Saturday, June 20, 2015

'Murica, Manure and The Worldwide Web

"You've been quiet," said no one of me EVER! Until this morning. What he said was in regard to my blogging: I've not weighed in on Bruce "Caitlyn" Jenner, or Rachel Dolezal, or Charleston, SC, or any of the hot button topics that have been seared into our TVs, monitors, phones, or earbuds for the past several months. Starting with Ferguson, I made a concerted effort to stay out of the fray. Reason -- or reasons being, 1) I am so repulsed, so infuriated, so heartbroken over the state of American society today, I cannot read another disparaging word about it, and 2) if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

I think we all remember this commercial:
And there you have it, Reason #1: The more intelligent we become as a society, the dumber we get. We choose the things we want to believe rather than believing what is true about one another. We have all these wonderful resources at our disposal, so many ways to bring us together as one race -- the human race -- and still we crave self-annihilation. We say we've evolved simply because we have laws that "forbid that kind of thing" but laws do not necessarily cause people to love one another (there's an entire book written about this). We choose -- yes, I said choose to see the worst in one another, to fear what is different, and therefore, to hate it. We choose to believe what seems most comfortable to us. FOX spins the story one way; CNN another, and the line has been drawn. But, it's up to individuals to use God-given intelligence to sort the cream from the crap; we can bow to their agenda, or seek truth.

Go to your closest bookstore; see how many books there are on relationships. Who thinks there haven't been enough written? Psychology 101 is a basic Humanities that every Associates degree outside of Basket Weaving requires; with all the education in this country, I should think you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who's taken it. And somehow, we forget "birds of a feather flock together." It's one of those things that makes us comfortable. If I am the only person in the studio who hates the exhibit I'm going to feel pretty strange when everyone else whips out their checkbooks and starts buying up everything in sight. Human nature tells us we will do one of two things: place our order, or seek out others who are as repulsed by the exhibit as I. If I'm really insecure, I might even try to create some repulsion through innuendo or blatant lies. But development -- true human development often requires stepping outside of our comfort zone to build relationships, to edify others, and to work for the common good. Today's "information highway" is being used as a manure spreader to disseminate the manure of sheep who have either decided to mindlessly go with the flow, or recruit more sheep. Neither option gives birth to change. As much as technology has allowed us a window into the humanity of those physiologically or culturally different from us, we have chosen to use it to separate, to leave us hunched before the ambient glow of hateful websites, and foolishness: Lilliputian glimpses of Titanic situations, and stories spun with the sole intent of garnering ratings at any cost to real people. We have stopped really thinking about anything. Our society is dying, and as we desperately struggle to resist the suffocation of our own insecurity, we pull down onto ourselves a deluge of ignorance, until the gaping hole of self-righteousness, hatred and unforgiveness become our grave.

Which brings me to Reason #2: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Has there been enough written about race? Has there been enough written about riots? Has there been enough written about cross-dressing, same-sex marriage, trans-gendering, "passing," weaves, PETA, hate, gun control, GMOs, blah, blah, blah? To last a lifetime!  "The pen is mightier than the sword!" Yeah, maybe before the internet. But now you've got every zipperhead with an opinion or "viral video" posting fodder on the worldwide web. (The irony is not lost, trust me.) Eventually, it comes time for us to put our brains in gear, get off our fannies, stop fueling this fire and do some good old fashioned loving. Sounds corny, I know, but outside of a few sick individuals, we all want the same thing: to get to the finish line having run a good race. And that picture may look different from one person to the next, but is beating you over the head with my vision going to change yours? Are we going to fight so viciously over the specifics that we lose the vision entirely? I have chosen to write things that encourage, educate, or simply bring a smile to someone's face. I have chosen to not simply comment on the bricks that build our society, but what our building could look like if each brick was securely anchored to another.

Before I go, here's another cliché for you: Divide and conquer. Am I the only one who sees dead people here? The big gr$$n machine, that runs our companies, our counties, our country, our world, owns the vast majority of the media outlets. Do you remember the 99% a few years ago? "Divide the haves from the have-nots." Now it's black and white. Conservative or liberal. Gay or straight. Male or female. Extremes that seem to hit us "little people" right where we live. If we can be so divided that we break, the big green machine can not only spread its manure, but six feet of dirt right over us.

Despite appearances, I'm just not ready to go that quietly.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fighting the Good Fight: What Does That Mean, Anyway?

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! I knew it would happen sooner or later! I'm sure I'm one of the last to know, but the definition of "friend" has been updated to include its use as a verb:
"to add (a person) to one's list of contacts on a social-networking website" ("Friend." Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 15 June 2015.)
 I have fewer than two hundred "friends" on social media, and only one social media account. I have deleted a few "friends" along the way, and been deleted more than once myself. I guess I adhere to a more literal definition of the word rather than the "I will share with you -- a complete stranger -- all of my stellar and not so stellar moments, children's school photos (complete with location tags), underwear selfies, upcoming vacation itineraries, and alcohol-induced statuses" definition. Truly good friends can be hard to find.

I bet things would be different if we had social media for enemies. We could call it "Foebook," or "Fight Club" -- oh, but then we couldn't talk about it. People would probably be a little more reluctant to come forward as enemies, but I'm sure there'd be a higher level of integrity. How many of your "friends" or "followers" would you seriously leave at home with your kids? or your cat? You had to think about that, didn't you? But it should be pretty cut and dried if I asked you about your contacts on "Foebook," right? You usually know what you're getting with an antagonist: threat of danger, extreme or constant hostility, a level of opposition up to and including the taking of your life. Everyone knows where they stand.

Nevertheless, it's not easy dealing with enemies or fake friends. Continuing stress and contention is never good for the human body -- physically or emotionally. So how does one surmount what seems to be the insurmountable? How does one gain victory in the battles some of us face daily? How can one fight an "invisible enemy" like disease or loss?

I've been hanging out in 2 Chronicles 20 for a bit. There is just so much to be received from this text, and it's a great handbook for what to do, and what not to do in the face of adversity:

Verse 3a: Go straight to God. Jehoshaphat begged the Lord for guidance. We see in his prayer before the people (v. 6) he knew exactly what he was praying for. Jehoshaphat knew his history; he had familiarized himself with the ways and the will of God. He was able to pray with authority because he knew what he was asking was in complete compliance with God. (But, if you're new at this, don't let a lack of study stop you -- just cry out! God knows your heart.)

Verse 3b, and 4: Don't go it alone. Bring others in with you in corporate prayer and fasting, if necessary. Even Jesus tells us in Mark 9:29, that prayer and fasting are essential in some circumstances.

Verse 18: Thank God for godly counsel and instruction. How did they know that Jahaziels's words had even come from the Lord? Discernment. Ask God for it. The more closely you walk in step with God, the more you will be able to sort these types of things out.

Verse 20: Obey. Meet your foe with praise and thanksgiving for God's faithfulness, protection, and victory!

Verse 25: Reap! So often, I taste the sweetness of victory in Jesus without ever stopping to savor it. I send up a "shout out," pick up most of the good stuff, and when I think I've got enough, I leave the rest behind to head off in the opposite direction so I can tackle the next issue. Judah took THREE DAYS to reap what God had given them in this victory. And I'm sure they had more than their two best guys on it! God has much for those who trust Him. 

Verse 26: Give thanks. Gather everyone you can and thank God. Tell anyone who will listen. Tweet. Text. Facebook -- even Foebook -- whatever! Let people know your God is an awesome God.

Verse 28: Make it official. There is something about sharing victory with your church family in a more formal setting. It is corporate worship, corporate thanksgiving, and one of the ways we are called to encourage others enduring the struggles of this life as well. So head to God's house and celebrate!

Verse 37: Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Sadly, Jehoshaphat didn't stick with the program. We can never vanquish our foes if we take God off His throne; it is because God is on His throne that we can be assured of any victory at all!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pardon Me, Do You Know the Time?

Scott and I have been in a season of battles for -- like -- years. Health -- his and mine. Family issues. Finances and the consequences of launching our small business in a god-awful economy. Etc., etc. A couple of weeks ago, I declared war on the distractions that keep us from funneling our time, talents and finances to God's endeavors. I declared that I want them gone! The heat, of course, has been bumped up a notch since then. But last week, after a sermon preached by Bryan, our wonderful pastor at RLC, I declared war on my unbelief.

I've always struggled with what God is willing to do for His people. If you ask most Christians they will emphatically assert "God can." Those who grow up churched are taught at the first inklings of comprehension that God can do anything. But, ask those same people if God will, and you'll probably get a totally different response.

"Can you repeat the question?"

"Well, you see, it's not all that simple."

"Um, yeah, sure. I guess."

Here is the answer: Yes! Yes! Yes!

"So, if God 'will heal' my Bible-banging, God-fearing grandmother, why is she dead? Why does anyone die? You're not saying she didn't have enough faith, are you?" No, I am not. I am saying that God, unlike man, is not bound by time. Telling someone they will have healing is not the same as telling someone they will have healing today, tomorrow, or even in this world. God's promises span our infinitesimally brief time on Earth, and the everlasting life believers will have with Him the split-second they shed this mortal coil. If healing doesn't take place before Gramma has breathed her last, you can bet your bottom dollar it will when she has!

Hebrews 11:8-12 tells us that Abraham moved forward, obeyed, and claimed the promise God had given him. He was to be "the father of many nations," and though he was richly blessed and had fathered a few more children outside of his marriage to Sarah, the child -- that's right, one child -- God gave him in fulfillment of His covenant was the only evidence of God's faithfulness Abraham saw this side of eternity. You better believe, though, he saw it from the superbox!

If God has promised me an end to pain, sickness, struggles, poverty, d-r-a-m-a, and whatever else in this world is plaguing me, I need to pray and worship that way. Now, Abraham didn't hurry out and buy 63,489,023 infant camel seats for his new family. Having faith doesn't mean living in denial or being delusional, but Abraham did keep walking with God. He did trust God at His word. He thanked God for what he had even though God hadn't given it to him yet!

Every payday, when I leave work, my first stop is either the gas station or the produce market. I've become so accustomed to this, I rarely check my account balance to verify it's all there; I just know the check has cleared and I now have money to fill those things that are running on empty. How do I know? My large, filthy rich employer promised me a paycheck in return for my work. It's been there every week (almost) since I began working for them twenty-six years ago. And, I can see the promise of it on my paystub. If I can blindly head to the market on a promise given to me by the agent of greed and self-service that is capitalist America, why do I question the check that God wrote for me the moment (and I use that term loosely) He designed me and laid out His plan for me? Why am I not moving forward in faith, thanking God for the victory that awaits later today, or next year, or the instant I find myself face to face with Him? Why am I panicked, stressed and frustrated? Why do I look like some crazed gypsy hovering over a bowl of tea leaves, hashing and rehashing things as if I've missed something along the way? "Was that a sign? Am I out of His will? Did you hear that?"

God never leaves us guessing. His will is right there in His Word, and we either believe it or we don't. God can. God will. God's time.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Just Sit Back and Watch the Fireworks Begin!

As I was leaving an event this past Saturday night, I could hear the crackle and pop of fireworks in the distance. I love fireworks, and I thought about chasing them down, but it was late and I knew my family would be looking for me at home. They were indeed... they'd run out of humus. I have traveled for over two hours just to see fireworks. There is something about blankets lined up on what was once a vacant stretch of sod, and voices just above a whisper wafting through darkening landscape, that suits the anticipation and awe of random color bursting from a black sky. In a couple of weeks I will be scanning the internet for the schedule of fireworks displays nearby. We will pack snacks, drinks, paper towels, bug spray, light jackets, camping chairs, and of course, a blanket. The jackets, of course, will be packed in the optimism that there will be a cool breeze anywhere within a six mile radius. The reality is, once we are within walking distance of the proposed location, we will not only abandon them in the eighty-four degree heat and seventy-two percent humidity, but we will abandon much of the other gear as well: no way I'm carrying a blanket in this heat, and -- trust me -- there isn't a mosquito alive that can penetrate the pea soup that is masquerading as troposphere right now. We will trek through the encroaching darkness for the most unobstructed, most elevated, most level vantage point available, and we will settle in to watch.

All of this came to mind this morning as I was reading 2 Chronicles 20. Some of the neighboring populations were looking to make war against the Kingdom of Judah. God had instructed the nation of Israel as they were leaving Egypt, to go around these people and not chase them from the land they were occupying; these people now, however wanted what was not theirs. As Judah's king, Jehoshaphat stood before his people praying for instruction and seeking a word of wisdom, one of the men, Jahaziel, began to speak:
“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s... But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you ~ 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17
"Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness," (v. 20) with their king encouraging and leading them, confidently resting in God's promise of victory. I'm going to skip a couple of verses and get to the exciting conclusion:
"So when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see. Not a single one of the enemy had escaped." (v. 24)
He wasn't kidding. When God says "Watch," that's exactly what He means. When the Israelites had their backs against the Red Sea, and Pharaoh's army was closing in fast, they panicked and blamed -- "Moses and God have conspired to lead us out here to die!" But Moses told them to "Stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today!" (Exodus 14:13) The nation of Israel was eye to eye with their trouble, and couldn't even catch a glimpse of victory for the foe they had their eyes on; they were not directed to the cheap seats, perched high atop the fray. The army of Judah, however, was spared that anxiety, and directed straight to the lookout to see what God had done. The difference? The army of Judah took God completely at His word. They marched into battle that day singing praises to the Lord. In fact, it was the chorus, armed only with the voices and the promise God had given them, that moved out even before the troops. Such faith. And God took them straight to the best place to watch the grand finale!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What's in Your Garden?

We have a grandson! Truth is, we've had him for a little while now but sadly, don't get to see him much. This makes me very thankful for social media and modern technology, but on his first Easter his mama bought him a good old fashioned book. The book was Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Odd thing about this book, it's one I'd gotten for our son, Steven when he was a boy. I'd read it to him as much as he'd allow; I wanted him to know I'd love him forever, and no matter what. When he grew, I packed his copy away with "Baby," his first and favorite stuffed bear. And though he has children of his own, he's never mentioned either item to me, ever. Our daughter Christine, however? She shocked me when she sent a picture of what was in our tiny grandson's Easter basket. To her, the book was a dear memory, something worth seeking out, something she wanted to pass on to her son the way I'd tried to pass it on to mine.

My husband has a wonderful green thumb. From its inception, SJM Property Restorations, his business was to be a "full service" property maintenance and development business; Scott's desire was to beautify customers' homes inside and out. That has not gone quite as planned either, and landscaping jobs have been few, but his garden at our home is fabulous! Some years he plants flowers that thrived for us previously; some years he tries something completely new. This year, however, his carefully planned ensemble of color and texture, height and depth, was invaded by violas -- lots and lots of violas. Brilliant, violet violas. Variegated violas. Springing up everywhere! Beautifully surrounding our potted plants and lining our stone path. Neither of us ever recalls planting violas, ever. And yet...

When Scott and I agreed our relationship was headed toward death doing us part, and we decided to bring it before our children, we dreamed of creating family: family traditions, family dinners, family vacations, family ties. Need I say it? Didn't happen. But something else did take place. Our children bonded in ways that are still being revealed. Experiences -- good and bad -- have brought them to a common place. And relationships between child and parent, or step-parent have formed that have a depth and a loyalty we never imagined. We tried planting feelings and memories, but seem to have been blessed instead with a harvest of unique and unexpected relationships our children have cultivated.

Thinking about these things today, made me realize just how seeds are sown. Sure, some are with intent, and I think it's important we do that, but if you're like me you don't have much success with that stuff. I'm not sure what seeds you have sown in your life. I'm not sure what you are trying to cultivate. Perhaps your garden looks more like February -- barren and brown. But it seems to be, the seeds sown naturally, casually, as we go through life being what we are called to be, enjoying what we've been given, and doing what we are given to do, are the seeds that really take root and thrive. Those are the seeds our Great Gardner waters and turns into violas -- brilliant, beautiful and springing up everywhere!