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Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Conflict is in the Middle: Black and white thinking avoids the conflict of nuanced thinking.

With Covid-19 and George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests/riots, I've thought a lot more about our society--what's right with it, what's wrong with it and what could use fixing.  While this includes what we can do or be as society, it also includes what I can or be as an individual.   In other words, part of this examination is internal.  As I've gotten older and seen more of the world, I've come to realize more of nuance in my thinking.  For example,
  • I support the right to protest and be heard, but protest has to be orderly.  It has to take into account the needs of others to get to work to take care of their families.
    • Free speech/assembly isn't absolute and unlimited.  Rights come with responsibilities and abiding by the responsibilities can help to preserve that right.
  • Law enforcement needs reformed, but law enforcement needs to be strong.
    • We need to make sure law enforcement is done equally and justly and respect the rights of citizens.  But, erroring on the side of too hands off can embolden criminals
  • Freedom of assembly is important, but it needs to be done in a responsible way during a pandemic.
    • Meeting can be done virtually where possible, but people shouldn't lose their freedom to assemble but should mitigate against risks--limiting numbers, proper spacing and encouraging high risk people to avoid for example.
  • It is important to stand again all who say racially or otherwise charged things, but it is also important to make sure we aren't shutting down free speech by destroying people who WE believe are crossing a line.  
    • People can out of frustration say things WE find offensive, but if we clamp down too hard we  are setting a precedent.  One day, the future WILL be led by others whose take on what crosses the line is different (and possibly absurd or abusive).  
    • If we clamp down too hard on what WE deem is offensive speech, we risk freezing speech as people may not want to risk saying things that could be thought even remotely controversial. 
  • Your words and actions can, in many cases, rightly have serious consequences.  However, where possible, a path back or second chance should be allowed.  
    • This allows people to have the chance to be a positive on society rather than a drain.
    • It also exhibits a good side of humanity -- forgiveness.
    • An absolute unwillingness to do so, can exhibit anger and contempt.
  • You can condemn behaviors of yesteryear, but can also understand some of them were a product of their time.  That doesn't mean excuse them, but that means that realize that like a family, people can grow and learn.   
  • Bad moments in history can be recognized without being celebrated.
  • Most people are neither completely evil or a complete saint.  Even 'heroes' have flaws, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are not heroes.  Likewise, 'bad people' usually have some redeeming quality (or the potential for them).
  • Drinking is acceptable, but not always advisable.

I've come to realize that part of the human struggle is wanting to 'getting it right'.  We may do that to be thought of well by others, by ourselves (self-respect) or by our Higher Power (God).   Whatever, the motivation, part of 'getting it right' means treating others well, thinking and behaving righteously and just striving to be good people. 
I've come to realize that part of 'getting it right' is recognizing nuances and not being dogmatic.  The Pharisees of old were focused on being righteous by 'following all the rules'.   They may have succeeded in 'following most of the rules', but in their hard hearts they missed the whole point of the Father's teaching.  Jesus and his disciples did many good deeds and miracles on the Sabbath.  Pharisees pointed out that wasn't 'resting' on the Sabbath.   The Pharisees, with their dogmatic, black and white thinking, had no internal conflict.  They just knew that good deeds and miracles were 'work' and weren't appropriate for the Sabbath.  Jesus' disciples may have been raised to understand that and when Jesus led them to 'break' the Sabbath, it might have been out of their comfort zone.  However, it would seem they understood quickly that they were doing God's work and came to understand it was appropriate to do so on the Sabbath.

I feel a bit conflicted on how we can best move forward and how I can best grow to be a better person in today's society.  For me, that isn't necessarily a weakness or failing.  For me, it is like a baby chick trying to break out of its shell.  There is some internal struggle and conflict, but it is a healthy struggle.  I don't think anyone in this life has all the answers, but has shells of ignorance.  I'd like to think that each of us would should try to break shells of ignorance and uncertainty, where they exist, and trying to be a better person.  

We could avoid the internal conflict that goes along with striving to 'get it right' IF we felt like we always had the answers.  We could avoid the internal conflict that goes along with find the right nuance in thinking and actions if were judgmental and always thought in black and white.  I believe part of where we fail in society is ending up in 'camps' where we think and behave in black and white.  Yes, there has to be some absolutes, but I think it is important that we search and strive for the best answers, even if they may not fit our preconceived notions.

Searching for the best answer can result in nuanced thinking.  President Nixon has campaigned on being a hardline anti-Communist.   He could easily have kept the hard line and not made overtures to China.  He was probably counseled by some in his circle against it.  Even he may have had his doubts if his actions would yield positive results.  He was in an election year and the comfortable 'election' position would be the hardline against China.  But he chose to try to find some middle ground with them.  This came with conflict, both internal and external.  But, he had enough nuance in his thinking to realize that a) we could benefit with a better relationship with China and b) it could be a hedge against Russia.  In our relationship with our own kids, we have rules, but we don't inflexibly stick to every rule indefinitely.  We adjust where it makes sense, where we feel like we can get better results and proven responsibility on their part dictates reconsideration.

I believe part of maturing is understanding and being willing to go through conflict that comes with finding the 'right' (often nuanced) answer.   We could stick dogmatically to the same answers, same positions, and same rhetoric and be very comfortable and self-righteous with it.  However, I think it is critical in our own lives, the lives of our family and of our society that we be willing to consider nuances.  After all, if Jesus has the nuance to realize that he should dine with the tax collectors and 'sinners' as that was the way to reach them.

Speaking of Jesus, that brings me to one final and probably the most insignificant point.  Jesus was able to reach out to and relate to sinners* and not scorn them like the Pharisees, because He wasn't caught up in His own pride.  The Pharisees however were.  To change their dogmatic position to a more teaching, understanding forgiving position would have required them to essentially admit they had failed in how they executed their role.  In essence, they'd have to own up to their own failure and/or lack of understanding of their role in helping others get to know and follow God.   

I think part of the block of being willing to adjust our thinking to a more nuanced position is PRIDE.  When we take time to reflect on our positions and thinking we open ourselves to the possibility that we've been wrong.  Unfortunately, it isn't necessarily just mildly wrong. It can mean completely wrong.   Who want's to acknowledge to themselves and/or others that they could be greatly mistaken or totally missed something?  Admitting to yourself (and possibly others) that you are or were wrong is effectively humbling yourself.  We revere the apostle Peter, but he wasn't always the Peter we have come to appreciate.  He used to be a Saul and he used to actively undermine God's work.  The Lord literally had to call him out Acts 22.  He was so self-assured of his righteousness, only a complete humbling of him would cause him to change his position to be a more nuanced thinking loving man.   Overcoming pride to see a more nuanced position, can be a very conflicting (and humbling) experience.

Yes, there are definite right and wrong in this world, but I feel like there is plenty of nuance and sometimes getting to the right nuance can be stressful.  It can be easier to just stay in the black and white thinking, but it is important to be willing to adjust that to more nuanced thinking where led.

Just some deep thoughts for the day,

* I used the term sinners to represent those who were known to break God's laws and the 'religious rules' of the day and had the capacity to recognize their failings.  In actuality, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God...".

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Trusting His Plan: Thoughts on God and Why Bad Things Happen.

It's nearly Christmastime again maybe appropriately, I watched a movie which made me consider my faith a little bit differently.  It did not really change the core of my faith at all.  However, it gave me/reminded me an answer to the question that I've thought and I've heard many express:

How could a loving God allow bad things to happen?

I believe this can be a tough question for even the most devout people of faith.  Never-mind, those who are highly skeptical of Christianity, Catholicism and the like. God rest his soul, my Dad always would say, if there was really a God...and spout out a grievances in his life.  I would like to think he came to terms with God as his life was winding down, but that's beyond my control at this point. In a way, this is an example of  having to "Trust His Plan".   Anyway, I've heard other people along the way say show similar skepticism.  Either they questions whether God exists--how could there be a God..., questioned His nature or just outright question if He really takes a personal interest in His creation.  I am a man of faith, but even I've had my moments with this very question.

The movie I watched was called The Imitation Game.  To those unfamiliar with the plot, it was based on a true story of Alan Turing and his team's successful efforts to decipher Nazi messages encoded and sent by machines known as Enigma machines.  That is to say, break the code and be able to follow messages revealing information such as German troop and ship locations and movements.  Taking Turing's lead, they eventually were able to build a machine which could quickly decipher Enigma messages.  Given that the settings of the Enigma machines were changed daily, being able to decipher quickly was of paramount important.

Eventually, they were able to 'break the code' as it were.  That is, they were able to decipher the Enigma messages quickly before Enigma setting were changed daily.  In a scene that no doubt took liberties on historical facts, as soon as Turing's machine broke the code for the first time, it revealed the location of the German U-boats.  They were heading for a convey of ships meant to delivery supplies to the British.  One of Turing's team members had a brother in that convoy and he would likely be killed if the Germans U-boats were allowed to proceed unimpeded.  However, as Turing indicated, if the allies suddenly changed course and destroyed the German boats, it would be obvious to the Germans that their Enigma machine was compromised.  They'd then make adjustments which would effectively render the allies efforts ineffective.  Therefore, it was clear then that they could not and should not act on all the messages they'd deciphered.  They statistically determined  how much of the intelligence gleaned from Enigma that they could act upon without giving it away that they broke the code.  Also, they needed to make sure they'd be able to 'leak' a plausible cover story for how they got that intelligence that they acted on.

Given that they couldn't act upon all the information they had, it meant that some people that they could have saved would be allowed to die.  If the public had found out about they were not acting on all the intelligence they had, but didn't know the underlying reason, to them it would have seemed cruel and cold-hearted.  They would ask, how could a responsible government let citizens and allies perish if they had good intelligence on upcoming German attacks.  Effectively, the limited number of people who knew the 'The Plan', would appreciate why they didn't act on all the intelligence they had.  I suspect that even for some of those people, they probably cringed at how cruel it seemed.


My 'weak' understanding of "why bad things happen to good people' such as health issues and tragedies that befall them and sometimes their nations aren't necessarily a result of what they'd all had done or done recently.  Instead, some of it may have been a generational sin.  For example, in our own nation, we've come a long way towards recognizing the equality of people. Discrimination such as with Jim Crowe laws is not legally condoned anymore.  Yet we still have problems in this nation to this day.  My thought was that while I did not participate in the sin of slavery or Jim Crowe, problems and residual distrust that result from the sins of many generations, unfortunately do not just disappear overnight.  In other words, while I might have not participated in the sin, I can't escape the results of it. While I think this answer is sound, I don't necessarily think it can adequately cover 'why bad things happen to good people'.

I remembered in Biblical days, it was common to blame illnesses and problems on the sins of the family.  In John 9:2, Jesus' disciples took their understanding to Him:

John 9:2
His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Jesus knew that that was their understanding was flawed and said in John 9:3.  He knew that he man was 'allowed' to be born blind for a purpose:

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

The Imitation Game and Biblical stories like above really helped me to put it together I think.  In the case above, God's plan was that through the man's blindness, Jesus' healing power could be revealed.  I am not aware of this man's family and their faith, but I can imagine they might have to lean on 'Trusting His Plan" for why their son was born blind.   Similarly, in the movie, the populace had to 'Trust the Plan" for how their nation(s) fought WWII.  In other words, have a strong level of faith that leadership knew what they were doing, even when it might not always appear so.  Leadership could not always reveal the insight they had and why they made the choices they did.  Similarly, as in the movie and the Biblical story, God is aware that He should not reveal everything. It doesn't mean that God is cruel, that He doesn't care, or that He is okay when bad things happen.  On the contrary, by sending His Son to die for our sins, He showed how profoundly He cares for us.  What it may mean though is that there is a reason that we are not aware of why He allows bad things to happen.  In the The Imitation Game, the public was necessarily not aware of horrible choices that had to made to help shortened the war.  As indicated earlier, there was a reason for that.   Perhaps, in our own lives when tragedy befalls us or those close to us, God is aware of the big picture and realizes that for whatever reasons--our inability to comprehend, our unwillingness to accept, the need to defeating evil forces. etc--He cannot reveal His Plan for the big picture.

I guess ultimately for a person of faith the answer has to be to accept that:

  • God loves us and proved it with Jesus on the cross.
  • God hurts with us too.
  • Things may seem cruel or unfair, but as the movie and the Bible story illustrated, there really is a reason or "Plan" behind why things happen, even bad things.  It just is not always for us to know His will in our time.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Strays: Thoughts on those who don't conform or fit in.

I am leading this blog post with part of my story, not for attention, to gain sympathy or empathy or anything like that, but instead to establish my credentials for personally understanding the subject of what I call 'strays'.

So, those of you who know me pretty well know that I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family.   I'm not going to get great detail about how or why I say it was dysfunctional as that is not the point of this post.  I will say however that there was anger and alcoholism present.  Let's just say the dysfunction hampered mine and my siblings 'socialization'--whatever that means.  We went to school looking like the poor family in a middle class school.  A telling time for me was when this kid ripped my shirt after picking on me and was told to bring a replacement shirt for me.  The next day he brought a couple of beat-up old looking shirts and when I complained about their condition, he noted he was just replacing what he tore.   Suffice to say, I was humiliated.  Our home life had that poor look too.  Additionally, we were taught that it was more important not to bring trouble or grief home than to stand up for ourselves.  In other words, not to bring unwanted attention from school or wherever.  I know for myself that led to me avoiding fights (or at least defending myself) most of the time during elementary school.  I was more afraid of getting in trouble for getting into a fight than defending myself.  Furthermore, I never got to know any of my relatives like aunts, uncles, cousins or Grandparents and due to our dysfunction at home, my opportunities for socializing were tremendously limited.  Given all of the above as well as sexual abuse, I never had a chance to socialize properly into or to be the 'popular' or 'cool' kid.  Instead, I was going to be the awkward, low-esteem kid, who didn't know how to relate, who was intense at times, who painfully craved approval and was focused on survival.

I was more likely to be picked on than to be appreciated. Honestly, at times I would have been grateful to be invisible.    In any case, due to all these circumstances, I developed a strong tendency to view myself as an outsider and to be very introspective.  As I have reached my mid to late 40s, I realize that far from being unique, that there are many who for various reasons did not fit the mold of the in-crowd or those who could at least blend in enough to fake it.   When we use the word 'stray', we think of an animal who could be a beloved pet, but instead of having a home is forced to survive out in the 'wilderness' for a while, if not forever.  As I see it relates to people by denoting someone who may have a place to live, but doesn't quite have a home, at least in terms of an accepted group.  But, like a stray animal, often times such a person below their unpolished and maybe awkward exterior, has hidden value and the potential to thrive in the right setting.

Back to my story.  I felt I would never 'fit in' and maybe didn't deserve to.  Perhaps, I never truly never will totally 'fit in'.  I used to view that as a curse, but, as time has gone by, as I've gotten older and had more time to consider things.  In some ways, this is a blessing.  Instead of being a 'cog' whose credentials entitled me to roam among a group of 'surface' friends, I know those who count me as friends do not require me to offer my credentials as the price of admission.   In short, I know that I can be who I am and will be accepted (and even loved) for that.  To me, this is better than trying to be a "Jones".  Had I 'fit in' from early on, I may have never had the richness of meeting and getting to know others who didn't grow up 'credentialed' either.  In other words, 'strays' who are beautiful, individual, non-pretentious souls who value people and relationships over being a 'Jones'.

Suffice to say, I've had the opportunity to get to know people of many stripes.  Many of them, for various reasons don't fit any particular 'mold'.   In other words, they are good people, but don't necessarily fit in the nice cozy, comfortable, 'corporate' and (sometimes) counterfeit cliches.  They won't necessarily have a huge circle of friends, but the ones they have are legitimate.   As I mentioned, I refer to them lovingly as 'strays'.  I'm a proud stray.  Sure, like everyone else I want to fit in.  I don't want to feel like an outcast in a cold unfeeling world, but I don't want my relationships to be defined by me being accepted because I am 'socialized' in the 'approved' way.   So, whom and what do I view as 'strays'.   Not all points will apply to those people I see as strays.  But, I digress.

  • A stray is someone who doesn't fit into the usual social structure.
    • They may not be widely accepted in church.
    • They may not be widely accepted in school.
    • They may not be widely accepted in corporate.
    • The don't necessarily comfortably fit into any cliches or group.  
  •  A stray is someone who for some reason (often beyond their control) cannot easily fit in well.
    • Their family of origin had limited means in an environment which was littered by family with means.
    • They have or had physical or other limitations in an environment where others don't.
    • They have a dysfunctional family in an environment in which all others seem to have a 'normal' family.
    • They do not have the 'approved' or 'normal' interests for those whom they are surrounded by.
  • A stray is someone who doesn't necessarily follow 'the way' of groups they are around.
    • They value their independence over being accepted.
    • They can and do engage others and will try new things, but will not (and often times are incapable of) being something or someone they aren't.
    • Their interests do not necessarily fit into any specific group.
    • They can't necessarily strongly relate to groups that they are considered part of or that happen to share a circle with.  Though, they can appreciate them.  Examples below:
      • They are around hunters, but do not hunt.
      • They are around bikers, but do not bike.
      • They are around cooks or bakers, but do not cook.
      • They are around devote people of their faith who like 'Christian' or 'gospel' music, but they aren't in love with such music. 
      • They are around those who are public speakers, but struggle to speak in front of large groups.
      • They are technical types, but they don't feel like identifying as a 'techie'.
      • They are around those who drink socially, but they don't feel a strong desire to.
  • A stray values truth or authenticity vs. just trying to fit in.
    • It doesn't mean they don't any effort to relate, it just means they aren't willing to sacrifice who they are in the process.  They'd rather have truthful, authentic and deeper relationships than 'friendships' of convenience.
    • Even if they don't necessarily realize it, they do have their own unique identity.  It is a matter of realizing or finding it.
    • Trying to be someone who they aren't to fit in doesn't feel comfortable to them. 
    • At one point, they may have tried to fit into a group or groups, but either were not welcomed or didn't feel the same of being in place.
    • They tend to relate best to others with a similar sense of 'being out of the mainstream'.
History is littered with examples of people that were viewed as different, odd or who just didn't fit in but later grew to be accomplished.   Andrew Jackson started out as a humbly in the Waxhaws region of NC.  He was an outsider to the political class, but became a hero in the War of 1812 and later became the Seventh President of the United States.  But, perhaps the most famous 'stray' in history was Jesus.  He was born of humble virgin birth with His earthly father being a carpenter.  He could have 'fit in', but he challenged the orthodox views of the day.  Jesus, by choice and obeying the Father, chose not to identify with prestigious and powerful, but instead chose to relate to the modest.  With His authority He could have been a rich and powerful ruler, but instead He choose to be a stray.  He walked a path in obedience of His Father, sacrificing His life for ours.   He could have had it all, but instead He focused on what was important, being there for us, shunning the comfortable life and a set home.  He truly was the ultimate 'stray'.  Know who He was and how He viewed 'strays' aka 'the meek', make me realize that if He can see value in those who are forgotten or overlooked, then perhaps I'm not too important to do the same.

Just some thoughts.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Paradise and paved parking lots that replace them.

When the surreal becomes real, when the warm traditions of the past are declared old news, when the memories of our childhood are wiped out or built over in favor of maximizing legal tender, it feels like we've 'paved paradise & put up a parking lot'.  In other words, we've pushed away the good in pursuit of the 'better', when often the better is not necessarily so.   But, as we know change is often inevitable and doesn't necessarily have to be or be thought of as bad.  As Carly Simon sings in Coming Around Again, "I know nothin' stays the same, But if you're willin' to play the game, It's comin' around again".  That is to say sometimes the old has to pass for the new 'good' to have space to take its place.  Which in a way is an appropriate thought considering the day I'm writing this (Good Friday 2017).  Good Friday represents the Father--by way of Jesus--giving us an opportunity to shed our old sinful nature and take on a new more Godly (Christlike) nature.

But I digress.  We as a society (and world) are constantly changing, we are constantly adjusting.  Some it is good, some of it is bad.  But I believe we have this annoying habit of over correcting.  That is to say, making up for mistakes (or problems) by going to far in the opposite direction.   

  • We go from an unkept, undeveloped area to an overdeveloped, overpopulated area.
  • We go from isolationist to foreign entanglement, back to isolation, then foreign entanglement.  
  • We go from being emotionally detached as parents ("Father Knows Best") to trying to be friends with our kids ("Gilmore Girls").  
  • We go from treating those with behavior/mental issues being portrayed as "oddballs" or "crazy" to diagnosing every every other person (or kid) with a 'issue' of some sort.  
  • We go from treating obvious bullying as "boys/kids" being "boys/kids" to treating any level of conflict as a 'horrendous'.  

In short, we have this habit of overlooking or zooming past a happy medium on the way to 'correcting'.  It's like we start to skid one way and jerk the wheel the other way thinking that we will get straightened out, when instead we are more likely to crash in the opposite direction of the original skid.

So, this leads me to a what I see as a derivative of the Serenity Prayer.  I'll call it the "Prayer of Wisdom for Society".

God grant us the wisdom
to push for change that is needed, but not too far;
to recognize when change isn't needed or desirable
and the ability to accept that we don't always have control over it.

Realizing the old should not be rejected simply because it is old,
nor should the new be embraced simply because it is new.
But evaluating everything on its merits 
and looking to our You, our Higher Power, for guidance.

Breaking it down

  • To push for change that is needed, but not too far
    • Speech is an example.
      • We recognize speech that openly and purposefully encourages others to violence and/or explicitly threatens others, especially 'innocents'. We push for condemnation of it, denial of a forum for it and in the most extreme cases take legal action against it.
      • However, speech that speaks out against another's beliefs, another's lifestyle or similar or could simply just offend someone is protected speech.   Certainly we have a right to free speech and can condemn what we see as unfair or rude.  However, when we start denying others a right to speak (especially under threat of legal action) because we don't like what they are saying, we are edging towards fascism. 
    • Development of a beautiful vacation areas is an example.
      • Say we have a nice coastal area that is underdeveloped.  That is to say it is say it could use some revenue/development to make it a viable vacation spot.
      • If we go too far in development of it we risk destroying its ecosystem and/or the essence of it in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
  • To recognize when change isn't needed or desirable.
    • A widely recognized instance of this truth being ignored occurred when The Coca-Cola Company in April 1985 decided to change discontinue the recipe of their signature product (Coca-Cola) in favor of a new recipe for it.  A public backlash pushed them to go back to return to the old formula by July of the same year.
      • The original recipe was still widely popular and the public had great nostalgia for the name (and recipe).
      • As Pepsi Max has shown, you can successfully make a formula variant of the original brand and still retain the old brand, rather than just replacing the original brand formula altogether.
  • And the ability to accept that we don't always have control over it.
    • Sometimes circumstances force change on us.  For example, as the population of a city (or an area) grows, so grows the need for new housing and roads, making it harder to hold onto green space around town.  We may be sentimental about the quaint smaller town we grew up in, but as the population grows we often have to face the reality that in time we will have to deal with less open space, more traffic and more pollution.  All the sentimentality in the world will not change the reality of the needs on the ground.

  • Realizing the old should not be rejected simply because it is old,nor should the new be embraced simply because it is new.  But evaluating everything on its merits  and looking to our You, our Higher Power, for guidance.
    • Sometimes we get caught up in new--diet, style, car, music, idea--because it appeals to our sense of different, creative, fun, entitlement.
    • What we fail to realize that is sometimes the old is either better or it functions quite well relative to our needs.
      • For example, we may want more updated computers in our department, but the cost benefit of getting them vs. using the old ones for another year or two might not add up, especially when the old ones suit our needs quite admirably.
      • For example, society may push a new diet fad that is unproven (and possibly unhealthy) because the old diet seems stale.  Given time and results, we might find the old diet is actually much healthier or safer.
      • History is littered with 'revolutionaries' who pushed an idealistic message or system.  Yet when their message or system is put into practice, the people suffer--think Communism or Nazism.
      • If we are guided by our better self and our Higher Power, we usually realize whether we should stay with the old or go to the new.


I'm going to close this post with a personal aside.  When I was growing up 7-Eleven was the 'it' spot.  They had slurpees, they had video games, gum, candy, and little knick-knacks that a kid might want.  In short, it was a happy place we usually walked up to.  I don't think kids walk up to the store so much anymore, QT has largely eclipsed 7-Eleven and arcade games are not founds so much in stores anymore.  However, my daughter loves the heck out of QT.  They have a kitchen with the foods a kid could enjoy, they have a candy and knick-knack area and they have a beverage area that is second to none.  She'll never have the joy of running up to 7-Eleven to play games and getting treats.  But, she will always remember the 'new' hangout in our area.   Population needs changed the dynamics of the area, but the change wasn't totally for the bad.  A happy place from your childhood is still a happy place.

Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got til its gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Tell me all your thoughts on God: One person's understanding of his Higher Power

With the Christmas holiday approaching, I got an idea for a blog which I think is appropriate: God and his relationship to his creation.

I was talking to my fiancee about my understand of God and how I felt there was no way that I could, in this lifetime, really hope to appreciate the awesome, dynamic and profoundness of God.  Obviously, I can get a biblical understanding of Him, can feel His presence in my life and see Him in nature, but I know I am limited that way, just based on my finite nature.

I don't claim to have all the answers, nor do I claim that I even have a fraction of the answers.  However, I feel that God has given me some insight or at least a way of understanding of Him as I see the world around me.

  • How can one God be a Trinity?
    • I've heard it explained this way: ice, water and steam are made of up the same essence-- H2O.   Yet, they are each have distinctly different forms and purposes.  But, all together, each come from the same pool of elements
  • Why was Jesus take the form of a baby.
    • We needed someone who would understand or experience the human condition from childhood to adulthood.  Someone who would be subject to that which we are subject from an early age, through adulthood.  In short, we needed someone who would experience the trials and tribulations we would from childhood to and through adulthood, yet be able to successfully navigate them.  In other words, He needed to be shown that he could be blameless, experiencing the human experience.  In short, we needed a perfect man to atone for us.
  • Why did Jesus have to shed his blood on the cross and die for us?
    • This one always eluded me.  For me it was always a big mystery.  From the best of my understanding.  Let's start with sin: 
      • Sin is a crime against the perfect nature of God, just like infidelity is a crime against a marriage or theft is crime against another party and/or the state.   Our soul can survive our sinful nature and be in harmony with God, but there is a heavy price that has to be paid. A marriage can survive infidelity, but there is a heavy price to pay for it usually it.  Society can survive theft, but there has to be punishment to atone for it and deter additional theft.
      • Just like a marriage cannot effectively survive unrepentant infidelity and a society cannot effectively survive unpunished theft, our relationship with God cannot survive sin that has not be atoned for.
    • Okay, I've talked about why the need for some form of atonement but someone else paying?
      • A devastated spouse can forgive, but he or she has be able to absorb a lot of hurt. If he or she isn't willing to absorb the hurt, the marriage cannot survive.  
      • A theft requires paying back what has been stolen and a recognition of how wrong it is.  Someone has to bear the cost of the theft in terms of $$ and punishment or risk society being damaged further.  The someone might be the father of the thief who doesn't want his son to be have a tarred record following him around.
      • Similarly, sin is such a profound assault on our relationship with God, that we cannot pay it back ourselves.  Jesus has to intervene.
    • Why Jesus and why dying on the cross?
      • Why dying on the cross?
        • Sin is so destructive that it takes a huge sacrifice to atone for it.
        • It is a sacrifice we don't have the capacity to make.
        • The atonement could not be a simple I'm sorry and I won't do it again.  It had to be profound like dying for us.  Sin is a poison, the poison had to be absorbed by someone.  We all know what happens when you absorb too much poison.  The only way to get rid of poison is to clear it out.  In Jesus' case that was bleeding it out.
      • Why Jesus?
        • He is an infinite being.  He could atone for all sins past, present and future for everyone.  A simple man could not atone or take the fall for all of mankind's sins.  Imagine a simple man trying to do the same for everyone.  Jesus by being both God and infinite Deity could cover both the huge number of sin we individually commit.  Imagine the number of sins being multiplied by the billions of people that have lived or will live.  His infinite nature would always cover all sins that could/would ever be committed.
        •  He was a man.  Sins are committed against the Father by mankind and therefore a representative of mankind would have to be the one to atone.
        • He is all powerful.  His soul could take the poison and punishment required to atone for all mankind's sins. 
      • Why doesn't forgiveness come automatically.  In other words, why do we have to accept his gift of salvation?
        • Imagine you are before a judge in a court of law after you commit a crime. As part of a plea bargain someone agreed to take the punishment for you.  Your part in the plea bargain would be to acknowledge your guilt and to actually accept the plea bargain.
  • How can we conceptualize God?
    • His Word is the best starting point, obviously, it gives the different aspects of His nature, including that of the Trinity.
    • I believe we have his Word and we have glimpses of Him all of nature.  However, I believe none of this will prepare us for Him.  I believe we will be blown away with His awesome nature.  The closest thing I could think of is this.
      • A dot sees itself as a complete being.  It sees a circle as related to him, but it sees a circle as a more profound.  A dot would be blown away by a sphere and above.  It has some clues about a sphere, but clearly cannot understand the sphere's magnitude.
      • A circle sees a dot as a simple being and sees a sphere as a more awesome being.  It sees itself in being in the presence of sphere (and above), but not near as profound as it. 
      • A sphere (and above) sees a dot as a very simple being, but is protective of it.  It sees a circle is something that has its nature, but is still not as awesome as it.
        • Out of a sphere come a dot and circle.  So, clearly the sphere recognizes the dot and circle for what they are.  I
      • The dot is man, the circle is angelic/spirits, the sphere and above is clearly God in this picture.
  • Why is God portrayed as the Father?
    • We tend to understand the family the family unit.  The Father is usually considered both firm in nature, but has a gentle loving side as well.
    • I've heard it is important for a father to be a good leader because he represents the father who is seen.  If we do not trust or have father in our seen father, it makes it all the harder to have faith and trust in our unseen father.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Life's Illusions: Only just a dream.

A number of years ago, an idea popped into my head.   What happens if the life we think we are leading is all part of someone's complex dream?  In other word's, to myself, I feel I am real and self-aware, but what happens if my reality is really just part of someone's dream?  The Matrix sort of dealt with this idea.

I'm sure I wasn't the first one to ponder this thought and I am sure I won't be the last.   But, I digress.

Years later, after a series of setbacks that started with my mom nearly dying, my life as I knew it unraveled: job loss, marriage breakup, death of my closest brother, house on the way to being lost, loss of full-time parenthood, etc.   By this time, my now ex had moved out and cleaned out much/most of the items of value in the house.  A dear friend of mine walked through the house for the first time with me and noted that the house lost it's soul.  I guess in a way, the house was still standing, but the 'home' had died.  As I walked out back and noticed the patio, grill and backyard and started to walk out into the driveway, a strange feeling came over me.  I had the sense that my marriage had been an illusion.  The life I had known it was an illusion.  It wasn't the most healthy marriage from the beginning in hindsight, but sometimes you don't know these things until much later.

No one is perfect, save one.  In that vein, you bring your strengths and weaknesses or flaws and good points into a relationship.  In hindsight, our flaws clashed heavily.  We went in with a fairy tale of how we'd 'survived' dysfunctional in the past and were past that.  What we didn't realize is how mistaken that was.


This last year was pretty dramatic in the space of about a year. I had a friend, my mom and my dad die--two being unexpected.  In a certain way, this has seemed surreal to me.  It's like a few years ago I had my full nuclear family, now it is almost cut in half.   I'm still getting used to that.


I remember an episode of Married with Children called "Teacher's Pet".  In the episode, poor Bud finally seems to have luck with dating.  He has a date with his substitute teacher and a classmate.  In typical Bundy fashion, this situation crashes.   First he confides in his dad about the dilemma, letting his father know the teacher is 40.   Next day at school he finds out that the substitute teacher ran off with a football player.  The classmate then dumps him as he is thought to be no longer desirable after being dumped by the teacher.   As if it isn't bad enough at that point, his dad alerted the authorities to the inappropriate relationship.  However, the teacher had been replaced by an old woman.   His dad, mistaking the new teacher for the original one, tells her to stay away from his son and rips her telling her the only 40 associated with her was 1840--that being the year she would have been born.   The old woman is then hauled off by the police.  Bud, being humiliated, decides in his mind that this is all a bad dream. He figures that if he drops his pants in front of class it will shock him into waking up.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way and bud finds out it isn't a dream much to his further humiliation.

Bud: I know! I'll prove it's a dream. I'll take down my pants and it'll be so embarrassing, I'll wake up.
[Bud lowers his pants to the shock of entire class]
Bud: I'm even dreaming that I ran out of underwear.

Teacher's pet

The Married with Children episode was funny, but it did underscore a larger point.  When faced with a painful reality, we can either face it head on, pretend it isn't so and/or compound it.  Bud, seemed to pretend it wasn't so and compounded it at the same time, not a small feat.


Life sometimes hums along merrily for a long time and then boom, it changes.  One day we have the car, job, our health and that of loved one and then in what seems like a short time, a major shift occurs.  It seems surreal.   Immediacy and permanence of the change can make us question was what was before real?  I think the answer is yes and no.   Yes it was, but our perception of it being permanent or unchangeable was an illusion.

Sometimes, we just have to take a deep breath and understand that nothing in this life is forever.  We enjoy the good things when we can, endure the bad thing as they come, mourn the losses when necessary and we hold onto that which never fails.

Psalm 73:25-26New International Version (NIV)

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

In the meantime, we I realized a long time ago that for most this life is full of struggles and if we don't have a Higher Power, a greater calling, a Hope, then it can all seem hard to swallow.  This is why sometimes people seek the unhealthy 'highs'.

I guess if I would give advice to my daughter it would be this:
  • Live your life with the Hope in Jesus.
  • Live a purpose driven life.
  • Enjoy the good times, realizing they that they don't always last.
  • Be brave and face what life throws you knowing you don't have to face it alone. 
  • Be true to yourself. 


Friday, March 27, 2015

Forgiveness: The steps we go through for our own benefit.

As my dad's life draws to a close, I have felt the need to come to terms with what at times has not been the most comfortable or easiest relationship. In some ways, the most difficult relationship of my life. Part of what helps me come to terms with people and circumstances is writing about them.  In other words, allowing my thoughts and feelings see the light of day.  So, over time I have come to some conclusions about forgiveness.  (originally written 3/27/15 - he has since passed away)

About forgiveness:
I've heard it said that forgiveness is not something we do for others, but rather ourselves.   In a way, I see this as true.  This is especially true when the person whom is the object of our forgiveness either doesn't realize that he or she needs to be forgiven or doesn't care about being forgiven.  

We can confront the one who has wronged us and if he/she is ready they might even own up to their offense.  However, there is always a distinct possibility of them them not being recognizing or caring about the wrong they've done to us.  So,what then are we left with at that point: perhaps more resentment.

So, what do we do?  It's believe it's healthiest to forgive them.  I don't mean forgive and accept continued abuse. I mean to forgive them for what they have done and if necessary forgive them for their hurtful tendencies.

I believe the process to forgiveness can be a 4-step process: avoidance, acceptance, understanding and forgiveness  I will elaborate on that:
  • Avoidance 
    • We might have to pull away from the person who wronged us to prevent further hurt.  
    • Alternatively, we might have to pull away to avoid trying the temptation to 'settle the score'.
  • Acceptance
    • We still get irritated with or by the other person, but we accept that it is time to start trying to forgive our offender. 
    • They may not have stopped wronging or trying to wrong us, but we accept at this point that we cannot control them. They may be incapable or unwilling to change, but with avoidance, we've minimized their ability to hurt us.
    • This step is characterized by showing outward signs of forgiveness--going through the motions of forgiveness--but not necessarily internally being forgiving.
    • This is an important step as it shows we are moving beyond being the victim and worked towards forgiving them.
  • Understanding 
    • For our peace of mind we are trying to find reasons for why our offender is the way he or she is.  Is it personal or are we just the one in the line of fire?
    • This isn't meant to accept or condone their behavior but to understand it better.  That is to say we don't agree with, but understand how our offender could get to the place they are in their thinking or behavior.
    • In some cases, we may start to empathize with our offender, depending on what brought them to hurting us.
      • Perhaps, he or she had a tough childhood--abuse/neglect/tragedy.
      • His or her behavior, while not at all acceptable, may be a coping mechanism.  For example, if he/she did not have any control over rough circumstances during childhood, he/she might exhibit harmful controlling behavior in adulthood as a misplaced defense mechanism.
    • In other cases, we may just have to understand that perhaps our offender is wired differently.  Not everyone is wired the same.  We may on some level start to appreciate our offender is just wired differently and doesn't have the capacity to understand how they hurt us nor the capacity to avoid hurting us.  In the worst case, we might be left with understanding that they are (or have become wired to be selfish).  That's not very comforting, but understanding that some people are just that way can at least allow us to move to the forgiveness level.
  • Forgiveness
    • In this stage, we have pretty well let our anger and resentment go.  That's not to say we don't have 'flare-ups' of anger and resentment, but instead that it doesn't rule us.
    • This stage may be characterized by sadness.  Sadness that the relationship in question 'has to be' like it is.
    • We may forgive, but that doesn't mean we forget or put ourselves at risk in the situation again.
      • It may mean having the person involved--sometimes heavily--in our life.
      • It may mean forgiving from afar and for our own sake keeping a safe distance.
    • Sometimes forgiveness is expressed directly to the person.  In other cases, it may be implied or unspoken as we no longer showing resentment or anger in their direction.

I will close this by reminding my readers that forgiveness is an age old practice Jesus himself set the bar on this when he said:

...Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.   (Luke 23:24)

 I feel like if He, having committed no sin could do it, then perhaps the rest of us might do well to work on it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How we come to our faith

I made an earlier post about accepting people where they are.  I believe a corollary to that one is how we come to our faith. It is Sunday morning and my church called off services this morning.  So, I think I will take the opportunity to give attention to my faith and show praise by blogging about faith.   (originally blogged on 3/1/15)

People have different paths to and different speeds at which they come to their faith.  I will share a little about my path and then express how I see the faith of others developing and growing.

My path:

  • Early years-when I was born my mom and dad were going to a Catholic church (St. Sabina).  I don't ever remember going to church there, but I was of course just baby.  At some point they stopped going, but it apparently wasn't until I was at least 2.  I had Guillian-Barre Syndrome at that age and my parents did not know if I was going to make it or not.  I obviously did make it, :), but in the process of preparing for the possibility that I didn't, they had me baptized Catholic.
  • Fast forward a few years later maybe.  My dad didn't go to church and my mom didn't know how to drive.  She went to a church around the corner from our house.  It was a hellfire and damnation church, where you'd go to h*ll for breathing the wrong way.  Literally, I was taught the FEAR OF GOD.  I remember hearing from the minister's family that Escape to Witch Mountain was devil driven.  I call that "uptight religious".  I don't remember enough about the movie so I won't comment too much except to say that perhaps it wasn't 100% consistent with Christian beliefs??  However, I really have a hard time believing a Disney Kid's family fantasy movie is trying to undermine the basis of the Christian faith.  But, I digress.  So, I had my Christian faith "shocked into me" at around 6.  I would figure later that that's what I needed.
  • This below is why I needed that "shock," I didn't have the most healthy environment growing up and I won't go into that as I have previously, but let's just say among other things, from the age of about 8-12 (to my best estimate) I was sexually molested by a man whom my older siblings met at church camp.  He was a "church camp counselor" and became a friend of the family.  So, along with the other dysfunction that had a destructive effect in my life.  I'm setting this up for my later in my story. 
  • At some point my mom stopped going to the church and started going to First Christian Church of Florissant.  I don't remember the transition.  Anyway, my brother Bill and I in the meantime  grew up to become runners in high school.  Both the boy's and girl's cross country coaches were Believers and they ran a chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  The coaches let us know about it and an older teammate invited us to come.  So, eventually we did.  They genuinely cared about the spiritual well-being of their athletes and were there as mentors.  Sometimes, just being yourself you can affect the lives of others for generations to come without really appreciating it, but I digress. Anyway, ultimately this lead to my brother Bill and I going to church with my mom, accepting Jesus and being baptized in our Sophomore and Freshman year of high school, respectively.
  • As you might imagine, life didn't suddenly become easy and problem free at this point.  As a new Christian, I was disappointed that other Christian teens weren't always so accepting and warm towards me. But, at the time, I saw them as non-caring.  Even at times, I saw some people act a certain way on Sunday, but on Monday-Saturday, a different way.  Around that time my dad filed for divorce from my mom.
    • People, especially young, go through their own battles, teen angst, and their own pace of growth and maturity in their faith.  At the time, that wasn't so clear.  I was looking for acceptance among whom I thought were my Christian peers and was 'let down'.  However, there were a couple people that were there, but in my teen mind, it wasn't near the degree of acceptance or fitting in that I needed, especially given turbulence on the homefront.
    • I tend to be very intellectual.  But, at the same time, I have an emotional/passionate side.  So, the disconnect, between behavior and deeds got to me.  I don't know how, but I think God blessed me with a certain understanding.  1 + 1 = 2.  It doesn't matter if everyone around me acts like, 1 + 1 = 3 in their daily lives, the fact is that 1 + 1 will still equal to 2.  In other words, God is God and the truth is the truth REGARDLESS of if others don't live up to their professed faith of it.  What I have come to realize is that if you live a life very inconsistent with your professed faith, it doesn't discredit your faith, but it will make you compromised spokesperson for it.
    • No one can live a perfect life, which I felt awful when I failed, almost hopeless about my faith.  What I came to realize is that forgiveness doesn't end when you take up your faith, it is an ongoing process of trying to be a more Godly person while asking forgiveness when you fail.
  • I transferred to UMR (Missouri School of Science and Technology) and stopped going to church and fell away.  It is easy when you are around those who you know from church and those who might keep you accountable, meaning they'll point out when you are not at church.  But, what happens when you leave that environment?  My faith wasn't strong enough at that point to stay active in the or a Christian church.  
  • Fast forward, I was not happy in my job/life.  Not exactly at a high point.  A Christian coworker, shared his faith with me, I was polite but in my mind, I was like, "leave me alone".   Not that day or not that week, but eventually his words did get my attention.  I was about 26/27 and started going back to church and more actively practicing my faith.  It was it this time, I gave my second major push for understanding why I believed what I believe.  I did extensive bible reading and got a number of books on the foundation, basis, evidence, and rationale for why to believe Christianity.  This was an important push as my point below as will be evident later.
  • Shortly, after going back to church, I had started dating seriously with the intent of eventually finding a mate.  After many disappointments, which I may recount elsewhere one day, I stopped going to my church and went to a girlfriend's church.  Eventually, when we broke up and I felt homeless with regard to a church and I drifted again.  I met my now ex and she not only didn't share my faith, but she didn't seem like she was not open to it as for reasons, I never fully found out.  I'm not one to judge a person's faith walk.  I feel that is up to God, not me, but as it affected me, we were not even in the same zip code in terms of faith and it appeared that there was no path towards sharing a faith.   
  • We moved in together, then got married a couple years later.   This, in hindsight was a HUGE mistake.  I should have waited until I got married to move in.  But, that's a whole different blog on why I think felt like that was a bad idea.   Anyway, so without going into detail, we had a lot of problems in our marriage,  I had not yet got counseling for the hurt, dysfunction and the pain of my childhood.  I didn't practice my faith like I should have.  We were too different to make it in our marriage, but I do have a daughter out of the marriage, so I don't regret the role marriage played in my life.  It was a chapter with good points and bad points, but as a friend said it was a chapter and chapters eventually end.  I strive the next time for a continuing story rather than a chapter, but I digress.
  • Near the end of our marriage, I realized how lost I was in my faith and how I wasn't giving my daughter a chance to learn, understand, appreciate and accept my faith.  So, I asked one of my childhood friends which church he went to.  Eventually that led me to Harvester Church of the Nazarene where I practice my faith today.  Currently, I'm working on sharing my faith with Olivia and hope one day she comes to embraces it in the way that she is meant to.  Anyway, the previous push I made for understanding the basis for my faith was important here as I am better able to reconnect with it and answer questions my daughter has on Christianity.
  • In my life, it was important to have the shock treatment of faith given to me early so that my faith would survive the early turmoil and turmoil over the years.

So, that is my path to my faith.  It is a long and winding one with high peaks and steep valleys, but in the end, I am working my way to being where I know I need to be.

As with the previous blog about accepting people where they are, people are in different places in their faith or Christian (Catholic) walk.  I believe in God's eyes we are all His children and He is a loving Father.  I am of the belief that He loves all his children and doesn't think one is more important than the other, we just play different roles.  So, I am not here to judge, but I will let that be His role.

I'm probably missing some paths, but this is my initial assessment on paths to our faith  of our adultlhood:
  • Some people grow up in a two parent household in which both parents are serious in their faith and show it in their everyday life.  The kids have a certain luxury of being able to follow their parents initially and the jump to a strong Christian/Catholic faith of their understanding as they get a little older.
  • Some people grow up in a two parent household in which there are deep inconsistencies such as the following or they grown up in a broken home in which both parents practice their faith. They have some appreciation for Christian/Catholic faith but their are obstacles:
    • One parent goes to church another doesn't.
    • One parent strongly practices his/her faith, while the other doesn't.
    • Both parents go to church for apparent show, but during the week they don't seem to live their professed faith.
    • The divorce/separation of the parents is inconsistent with the concept of a strong/loving/united Christian household
  • Some people grow up in broken households or single parenthood in which 'going to church'/Christianity is practiced actively by one, but not by the other (if the other is even present).
    • Child takes the faith of the active one, but there is a disconnect with the missing parent or parent who is in not active in the faith.  This can cause obstacles.
  • Some people grown up in households (single/two parent) in which a Christian/Catholic faith is rarely if at all practiced.
    • There is little spiritual basis in the immediate family for the child to grow up with a strong faith.  
Ultimately, some have it 'easy' to finding their faith, some have it more challenging and some have it extremely difficult.   This also relates to not just having a Christian/Catholic faith, but rather how strong their faith is.  


Ultimately, it is not up to us to judge where others are, it is God's role. If relating your faith to another is important,  be aware that not everyone is in the same place, nor will they have the same set of beliefs, and everyone has different routes to their faith.  It is important to respect our where each other is and the routes/obstacles each of us has had along the way.