… loathed? What undeniable truth must we all eventually admit to ourselves when such is the case?”

I don’t think Jesus ever made anyone feel hated, judged, or loathed.  In fact, Jesus explicitly said that he did NOT come to condemn the world.  So why is it that Christians can be so good at making people feel condemned?  One might argue that people feel condemned because they know they are guilty of sin.  Guilt can certainly cause condemnation, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.  We’re talking about people who are hateful, who speak with revulsion about others, people who gossip, who use Scriptures like daggers and hide the disgust in their eyes behind a thin veil of self-righteousness.  To the post once again . . . 

“I have known a lot of people in my life, and I can tell you this… Some of the ones who understood love better than anyone else were those who the rest of the world had long before measured as lost or gone. Some of the people who were able to look at the dirtiest, the poorest, the gays, the straights, the drug users, those in recovery, the basest of sinners, and those who were just… plain… different…They were able to look at them all and only see strength. Beauty. Potential. Hope.  And if we boil it down, isn’t that what love actually is?”

Love is the ability to look at someone and see something else . . . something more.  Jesus looked at Peter, a dirty, swearing, common fisherman and saw a rock, a leader, a shepherd of His church.  Why do we find this so very hard to do?  We look at a homeless man and see a homeless man – a dirty, smelly, scary guy.  But Jesus sees a man without a home . . . someone who hurts, who loves, who is down on his luck, who made some bad decisions . . . someone for whom there is hope.  When we look at an addict we see a weak-willed loser who screwed up his life, hurt his family.  But Jesus sees the anguish, the torment, and He holds out hope for a different life.  More from the post . . .

” . . . what makes somebody love, accept, and befriend their fellow man is letting go of a need to be better than others.  (emphasis mine)
Nothing else.
I know there are many here who believe that living a homosexual life is a sin.
Okay.
But, what does that have to do with love?
I repeat… what does that have to do with love?
Come on. Don’t we understand? Don’t we get it? To put our arm around someone who is gay, someone who has an addiction, somebody who lives a different lifestyle, someone who is not what we think they should be… doing that has nothing to do with enabling them or accepting what they do as okay by us. It has nothing to do with encouraging them in their practice of what you or I might feel or believe is wrong vs right.
It has everything to do with being a good human being. A good person. A good friend.
That’s all.
To put our arm around somebody who is different. Why is that so hard?
I’m not here to say homosexuality is a sin or isn’t a sin. To be honest, I don’t give a rip. I don’t care. I’m not here to debate whether or not it’s natural or genetic. Again, I… don’t… care. Those debates hold no encumbrance for me.
What I care about is the need so many of us have to shun and loathe others. The need so many of us have to feel better or superior to others. The need some of us have to declare ourselves right and “perfect” all the freaking time and any chance we have.
And for some of us, these are very real needs.
But I will tell you this. All it really is… All any of it really is… is bullying.
Sneaky, hurtful, duplicitous, bullying.”

 . . . there it is . . . the bottom line – the truth about ourselves allows us to distance ourselves from other human beings, to “shun and loathe others”, to “feel better or superior to others”, our great need to be right.  And not only to be right, but to separate ourselves from what is wrong.  The truth is, I don’t think we want those people in heaven with us.  We certainly don’t want them in our churches.  We’re good, clean, God-fearing people . . . normal people.  They don’t belong.  And if they don’t belong, if they are wrong and different and bad, then it’s okay to treat them poorly.  Isn’t that how we justified enslaving thousands of Africans?  “They’re not like us, they’re animals, they don’t have souls, they are incapable of learning.”  Isn’t that how we justified taking this country from the native peoples?  “They’re not like us, they’re godless savages.”  If we can convince ourselves that a group of people (or a person) is other, we can begin to justify our ill-treatment of them.

Jesus was not afraid to look sinners in the eye.  He wasn’t afraid to enter their homes and eat with them.  He walked with them, talked with them.  He taught them, suffered long with them, listened to them.  He wasn’t afraid to touch them; he wasn’t afraid of catching their diseases, even leprosy.  He had a love that radiated toward them, drew them in, helped them to understand.  Jesus’ harsh words were reserved for another group – the self-righteous religious folks who disparaged the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, the morally bankrupt.

How dare we think we can treat people differently than Christ himself did?  How dare we act like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and somehow think God is pleased with us?  How dare we use Scripture that we barely understand ourselves to justify our fear and judgement?  It’s WRONG what we do to people, how we think about them, how we treat them.  It’s wrong not to see them through their Father’s eyes.  The blog post to which I’ve been referring is a call to look at ourselves with raw honesty and a willingness to humble ourselves.  It’s a call to a deeper love than we ever thought was possible, a love that sees beyond what is to what could be and what should be.  You will find it in it’s entirely here:

http://www.danoah.com/2011/11/im-christian-unless-youre-gay.html

 The blogger has posted some of the hundreds of responses to his post.  Some of them are truly nauseating.  Others are wonderful.  Take some time to read them as well.

Of Mice and Monsters

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Some things make me angry.  Many are the same things that make you angry – things like heinous crimes committed against innocent victims, genocide, the oppression of the weak by the strong, etc.  But what really leaves me shaking with rage is the fact that this is not all happening in a vacuum.  Sure, many crimes are carried out in the darkness, away from the watching eyes of potential witnesses.  But a great many, I’d say the majority, are talking place right in front of us . . . and we do nothing.

The Penn state scandal has become, for me, a sort of symbol of what is wrong is our world.  As much as we’d like to distance ourselves from the wickedness of pedophiles like Jery Sandusky and cowards like Mike McQueary and anyone else who saw or knew and did nothing, I fear we have more in common with them than we care to admit.  I know, I know, you would NEVER abuse a child like that moster did . . . and if YOU saw someone raping a child you would NEVER ignore it.  You’d call for help!  You’d put a stop to it!  You’d stomp his ASS!  That’s what you’d do . . . right?  That’s certainly what I’d do.  You would never think anything like, “It’s none of my business . . . I can’t get involved . . . I wasn’t sure what to do . . . ” . . . would you?  Of course not – we’re GOOD PEOPLE.  We’re not monsters like them.

Look around – all over this world people are suffering, dying.  Children are starving.  Entire ethnic groups are being wiped out.  Military regimes are crushing people by the millions.  The poor are being oppressed.  Petty crimes are being committed in full view of public eyes, but no one is putting a stop to any of it.  Studies show that most people will NOT get involved when they see a crime being committed UNTIL one person gets involved.  Everyone is waiting for Someone Else to do something.

I sure wish Someone Else would hurry up and get here.  If Someone Else would just step up, be brave, be strong, I would join him or her.  Someone Else would know what to do.  Someone Else could fix it.  The problem with waiting for Someone Else is that it’s kind of like waiting for tomorrow . . . it never comes.  It is always today.

What are we when we live our lives with our heads down, miding our own business, working our jobs, paying our bills, making sure our own families are safe, while people are suffering all around us?  What are we when we live disconnected from the larger world, as if nothing that happens “out there” has anything to do with us?  How is that not monstrous?

I guess my point is this – we simply MUST stop living our lives as if we are the center.  We are all part of a living, breathing sea of humanity.  And the truth is that you did not get where you are all by yourself.  That stuff about “rugged individualism” and the “self-made man or woman” is crap . . . a stinking pile of crap.  And so is this macho bullshit that says, “I don’t need anyone’s help.”  We are connected – we need each other -we are involved, whether we like it or not.  If one of us suffers, we all suffer.  If monstrous acts are allowed to go on unchecked in our world, we are all diminished by it.  We must not allow ourselves to stay in the comfortable little boxes we call a life.  Life is going on out there, and it isn’t always pretty.  And it’s not just the monsters who make it ugly . . . it’s the good people who are waiting for Someone Else to make it all better.  So be better.  Choose to be Someone Else.

I wasn inspired to write this after reading this blog . . . check it out . . .
http://yesliketheprincessinstarwars.blogspot.com/2011/11/i-dont-know-how-to-title-this-post.html

Power to the People

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I’ve decided to post the essay I’ve written to turn in along with my application to the honors program at Rose State College.  The title was predetermined by committee; the content is straight from my heart . . . enjoy.

“The Democratization of Information:  Power, Peril, and Promise”
The word ‘democratize’, according to Webster’s online learners’ dictionary, means “to make available to all people; to make it possible for all people to understand”.  It’s an important word when it’s connected to information, because information brings knowledge – and knowledge is power.  The reverse is also true; ignorance is powerlessness.  When all people have access to information that can change their lives and they truly understand the impact of that information, all sectors of society will benefit.
Power is the heady stuff of which despots are made.  It is also the basic building block of our very lives.    Whether the choice is big or small, our power to choose makes us who we are.  It gives our lives meaning; it connects us to our voice in the world.  A child peers into his toy box, choosing one toy over another – he had a choice and he made it.  That’s power.  A teenager says no to negative peer pressure – that’s power.  A single mother chooses to get an education to build a better life for herself and her family – that’s power.  Our lives are built on the choices we make every day.  The ability to make those choices is power.  When we connect our power with information and understanding, we become a force in the world.  We can affect our families, our communities, our nations, and, eventually, our world for good.
We affect those around us whether we are ignorant or empowered.  We cannot be helped or help others with information we do not possess.  We have all experienced the pain of ignorance.  We also know the pain of a faulty application of information and of misinformation.  Therein lies the peril – we are at the mercy of what we know and what we do not know.  If a man has a headache, but does not know there is medicine in the cabinet that will give him relief, he will continue to suffer.  If he is told that Tums are great for a headache and he heartily chews a few, he will still have his headache, despite the offer of information.  Should he find the right bottle and take too little, he may experience some abatement of pain, but he will not be completely relieved of it.  In all three cases information was of prime importance.  The lack of it causes pain, as does receiving bad information and the misapplication of good information.  As a society, we must go beyond simply putting good information ‘out there’ and hoping people will somehow find it amidst the avalanche of information available.  Knowledge may be power, but choice is the agent of change.  As Dick Keyes asserts, “Knowledge alone, even if it is true, does not itself transform us.  It must be taken in with thoughtfulness and lived out with integrity.”  The pivotal question must be asked and answered – “What must I do with this information?”
We all crave power at the most basic level.  The circumstances of our lives are not always under our immediate control, yet we still need to feel that, in spite of the wind and waves swirling around us, we are the masters of our respective fates.  Knowledge beckons with the promise of a happy, fulfilling life.  We have the wonderful ability as well as the responsibility to take in information, choose to make changes within ourselves and our lives for the better, and then invest that information in others.  The democratization of information – the dissemination of information to everyonein a way that brings understanding coupled with the ability to put it to use – is the promise of a better world for us all.

Back to the Future

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                                          photo from donnellygroup.ca

A reunion of sorts took place at an local coffee shop yesterday.  I had stopped at Cuppies and Joe with my daughter, Casey – a mother-daughter treat we call “special time”.  We were settled with our goodies and Casey wanted to check in on Facebook with a picture of our bounty.  She posted a pic of me, smiling over my scrumptious pumpkin spice latte, a yummy-looking cupcake, and the dreamy iced beverege she had ordered.

                                                                                          photo from www.cupiesandjoe.com

A few minutes later, an old friend from high school walked right up to me.  Jim had seen the Facebook post and was nearby.  We had a wonderful time talking about our lives, our families, our interests.  We discussed books we were reading, ideas that were important to us.  Jim is a professor at a university; he filled my daughter in on how much colleges like home-schooled students.  The impromptu reunion only lasted about ten minutes, but I left smiling.

This mini-reunion stands in stark contrast to another reunion I recently attended.  There I saw other high school friends, smiled at pictures of children and grandchildren, heard stories of loves found and lost, of tragedy and beauty.  I took note, along with others, of who among us had weathered the years less than gracefully (in other words, who looked old or had gotten fat).  I also saw drunken flirting, drunken dancing, loud and obnoxious behavior, and heard the “N” word at least once.  I didn’t leave smiling.

I didn’t feel I “fit in” in high school.  Thirty years later, I still don’t.  The difference is that it was painful not to belong all those years ago.  Now I’m happy not to fit in.  I wish I knew then what I know now.  I would have done things very differently.  I wouldn’t have wasted my time on things I really wasn’t interested in (cheerleading) and things that were emotionally destructive (a certain crush who liked to play mind games).  I would have read a wider variety of books, befriended a wider variety of people.  I would have left high school with deeper friendships, better grades, and a bright vision of the future.  As it was, I had to find those things years later . . . I’m still finding them, actually.

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                                                                     photo from welikeit.tumblr.com

It’s satisfying to rekindle high school associations on adult terms.  We were children then . . . we had no idea who we were.  Hopefully, by now, we have a more complete picture.  Whether in person or on Facebook, I enjoy getting to know the adults some of those children have become, and sharing what I have become and am becoming.  We are now connected to the larger world and can share our wisdom, discuss thoughts and ideas, interact without the angst of our former selves.  Hopefully, the world will be a better place because of all that we’ve accomplished.

                                                           photo from globalbodytalkclinic.com

The Best Lecture Yet

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                                            photo from toppun.com
Today’s sociology lecture provoked more lively discussion than any subject thus far – gender.  Our professor asked the class to raise our hands if we considered ourselves feminists.  Two hands out of about twenty went up.  The rest of the class decisively left their hands in their laps; they were NOT feminists.

“How many of you think women should be allowed to vote?”

“How many of you think women and men should receive equal pay for equal work?”

“How many of you think a woman should have the right to divorce her abusive husband?”
As the profesor asked these questions, every hand went up on the first two, and most of them on the third . . . this is Oklahoma . . .   With an air of triumph, he loudly declared, “Guess what?  YOU’RE a feminist!”

One female student explained her position this way (I’m paraphrasing):  “I didn’t raise my hand, because although I agree with those things, I didn’t want to be associated with those ‘femi-Nazis’.”  The professor went on to explain the difference between what he called “liberal feminists” and “radical feminists”.  I prefer the terms I read a few years ago in Christina Hoff Sommers’ book, Who Stole Feminism? – “equity feminists” and “gender feminists”.

Thanks to folks like Rush Limbaugh, the very small minority voice of radical gender feminism is what everybody thinks of when they hear the word ‘feminist’.  You know – ugly, man-hating lesbians, to paint a characature.  But if you applaud Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and all the unsung heroes of women’s suffrage, you are a feminist, whether you know it or not.  And if you believe in equal pay for equal work, you are a feminist.  If you believe that discrimination based on gender is wrong, you are a believer in feminist philosophy.  In a society that has been largely patriarchal for decades, any movement away from the status quo and toward equality of the sexes is feminist. 

                                          photo from homepagedaily.com

Since we don’t want to jump of the scary cliff of radical feminism, what does feminism look like today?  I don’t want to launch into a treatise, so I’ll just stick with my thoughts on some practical applications from my own life.  Feminism is a husband who is proud of his wife’s professional accomplishments and thinks it’s wrong that, despite their identical degrees and experience levels, her male co-worker makes more money than she does.  Feminism is a mother who teaches her daughters that life is full of opportunities, and that being a wife and mother is just one of them.  Feminism is a father teaching his sons to respect women rather than objectify them.  Feminism is a wife who offers support and comfort to her husband, just as she needs him to do for her.  Feminism is a husband and wife partnering together to build a life in which both feel supported, respected, and important.  What’s so scary about that?

                                                                  photo from opinion-maker.org

War of the Roses

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                                          Photo from crazy-frankenstein.com

Many years ago, I read a passage of Scripture that I took as my very own.  I read and re-read it, trying to understand what it meant to my life.  Then I ignored it for a very long time, feeling that I just didn’t get it.  I took it back up again, knowing that it had been whispered especially to me and I couldn’t forget it.  That passage was Isaiah 58; it’s about what true fasting is, what the Father expects of us as his people, and what our impact in the community is supposed to be about.  I’m reading a similar passage this morning – Isaiah 61.  This is the passage that Jesus said he had come to fulfill in his first in-the-flesh verbal message to the world.

“The Spirit of the God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.  He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.  God sent me to announce the year of his grace – a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies – and to comfort all who mourn, to care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.  Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness”, planted by God to display his glory.  They’ll rebuild old ruins, raise a new city out of wreckage.  They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.”  Isaiah 61:1-4  The Message

This is the message of Jesus – good news . . . healing . . . freedom . . . pardon . . . grace . . . celebration . . . comfort . . . care . . . joy . . . praise  . . . and a people busy rebuilding, not tearing down.  Oh, and roses . . .

Every morning there’s a knocking at the door.  Jesus is there, arms full with a beautiful bouquet of roses just for me.  I can run joyfully to the door, fling it open and take the roses with gratitutde.  Or I can stay in the house, convinced there is nothing good waiting for me in this day.  This is the war . . . iff I don’t take the roses . . . the grace, joy, comfort, healing . . . what do I have to give away? 

                                                                Photo from photobucket.com

I think I’ll go out today and buy some roses for my home, as a reminder that Jesus mission was to give me roses instead of ashes, and that my bouquet is what I have to give to others.