Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Abortion and Abuse of Power

In recent years we have heard a lot about power in relationships. The #MeToo movement revealed accepted patterns of men abusing their power with women. Parents misuse their power when they abuse their children. Elected officials routinely abuse their power when influencing legislation or policy. In nursing homes helpless residents have been abused by staff who have physical power. 

Some have called for the strong to exercise "power with" others rather than "power over" others. This sounds like empowerment and helping the weak become strong. Jesus never used his power over other people, but often shared that power with his disciples and common people. He used his power to heal, to encourage, to confront evil, to challenge.

There are many ways in which one person can have power over others. Sometimes it is positional power, as a boss over his direct reports. It can be implicit power, such as a well-dressed person may have over a poorly-dressed person. It can be power of knowledge, when an informed person can take advantage over the ignorant. It can be power of maturity, when an experienced person can out-maneuver a rookie. It can be physical strength, allowing for the kind of abuse found in nursing homes. 

Power, of course, can be used helpfully, productively. CNAs can bring comfort to nursing home residents. Police can diffuse a crime in progress with a display of force. Bosses can empower their employees. 

But power can go wrong. When the strong use their strength to harm the powerless for their own advantage, that looks like abuse of power.

Abortion always involves people with power using that power to harm the powerless. That happens every time. There may be circumstances that would justify that use of power. But too often abortion is a raw, violent abuse of power, allowing the powerful to avoid undesired circumstances. How could that be transformed into "power with" instead of "power over"?

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Get Ready for the Test

We study for tests. We want to be prepared. We want to do well. You cram for final exams. You memorize for the driver’s license test. When you know the test is coming, you can get ready.

But some tests are sneaky. You don’t even know you are being tested. Your boss may give you an impossible task, just to see how you will respond. Could you make the impossible deadline? Your parents let you stay home alone to see how you handle the responsibility. Did you trash the house with 50 of your closest friends? These sneaky tests reveal what’s really inside of you.

The Bible (and all literature) is full of people who were being tested. Would Cain resist anger’s demands, or would he kill his brother? Would Abraham and Sarah trust God to give them a son, even though they were so old? Would Abraham trust God and follow his order to sacrifice Isaac? Would David conquer his lust or commit adultery? Would Peter acknowledge his friendship with Jesus?

All the major Bible characters were tested. We read their stories and watch them struggle. How could they be so blind? How could they not see God’s loving protection? How could they be so short-sighted? These were God’s sneaky tests for them. If they had known it was a test, they could have prepared themselves. They could have faced the circumstances from the standpoint of faith. They could have chosen to seek God’s direction and to listen to his voice.

Recently I realized that my life is a series of tests of my faith. The same goes for you. These don't have to be sneaky tests, because now we know God is watching. Will I cave in to my fears or will I trust God to take care of me? It’s all a test—every misunderstanding, disappointment, unmet expectation, broken promise, harsh word, failed attempt, accident, sickness. How will I respond?

Then again, good things are tests—every opportunity, success, happy coincidence, friendship, resource, kind word, healthy report, smiling face, met goal. How will I respond?

When I read the tragic stories, I want to tell the characters, “Don’t do it! Can't you see what’s really happening?” Now I know that I am that character. These tests reveal what's really inside of me.

God grant me the grace to trust you through the test!

Monday, July 18, 2022

Feel the Love

I have been missing out. Maybe you have too. People love you. You don't always realize it. This love can't fulfill its full purpose unless you receive it. To receive love is more than merely acknowledging it. Someone waves at you and you wave back. That interchange, as important as it may be, is complete in mere seconds. But receiving love requires time, attention, and intention.

I so rarely receive love. It's the feeling you get when you hug a loved one and exhale and relax. It's not rushed. It's not distracted. Defenses are down. It is present in the moment.

Most often love comes to us without physical contact. It could be kind words, a timely text, a knowing smile. Love comes to us through thoughtful actions and efforts of others. Love never comes from perfect people, so receiving love implies forgiveness. 

Spend a few minutes quietly thinking of someone who loves you. Think of the many ways over the years that this person has shown love to you. Think of the positive message embodied in that person's actions. The message is for you. Receive it. Thank God for it. Let it soak into your soul.

What if we thought every day about a different person who loves us, and received that love? I think it would transform us from the inside out. It would change our attitudes. It would make our problems less threatening. 

Maybe receiving love will help us share it better. 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Who cares what old people think?

Do young people want advice from old people? 

When I was in my early 20s I don't recall seeking out much advice from my elders. Maybe I would ask about how get a car loan or stop a home invasion of ants. But I thought I had my life's direction in hand. OK, I did ask my parents for input before I proposed to Lisa. But that's all I can think of. Now I respected my elders, but times had changed, and they didn't "get" modern life. Or so I thought. (Mom, I'm just trying to make a point. I'm sure I listened to you and Dad more than that...)

We Baby Boomers felt pretty self-sufficient. So if young people today don't care what we elders think, that's nothing new. Well, it's kind of new. We have heard about old days when young people went to elders for advice. Just watch "Waltons" reruns. Back in the 1930s those kids would really listen to Grandma and Grandpa.

In other cultures around the world, all generations seek out the wisdom of the aged. How come we modern Americans don't care?

Here's one idea, from a Christian perspective.

The Bible is ancient meditation literature. It is designed to be pondered. We Americans just want the facts. Spell it out for me. Just say what you mean. The Bible doesn't do that. To get what the Bible says, you have to keep reading it, comparing passages with similar vocabulary and circumstances. It's like reading The Lord of the Rings; there are details and connections that go right over your head unless you reread, stop and think.

Have you ever thought that Jesus spoke in riddles? That's because he did. He wants you to ponder his words. When people faulted him for hanging around low-life people, he said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners"  (Mark 2:17). You've got to process that one. In fact, all of the Bible makes you think. Why did God accept Abel's offering, but not Cain's? We can only speculate. And we should speculate. God wants us to think about these things.

The Bible is such a vast, rich source of these riddles, we can spend a lifetime pondering them. Scripture is not intended just to pass along information. It is intended to lead us toward understanding through reflection. When someone has spent a lifetime meditating and pondering the scriptures, he or she gains great perspective and wisdom. A dedicated reader knows that life is full of nuance. There is so much to consider. Only after decades of living and struggling, failing and succeeding, reflecting on scripture, can someone have genuine wisdom. 

People who have soaked in truth for ages and spanned the range of human experience are worth listening to. 

Here's the point: We have not done enough truth soaking to get much wisdom. No wonder younger folks don't care what we think.

Yeah, I know I called myself an old person. I'll have to ponder the meaning of that.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Guns and Anger

There are lots of solutions to gun violence in America. 

Tougher background checks. Good guys with guns. Raising the age limit. Metal detectors. School resource officers. No high-capacity magazines. Gun registration. Allow more concealed carry. Allow less concealed carry.

We have no shortage of answers. People feel very passionate about the answers. People feel very passionate about disagreeing with the solutions offered by other people. 

And we all know who the "other people" are. They won't listen to reason. They are politically motivated. They take donations from the NRA. They take donations from George Soros. They only care about power. They want the state to have complete control of our lives. They only want criminals to have guns. They don't care about children being gunned down. They believe that crimes are committed by hunks of metal.

Mass shootings have become so common that we lose track. When will we see enough carnage to do something? In Uvalde, Texas the two funeral homes have scheduled out services for about two weeks. It takes a long time to bury 19 students and two teachers. The town will never be the same.

Some will leverage this display of grief to stir up anger against "them." If they would just wake up and do something, we could finally stop gun violence.

And that seems to be the state of discourse on gun violence. We need to get the other people to shut up and listen to our workable solutions. We are angry with them because they are standing in the way of ending this crisis once and for all. 

Anger abounds.

Let that sink in. Anger abounds. 

The solution to the problem is not to let one angry side prevail over the other angry side. That just breeds more anger. Many who passionately believe they have all the answers are really making the problem worse. 

Mass shootings are only part of the problem. Consider the wave of road rage, air rage, ballfield tantrums, school board showdowns. We have an angry society. And this seeps into the souls of young people and old people. Too often this anger becomes violence.

We can't legislate our way out of this societal mess. Some laws may help, but, frankly, I don't know which ones.

What will help is love. If we will work to find a loving response, even to that uniformed idiot who thinks he has all the answers, we may begin to see some change. It will take more than just a few self-righteous do-gooders writing blog posts. It will take more than posting memes on Facebook. It will take more than following anger-management practices.

We will need to care about people. We will need to care about our own families, our neighbors, our schools. We will need to care about poor people and justice for the disadvantaged. We will need to stop caring so much about being right. We will need to see people as those who are created in the image of God, people who matter to God, even if they have misguided ideas.

We will need to love angry people. Nothing disarms or redirects angry people more than love. Angry people expect anger in return. And when we respond with love, they have to recalibrate. They have to take a deep breath. 

You probably have some ideas about how to stop gun violence. Maybe you know of laws or policies that need to change. That's good. But make sure that you share your ideas with love. Because only love can bring an end to violence. Love the children. Love your neighbors. Love the unlovable. Love yourself. 

That all sounds utopian. But Jesus seemed to think it would work.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Better than a Funeral

Funerals tend to be sad, of course. We miss the dearly departed, and feel the emptiness of the new holes in our lives. Many times I come to know the deceased better at a funeral, hearing all funny stories and reliving the poignant moments. We often wish that we had one more moment, one more conversation with the lost loved one. Something was left unsaid.

A couples of days ago my family presented me with 60 notes from 60 people in my tribe, a surprise in honor of my 60th birthday. At my daughter's clandestine request, my friends and family shared brief stories, impressions, and encouragements with me. She gathered and formatted these notes and presented the collection to me on Monday, appropriately on Memorial Day.

She noted that there are recurring themes shared by many of the contributors. This, she said, provided a sort of window into others' perception of me, and this birthday surprise allowed her to see me with a fresh perspective.

When my father died in 2001, I left his funeral pondering the many lives that my dad had touched, in ways that I never imagined. He was a cooler dude than I had known. Oh that I could have had one more conversation! I thought I knew him, but only at his funeral did I get a wider picture.

We rarely share the good things because, well, we take each other for granted. We rarely make time in our culture for good words. Eulogies ("good words"), are given almost exclusively at funerals, sometimes at retirement dinners or good-bye parties. We need to make more time for good words. Maybe funerals would be less sad if we made it a point to say the good things. Now.

That's why my birthday surprise was so meaningful. And my daughter had glimpse into her dad, while I'm still alive. 

That's better than a funeral.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Impressing my phone

My phone thinks it's so smart. Some time ago I discovered the fitness app built into my iPhone. It has been recording my daily steps without my knowledge or permission. Now that I have discovered this trove of health data, I can also get snarky evaluations of my activity.

"You are not taking as many steps this week as last week at this time."

"Your average step count is about the same as last year."

It will also tell me about my "Walking Asymmetry." Right now that metric is 18.8%. Seriously. My phone thinks I walk like a drunken sailor staggering across the deck in 10' swells. 

This app also reports that I have climbed 3 flights of stairs. Really? I have been up and down the ladder to clean gutters (3x), up and down the stairs from the basement (4x), and walked untold hills at the farm. You think you're so smart.

For a while there I got addicted to my step count. Previously on vacation I would work for at least 10k steps per day. I would pace around the cottage late at night, just to break the barrier. Ha Ha! I then decided to keep the streak alive after vacation and have 10k steps every day for a month! I don't think I ever achieved that.

I caught myself going to the mailbox or the refrigerator without my phone, and lamenting: "I'm not getting credit for these steps!" Then I would pick up my phone and walk a few extra steps to make up for it. 

Last month I realized that I am trying to impress my phone. And my phone is rarely impressed. It doesn't give me confetti or cheers for, well, anything. It just says, "You are walking more this month, on average, than last month." Not sure I can handle such effusive praise. Besides, my phone is a lousy counter anyway. And I don't have (or want) a smart watch, which I assume would be more accurate.

So, when we went to the beach in early May, I put my phone in its place. I left it on the table and did not carry it all week. I still walked on the sand and rode my bike all around Oak Island. But my phone did not make the trips. My goal was to have days with "No Data." I achieved this goal three times. Take that, you nosy phone.

I broke the habit of trying to impress my phone. At this point I can tell when I have walked 10k steps in a day. I don't need my phone to corroborate. In fact, I had not even opened up my fitness app in a couple of weeks. (I just opened it today to take screen shots.) No longer do I reach the end of the day feeling bummed about a mere 9200 steps. I'm not really tempted to be a couch potato. I like to stay active. But I don't need my phone's approval.

Staying away from my fitness app has given me an unexpected sense of freedom.

And to think, 10 years ago I lived every day like this. I like being free again.