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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Zero to 60

It took more than 5.7 seconds for me to get from zero to 60. They say that time goes faster as you get older. They are right. 

I kind of liked my 50s. It was a decade of realized maturity. Probably no one else realized that I was so mature, but I did. An age in the 50s sounds like you are old enough to be good at something, but not so old that you need help up the stairs. I try to be good at some things. Sometimes I fake it. Sometimes people surprise me when they say I'm good at some things.

Now, as I venture into my 60s--and really I have no choice--it seems like the "mature" thing might loom larger than the "being good at something." When people are in their 60s, people may be surprised when you just look good. Eyes open, no cane in sight, zipper closed, nothing to be wiped off your face. I generally try to look good, but I'm not sure I'm very good at looking good. No one has ever surprised me by telling me that I'm good at looking good. 

By now I should know what I am good at. I'm good at being on time. I was late for my haircut yesterday, and the barber was surprised. He knows I'm always on time. Sometimes I'm early. He's early too. Except yesterday, when we were both late. Good timing.

I'm good at waving at my neighbors. Sometimes I feel guilty if I'm too preoccupied to raise my hand. Some of my neighbors are good at waving and some are not. Some neighbors will keep their heads down, carefully avoiding eye-contact. They will only wave if absolutely forced to, like if they accidentally look right at me when I'm waving. They probably wish they were more friendly, so I'm glad to help them get there.

It's harder to prove my maturity. When you get into your 60s, people just know you are mature. In fact, they may be surprised if you don't act maturely. As I think about it, I surprise people with my lack of maturity. That might change tomorrow when I turn 60. 

I plan to make my 60s at least as good as my 50s. In some ways I think my 50s is my best decade yet. That's a good trend. I'm trying to get better at life all along. Some things can't get better, like my eyesight. Other things can get better, like my attitude. I think my attitude is better now than it was 20 years ago. I'm learning not to take myself so seriously.

So, welcome 60s! This could be a seriously fun decade! I just hope I'm mature enough to realize it.







Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Casting Spells

All my life I've done it,
And to this moment I persist.
Now rarely with much malice,
And sometimes with innocence.

Syllables are spoken,
Strung together with a plan,
Characters on pages
With a purpose so they stand.

The mystery of thoughts expressed
By magic known as words,
Somehow makes a change in you,
And now you understand.

I take you to another realm
Or plant it in your mind.
We walk together in our thoughts
And find new space and time.

The mystery of words is great
When placed together well.
You may not know that when you speak,
You also cast a spell.



Monday, April 25, 2022

Minority Report

I have been captivated by The Bible Project podcast, and I wish I had found it years ago. Around episode 46, the hosts describe the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as a minority report from the people of Israel. The majority of the Israelites did not perceive the nation's history as it was reported by Moses.

I have always thought that each generation of Jews would carefully teach the Torah to their children, as the highest priority. But alas, they did not. As important as the Torah was, it became lost over the years. Generations of Jews never knew it existed. Then finally around 600 B.C., during the reign of King Josiah, the scrolls of the Torah were discovered somewhere in the Temple. (See 2 Kings 22.)

When Josiah heard the scrolls read to him, he was so upset that he tore his robes. For generations, the Jewish people did not know their own history. They did not really know where they came from. It is no wonder that the Jews had so many evil kings. It is no wonder that the people did not rise up to find more righteous leaders. They did not know their own story. They did not know God's calling upon their nation.

The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, was carefully and providentially preserved in spite of the carelessness of some of its stewards. It only took one generation (although it was certainly many) to neglect the written history for the whole nation to lose touch with their identity. By the time of Jesus, Jewish scholars had put their Bible at the center of their faith. But they needed Jesus to show them what the scriptures were really all about.

When I read the Old Testament Bible stories of Jewish faithlessness, I need to remember that I may know more of their history than they did. 

I wonder what stories we are missing today from our own history.




Thursday, March 3, 2022

Can Love Stop War?

It worked. I persuaded myself that Love is a Superpower. Last month I preached a series on Love, and more than ever I believe that Love works miracles. Love breaks through hard hearts. Love gets attention when all else fails. Love builds unity and community. Often Love takes time to make a difference, but Love makes a lasting difference.  I witnessed the power of Love, reaching hearts of those who felt forgotten, those who felt overwhelmed, those who felt rejected. A Loving response confounds those who practice violence and hate. Yes, Love is the Superpower.

Jesus tells us to Love one another. He also tells us to Love our enemies. And that's where it gets tricky.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine may be a test of the power of Love. The Church is strong in Ukraine. Christians in Ukraine and around the world are praying for the Russian invasion to fail. I have been praying for the invading forces to be confounded, disoriented, ineffective. I'm praying for equipment failure and confusion in strategy. I'm praying for other Russian leaders to stand up to Vladimir Putin and refuse to carry out orders.

And what if the invading Russian soldiers encounter such powerful Love that they lay down their arms? Could that happen? I believe it can. I also believe it would be a miracle. It is so unlikely that--if I lived in Ukraine--I would probably be pulling out my guns. I would be gathering up my ammo. I would be planning to respond in Love, but ready to protect my family. 

How far can we push these utopian ideas of Jesus? Do they work in the real, 21st century world? It's one thing to practice Love in the boardroom. What about the battlefield? A Loving response in battle may be one of the highest risk moves in the world.

But then Love always involves risk and vulnerability, in the boardroom, the bedroom, and breakroom. I can only imagine the heart struggle of watching tanks roll through my town. For me this is all philosophical, religious theory. There are real live people right now, grappling with these life and death dilemmas. May God have mercy.



Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Superpower

Which is the best superpower? I had to do some research to find the recognized powers in the Superhero world. Some of these powers are familiar.

  • Flying
  • Force fields
  • Invisibility
  • Time travel
  • Super speed
  • Super strength

Then there are more obscure powers like:

  • Elemental control
  • Absorbing powers
  • Intangibility

I would probably pick Invisibility for my superpower. I like to be sneaky.

But I want to make the case that there is a real superpower. It is a power that we can all wield. This power can:

  • Change a heart
  • Defeat evil
  • Get someone's attention
  • Turn enemies into friends
  • Reveal truth

And that's just scratching the surface. This superpower is Love.

Join us on Sundays this February as we dig into 1 Corinthians 13 and the power of Love.

February 6, Nothing Like Love

February 13, Looking at Love

February 20, Forever Love

February 27, Love Above All



Friday, January 7, 2022

Freedom and Violence

How did the U.S. Capitol stormers justify their violence on Jan. 6, 2021? In American history we learn that the first patriots took up arms against the British, fighting for freedom.

Our country has a long history of standing up against overreaching government. The violent crowd at the Capitol last year may have imagined that they were continuing that fight. 

What they failed to grasp was that the U.S. Revolutionary War laid the foundation for representative democracy. Within that system we have the means to protest government without violence. They ignored the system of American freedom while fighting in the name of American freedom. The rioters claimed to be fighting for the very thing they were fighting against. The cause of that day was doomed from the beginning.

We have to acknowledge that violence began this country. But real freedom lives where violence has no place.



Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Wandering by Faith

I'm finding new appreciation for old Abraham. According to Genesis, God told Abram/Abraham to leave his country and his father's people and go to a land that God would show him (Genesis 12). This Abram did, and when he arrived in Canaan, he had done what God had asked. 

And he spent decades wandering around this land, even leaving it to live in Egypt for a while. God spoke to him and appeared to him during these wanderings. But it seems like there were long stretches when he heard nothing from God. All the while he had to trust God. Even during the silence.

I think following God for the long haul leads us to places like that. We have followed God, but we don't know what to do next. We wander and wait. We have to trust God that he will meet us again, direct us again. And during that time we learn to believe. We believe him in the silence. We have to remember what God has said. We have to hold on by faith.

God has not forgotten you. While you are waiting, just wander by faith. 



Tuesday, January 4, 2022

You Better Watch Out

Yes, I know that Santa won't be coming for another 356 days or so. But this might be a great time to notice your watching.

What are you paying attention to?

We are tuned into every sort of message from our phones: beeps, dings, vibrations, alarms. Ever been in public when a stranger’s phone sounds with your ringtone? We are like trained dogs, jumping to deal with the interruption. But this high alert may keep us from tuning in to the most important aspects of life.

So, maybe we need to begin the new year with a different kind of alertness.

Notice what you notice.
As you live life, what gets your attention?
Your phone (obviously), traffic, TV, problems, annoyances, weather, pets, kids, responsibilities...

Notice what you ignore.
Beauty, pain, heartache, your hidden talents, your flaws, love from your family, the gift of breath, symmetry, a car that starts, relationships, patterns in random events, similarities, sunshine, opportunity.

Take some time to slow down and see the life around you. Experience it. Engage with it.

As Yogi Berra says, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”



Sunday, January 2, 2022

Food for Luck

Yesterday I had a new (to me) dish, Hoppin' John. It contains ingredients intended to give you luck. The black-eyed peas symbolize pennies or coins; the greens add further to the wealth. Diners may leave three peas on the plate to ensure luck, fortune, and romance.

These food traditions have long histories, rich with cultural lore.

But for fun, here are some suggestions for new New Year's food traditions:

Ice cream to keep you cool.

Salsa to make you look hot.

String beans to make you slim.

Head of lettuce to make you smart.

Artichoke hearts to give you courage.

Popcorn for surprises.

Bacon for, well, no reason really needed for bacon.

Crock pot stew for patience.

And finally, eggs for breaking out of your shell.

Here's something else to ponder. If your diet really did chart your future, where would your diet lead you?



Saturday, January 1, 2022

We Survived

On New Year's Day, I like the feeling of the clean slate. I want to begin the year with hope. But more than ever, I have the sense of relief that the old year is gone.

We survivors share a sense of loss. So many of us have lost loved ones. Life will never be the same for those families.

But we have lost the feeling of a quick closure to the pandemic. The vaccine offered such hope. But the vaxxed can still get sick, still spread the disease. It's not the silver bullet after all.

And now the pandemic has brought us cancelled flights, rising prices, long waits at restaurants, longer family separations, school quarantines, rescheduled sports events, and cancelled concerts. After Broadway finally reopened, they quickly shut down again. We never know when to mask up. It changes day-to-day.

But we survived. And now it's 2022. 

Let's dare to hope again. We can adapt. We can recalibrate. We can find a way.

Let's do more than survive this year. Let's thrive. And the key to thriving is love.