Civility

Never tire of loyalty and kindness. Hold these virtues tightly. Write them deep within your heart Proverbs 3:3

I sometimes wonder if we have been slowly losing the virtue of civility in our society. I look for civility in little actions-like taking an extra few steps to put the shopping cart in the cart corral at the grocery store. Maybe it is just taking the trash in your hand and depositing it in a garbage can rather than littering.

Little actions build upon themselves, and they help us to define who we are. If we act like a kind, caring person to our fellow community members, we begin to see ourselves as that way, and it starts a strong, upward cycle which reinforces itself.

On a little larger scale, it may be showing tip generosity to restaurant servers, volunteering at a church or service organization, or donating blood at the local Red Cross or blood center. These are just some examples of civic and social responsibilities that one might expect of their fellow citizens which make life a little better for all.

We are, perhaps, the most educated society in the world. Higher education is available to almost all in our society, yet education is not the answer to civility.  Education does not ensure that virtue is inculcated into our daily life. That is the province of families who love their children and teach them to love others. Teaching those values and virtues is critical in maintaining a society that can sustain itself, and indeed to touch positively the more vulnerable members of that society.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be aware of ways to show kindness and civility to others, Amen

The Problem with Idols

When the listening crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted (in their local dialect, of course), “These men are gods in human bodies!” They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Jupiter, and that Paul, because he was the chief speaker, was Mercury! The local priest of the Temple of Jupiter, located on the outskirts of the city, brought them cartloads of flowers and prepared to sacrifice oxen to them at the city gates before the crowds.

 But when Barnabas and Paul saw what was happening, they ripped at their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, “Men! What are you doing? We are merely human beings like yourselves! We have come to bring you the Good News that you are invited to turn from the worship of these foolish things and to pray instead to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.                                                                                                                                                                                 Acts 14:11-15 (Living Bible)

The problem with idols is that they keep letting us down. We have a need, it seems, to place people on a pedestal, then gradually, or sometimes abruptly, those idols begin to show their weaknesses. We have a need for heroic actions, and indeed, there are many, many heroes among us. Often, heroic acts are unseen or unnoted, and those heroes do not get the adulation they might deserve. Other heroic figures, our very public figures, are praised and even idolized. Statues are made, poems are written, portraits made, etc. It seems that we have a need to find these figures and recognize them.

Then, over time, we see the flaws in character. We see the failures, the duplicity, the mistakes, the compromise. We may judge, from a historical perspective, that they were flawed people, and not deserving of that statue. Truly, if only perfect people got statues, we would have no statues.

We have our “Mt. Rushmore” of heroes from all walks of life. Sports shows sometimes ask, “Name your Mt. Rushmore of baseball”, or basketball, or whatever sport. People are challenged to name the top four or five in their sport who deserve a place on the “Mt. Rushmore” of that sport.

The original Mt. Rushmore has four distinguished Presidents- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. These men are venerated on the side of a mountain for heaven’s sake, and highly praiseworthy all, yet all had character defects.

So, we need perspective on our “idols”. Let’s remember that every idol has flaws. That just makes them human.

Prayer: You have made us in your image, and worthy of respect, all of us. Help us when we do not show respect to all your creation, Amen.

Close to the Soil…

You cleared the ground and tilled the soil, and we took root and filled the land.                 Psalm 80:9

I dug up this old piece which I had written for a newspaper column titled Point of View many years ago. This is timeless, I think, in that farming and gardening are ever old and ever new. Thought I’d share it for a summer read,

Blessings!

            I have been doing my personal therapy this weekend. I have been spending time doing something that clears my head and renews my soul – I have been working in my garden.  I was digging up the vegetable garden, planting flowers, working on our new pond (another whole column I think), and spreading mulch. While my body aches, it is a good kind of pain, because you see, working in the soil is a healthy thing.

            People who plant gardens, be they flower or vegetable gardens, tend to be people who have a healthier, more realistic view of life.  Why do I say this?  Let’s look at what is involved in planting flowers.  First, there has to be an intention to do so, which involves planning and forethought.  Flower gardeners appreciate the beauty of color, and they usually have a desire to improve the looks of their home as well as their neighborhood.  That means that they care about what is going on around them and they want to be a part of making their environment just a little nicer.  Then there is the satisfaction they get by having their early Spring vision rewarded with emerging little plants.  Where there had been nothing but soil now bursts with very visible life. 

            Another noble aspect of gardeners is their desire to nurture life.  When you plant flowers or vegetables, you need to be prepared to nurture and protect the young plants from bugs and those ever-present rabbits.  This takes vigilance and care, and a real desire to see a tender and nearly helpless plant survive.  Gardeners will pay a price in both time and money to see their plants through the dangers of predators, disease and weather hazards.

            Vegetable gardeners have the added incentive and motivation of eating the fruits of their labor. Those vegetables taste better than anything in the world when they come from your own garden, partly because the gardener knows how hard he or she worked to get to that point.  Vegetable gardeners know too that they are not really saving money by growing their own vegetables, they are satisfying a rather deep-seated urge to care for themselves by growing their own food.

            Finally, all gardeners work in the soil partly because they like to work. They see physical work as healthy and good.  They don’t mind getting dirty, and in fact, probably enjoy being that close to the earth.  Stooping and sweating become acts of love which minister to their overall sense of well-being.  They are creating something, at the same time knowing that there are numerous factors, weather etc., which can wipe out their work. That, of course, is part of the challenge.  They know that they are ultimately not in control of what happens, but they willingly extend themselves in an uncertain venture for physical as well as spiritual rewards.

            This sounds a lot like life to me.  God bless the farmers and gardeners of the world.  They live in the rhythm of life.

Tears

Jesus wept”

 John 11:35

Human tears are another of those incredible, intricate gifts of creation. I am continually amazed by what I learn about things we simply seem to take for granted. Tears, for example are more than a salty liquid which indicates our deep emotions. In fact, there are three kinds of tears. One type is for lubricating our precious eyes as a protection against foreign elements and dryness. A second type is a “response tear”. If you have peeled an onion or had smoke get into your eyes, you are familiar with “response tears”.  Finally, there is the type of tear which gets the most attention. It is the emotional tear.

I have read that there are hormones and enzymes in emotional tears which are actually healing when released by crying. Our tears are therapeutic. Indeed, many of my clients will become tearful in sessions, and note that they feel better after the release of crying. Crying is actually good for us, yet we men often go to great lengths to try to suppress the expression of those tears.

Sometimes at movies, I have been known to try to suppress crying. Once, at the end of Les Misérables my neck and chin actually hurt from trying to suppress my emotional response. Yes, that was kind of a dumb thing to do, but hey, I’m a guy.

Seriously though, I do not tend to cry easily, and maybe that is good or maybe not. I do think that the process of crying can be healthy. People often apologize for crying in public. I understand that this shows vulnerability, but it does not show weakness.

Tears are an amazing part of our bodily make-up. Maybe we should celebrate that a little more.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be in touch with the emotions you gave us, and more freely express them, Amen.

Pain

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted                                                    Isaiah 53:3-4

What do we do with pain? Pain is a universal experience of humankind. It comes in many flavors- physical pain, emotional pain, mental pain, even spiritual pain. We try to avoid it, naturally, and there are some things that we can do to avoid unnecessary pain. We can, for example, avoid risky behaviors that may end up in pain such as extreme sports, reckless driving, excessive alcohol use, etc. Yet, even with such precautions, we cannot totally avoid pain in life.

Getting into relationships give us great pleasure and comfort, but we also then share the emotional pain of those whom we love. The pain of loss and death, for example, is extreme, but again, it is inevitable in our human experience.  That risk though is outweighed by the wonderful benefits of connection and intimacy we have with friends and family.

We cannot completely avoid physical pain, because pain was given to us for a reason. It is an indicator that something is amiss. We need to pay attention to the pain because it is telling us something, namely- “look into the source of pain to try to remedy it”. It may be a marker of more serious problems.

Other types of pain just come with the territory. We get muscle and joint pain just from our everyday living. Sometimes, we just physically hurt, and that is unavoidable.

But what do we do with pain? Do we ignore it? No, that is a bad idea most of the time. Do we acknowledge it and accept that it is part of life? Yes, that usually is a pretty good idea. Learning to accept pain is a gift of maturity and wisdom. Cursing the fact that pain exists is an exercise in futility. Pain is part of life.

So, how do we handle pain? We all have our ways, and we learn what works. The key is that no matter what the pain, we need to take ownership of it and decide what our attitude about it will be.

 All things considered, honestly acknowledging pain, not cursing it, is a good start.

Prayer: We understand that pain is a part of life, and the life you have given us is a blessed gift, Amen

That’s The Law!

All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others.” Matthew 22:40


For the whole Law can be summed up in this one command: “Love others as you love yourself.” Galatians 5:14

I have always found it fascinating how Jesus taught about the Law. The Law was the guiding star of the Old Testament Hebrew nation, and the strictest observers of it in Jesus’ time were the Pharisees. They were more than meticulous in observing every possible law given by Moses. Those laws then acquired “extra baggage” over the years when scholars and priests refined those laws and went into agonizing detail about how to fulfill them. More to the point, they went to great lengths to find ways to restrict the daily lives of Jews by making sure that no law would be broken.

The irony, of course, is that such adherence was not possible. I’m sure that most of these scholars and priests, Pharisees, and teachers of the Law had good intentions. They wanted to make very certain that they were doing what God wanted, and that they were leading people to holy lives.

But they missed the boat.

When Jesus came teaching, he assured people that he did not come to abolish the Law.  He said,
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come—it isn’t to cancel the laws of Moses and the warnings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them and to make them all come true.”

What did he mean by that? He meant that the whole law, the intent of the law, was to bring people into peace with God and their fellow human beings. If one truly loves God, as well as him/herself, you do not need a law that says “Don’t rob, cheat, steal, harm, demean, defraud, covet, or do any other hostile actions toward others. If one truly loves God and neighbor, those laws are already fulfilled.

I am not casting blame on the Jewish scholars who went overboard in their zeal to try to please God. They just missed the point of the Law. Actually, we do the same things too often times, don’t we?

Prayer: Forgive us for our short-sighted views, and help us to see the real point of your laws for us, Amen

Going Toward the Good or Escaping the Bad?

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.                                                           Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

One of the concepts that I frequently discuss with my clients is that of motivation. Motivation can be positive or negative. In aspiring to a goal or a “desired place”, we may have several motivators in place. We are complex beings, so simple answers are often insufficient to explain all the factors that move us. Yet it is good to try to determine, “what is my true motivator?”

I tend to think that positive motivators, that is, going toward a goal is a better and more satisfying motivator than a negative one. A negative motivator looks like, escaping from a painful or disagreeable situation.

Take a job change, for example. If we are in a bad job, one that drains us or causes undue anxiety, we probably want to get away from it. The motivation is escape. While in the short run  another job may look like the answer, it may not solve the real problem. We may take the first job opening that comes up as an answer for the bad job. If that new job is not satisfying either, we have just traded problems, with no solution.

If, on the other hand, we are drawn to another job that is really part of our skills, experience and calling, that is a much better motivator. There is a much better likelihood of success and fulfillment.

This concept is true for many decisions that we make. Moving toward a high value is more energizing that trying to escape a bad situation. Running away is tiring. Moving toward a vision is energizing.

Prayer: Lord, help us to discern the things to move toward, and what we may be running from, Amen.

Present and Future

He has given you Paul and Apollos and Peter as your helpers. He has given you the whole world to use, and life and even death are your servants. He has given you all of the present and all of the future. All are yours                                                                                                                                                            I Corinthians 3:22

I was speaking with a client the other day about some of her future fears, specifically a fear of chronic pain like her father endures. She too has some chronic pain, related to joint conditions which are possibly hereditary. She worries about this because she has chronic anxiety. This, of course, is not uncommon, but it should also not be discounted. People with chronic anxiety suffer. If they could simply stop worrying, they would!

 We discussed her fears, and I suggested that she work on behaving her way out of the anxiety, not trying to think her way out. What did I mean by that? I meant that there are certain actions she could take that might help to head off her dread of the possible future she faced.

Rather than simply filling her mind with fears of the future, she could take some present actions that could head off that fear. Note that I was suggesting that she act in the present time, the time she has currently available, rather than the future which she cannot control.

We talked about the exercise of swimming, which is gentle on the joints, but is vigorous in aerobic conditioning. The vigorous exercise she gets, which is also gentle on her joints, will be beneficial to her both physically and emotionally. She can take present action to control a dreaded future.

Living in the present is the key to anxiety control. As they say in recovery work, that concept is simple, but enacting it is not always easy.

Prayer: Lord, you control our future. Help us to take actions in the present that can help that future, Amen

Self-Esteem

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”                                                                                                                                                                I Samuel 16:7

I was talking recently with a client who had concerns about her body image. Many young women (and men) suffer from the sometimes crippling societal expectation that one’s worth is tied to body image. This client is coming to see that she cannot meet the expectations of everyone else, and that she does not need to, in order to be the best “her”.

We discussed the value of working out, not for the sake of her body image, but for the sake of her health, both physically and emotionally. Her value is not in how she looks, but in her intrinsic worth. She is a woman of high character and values, but she has been rejected in relationships, and she is hurting from that.

We discussed the value of accepting first her own sense of worth before basing her worth on the acceptance by others. I reminded her that self-esteem is based upon keeping promises to ourselves first. When we can learn to trust ourselves, our self esteem rises. Then others can see a confident person whose worth is not dependent on the judgment of other people.

God’s view of us is not based upon our appearance, or even our performance. God loves us right where we are, even if we are not yet where we want to be.

So, remember the formula for self-esteem- keep those little promises to yourself. As we keep those little promises, good disciplines grow, and we gain confidence.

That is an attractive quality.     

Prayer: Lord, thank you for accepting us right where we are, Amen

What Time Is It?

That depends on who you ask!


But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day                                                                                                       II Peter 3 :8

When we think about God’s “timing” as we sometimes call it, we are in way over our heads. Why is that you ask? Because our idea of time, and God’s idea of time are in completely different time zones (pardon the pun).

We humans operate in a finite, linear time zone. There is a past, a present, and a future. We have relative scales to understand time like clocks, watches, calendars, etc. If you are like me, you live by those calendars, and we do that so that we can feel a sense of control and order. Indeed, society needs to have such structures in order to prevent chaos and to have some level of predictability.

But God is timeless. He sees and lives in the past, the present, and the future all at the same time. He sees eternity past and eternity future, all in what we call the present.  We often talk about God’s timing in our life, and that we must have patience. But what we really need is trust.

God asks us to trust him, because he can see what we cannot see or comprehend. We cannot really conceptualize eternity because we are finite creatures who can only live in specific time dimensions as I described above.

So, when we are thinking of God’s timing, I think it is better to view that in terms of trust, rather than “waiting” for his timing in our life. We don’t know the time, but he does because he holds the future as well as the present and the past.

Prayer: You are Lord of the universe and of time itself. We are awed by your presence! Amen