Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

Giving

Sometimes there are events and incidents where you see your own limitations exposed, laid out all too clearly.

I have never been a particularly generous person. Growing up, it wasn’t demonstrated; parsimony runs pretty strongly through both sides of my family of origin.  Still, it sis possible to change, to learn hot to be so thigh hearted.

Over the past 10 years, I have learned to be better at giving, learned to be more generous, learned to think of others.  My friend Doug demonstrated it quietly when my men’s group met, by paying the bill or by leaving a 200% tip for the waitress. I learned too, from a friend who had been in the service industry and taught me to say a kind word and think of the servers and waitresses, their meager paychecks and difficult jobs.

I thought progress had been made. At least until…..

I was having a Starbucks with a friend, sitting outside the Mall on a chilly but sunny afternoon.  To my surprise (because we don’t expect this in Columbia, especially at the Mall) a man approached, asking for money. Now, while he looked a “panhandler” type, I though, “Okay, if he needs food let’s go inside and get him something to eat”. I was willing to help, but on my terms.  My friend was quicker, however.  She asked him his name, reached into her purse, quickly handed him a bill (I think it was a twenty) and told him  that there was no judgement on how he needed it, that she hoped it would help, and that he’d have a better rest of the day.

Instead of feeling generous with my thought of action, I realized how parsimonious I still was. I was willing to help, but only on my terms of basic need and in a way that I controlled.  My friend responded with openness, faith and charity that allowed him the freedom to use it as needed…for good or not, but as he saw fit.  And maybe with her attitude, it would encourage him to use it for need.  It was a surprising interaction.

I hope to do better next time the situation arises.

Unregretted decisions

Historically I have a difficult time making decisions because I too easily see the other side of an argument. Which is an unusual problem, because too often people are unable or unwilling to consider the other side of an issue! But there have been two decisions I have never regretted, never looked back on, never had second thoughts about.

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The first was a decision to surrender my appointment to a service academy. I was appointed out of high school, and went through the bulk of that first summer. Truth be told, I was admitted by virtue of mind and test tacking abilities, and the body was never, EVER, as good or good enough. The decision to leave was difficult, mostly because of the reaction I would face back home and the need to get into school someplace that fall so I wouldn’t be trapped at home. But although it was difficult, I have never, in all the years, regretted the decision. I still think I could have made a good military officer (more Al Haig than David Petraeus), but I’ve never wished I had stayed, never was sorry I hadn’t pursued that path.

The second decision that I never looked back on was the decision to have a family. Alright, it was a very small family, just one child, but the decision to do it was a long time coming. It took me years to get to “yes”. In fact, I think my then-wife despaired of ever having a child because of my reticence. And yet, once she arrived in our life, I never regretted, never looked back.

It’s interesting that these are the two decisions I have the most confidence in, because they have had very different outcomes.  The decision to leave the academy meant I ended up in a school that would take me rather than one I had selected.  It meant my major was decided through a certain randomness of taking copious ‘introduction’ classes in my freshman year rather than the history/political science/oceanography major I to which I had aspired.  And the major lead to all sorts of ramifications in my career path when an accident (TMI) and politics (Reagan recession) substantially altered my planned paths.  But all has turned out acceptably, as I have found a passion for environmental sustainability and planning that I would not have expected.

The decision to have a family….ah, now that’s a different outcome.  The divorce and subsequent estrangement from my progeny has produced years of sadness and pain, and even a nervous breakdown. That’s just from my side of the divide, from my perspective. I have to imagine it’s at least as bad from the other side, to grow up in half a family, to have life so dramatically changed.  And yet….and yet. I still don’t regret the decision.  Even through the emotional distance and disconnect, the love, pride, joy, hope that I feel for her outweighs the pain I’ve felt.

Two decisions.  Two turning points in life.  Neither regretted.  I suppose that is something  for which I should be grateful.

Pence pensiveness

There was a story that came out a few days ago about Vice President Mike Pence and that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.  Apparently the Twittersphere blew up on both sides over this (of course, there is an aspect of redundancy in that, as blowing up is apparently what Twitter is about these days).  The Right extols the practice, while the Left ridicules it.  And I end up with mixed emotions, but with a sense of unease that bothers me.

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On one hand, I think there are times for this sort of approach to life.  In particular Rev. Billy Graham has lived by this rule for his entire ministry.  In his case, it makes sense.  So many are willing to cast aspersions at even the smallest issue or sense of hypocrisy that avoiding even the opportunity for someone to create even the appearance of an issue seems appropriate. For the job he has, and the way ministry works, this seems right.

The article in the Post that has raised this whole issue is a bit odd. The sentence that started this is standalone, not part of a paragraph, and not directly related to either of the two sentences around it.  Simply, “In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”  The reasoning is that this builds a zone around the marriage.

It leaves a big question though: how does he interact at non-dinner events with a woman?  If that answer is out there, I haven’t seen it. And it’s important because if it is dinner events only, it’s much ado about nothing.  If it is all types of meetings, it becomes a concern.  If he doesn’t meet with a woman or women without someone else around, what he has done is relegated them to a secondary status in the political machine.  Much political work is done in private discussions with senior staffers,chiefs of staff, private staff, etc.  If a woman in those roles can’t meet with the politician, then she effectively can’t be in those roles in his office or in anyone else’s office that needs to meet with him.  And that seems unduly restrictive. And totally patriarchal.

I think what has caused my sense of disquiet has been the reaction of the (religious) right (of which I know many) saying that this situation is as it should be.  It bothers me because it conveys a sense of impropriety/danger/problem inherent in individual male-female interactions. It has to be a pair reaction or it’s the appearance of something untoward.  It makes it seem as though neither gender can be safe around the other. I ‘get’ that people do wander, stray, cheat, etc.  But not everyone, not even most.  I have married female friends at work that I talk to one-on-one regularly.  At least one of them was a major reason I survived a nervous breakdown 7 years ago (thank you L1!). I value and seek female perspective, especially in a male-dominated work world.

If he wants to value his marriage, great and good.  But don’t do so at the expense of others.  Take a position where there isn’t the impact on women that comes from politics.  Take a position where you don’t limit the role and value of women.  Excluding half of the population because they have X not Y seems like bad solution.The world has enough problems; it would be nice if we could bring all our combined resources to deal with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing with….

The flow of history is strange, with the eddies and currents that form, disperse, and come back to form again.  I’m mindful a commitment that I made, and now need to fulfill.

I just finished an abridged biography of the amazing Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which reminded me of another  great German name, Martin Niemoller.  He is most famously known for the poem “First They Came”

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I made a post on a smaller social media site there I quoted this, and made a commitment to remember this and to support it. And so to fulfill my commitment, I need to speak out and state that….
I stand with the LGBT community, for civil liberties, for civil ceremonies of loving relationships, and against discrimination and hatred.
I stand with Muslims seeking the peaceful practice of their faith and their lives, the way I am able to practice mine in this country.
I stand with the immigrants, who seek the type of life that I have and are willing to risk everything in the journey to here to have it.
I stand with the refugees who flee all they have ever known, all that they have, in order to simply live.
And, I stand with America in continuing to be the land of Liberty, the land of welcome, the land of waves of immigrants assimilating into society, strengthening us, and helping us to be the beacon of light we have been for so many years.

 

 

Gifted

I don’t know how many gifts I have received in my life.  I suppose that there a way of estimating the number, given a known number of birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, graduations, etc.  For many years receiving gifts was as difficult as giving gifts.  I think it comes down to generosity, and not being able to accept or extend it.

Two gifts stand out for me recently in my life.  Both have provided me with examples of what generosity is and what makes it so memorable, so important. The first example was three years ago.  I had spent the day in the hospital with my mother.  As anyone who has been in an ER knows, it isn’t an easy or comfortable process to be there waiting for hours on end, even if the news turns out alright.  I was beat that day, physically and emotionally.  My friend with the cats had a key to my place at that time, and when I came home she had left a gift on my table.  She had left favorite candies of mine (dark chocolate peanut M&Ms, dark chocolate Reese’s miniatures). That she had known my favorites and left them was touching enough, but ….. she gave me three (3!) bags of each! It was, I think, the extravagant generosity of the gift that touched me.  Thoughtful, extravagant, unexpected, loved.  I still remember the feeling, still have the empty bags as a reminder.

The second was more recent.  My friend from my recent road trip,  without any reason, gave me a gift.  It was an unexpected, unique gift for me; it was the first time someone gave me a piece of jewelry, a cross on a chain.  The gift caught me off guard, for a variety of reasons, and I her why she had given it to me.  Her response surprised me, and has lingered with me.  She told me that during the trip she had noticed, and commented, on my lack of jewelry and asked why.  She remembered my response that during and after the divorce, I stopped wearing any because I didn’t feel I was worthy, or more accurately felt too worthless to wear anything.  She gave me a cross because she felt that as a symbol of my faith I might wear it when I wouldn’t wear something else.  She hoped that in wearing it I would eventually see myself again as worthwhile and begin to forgive myself.  An amazing insight and compassion from one conversation, delivered in one gift.

Two very different gifts.  My heart touched by both.  I’m still trying to learn generosity, still trying to forgive. But gifted to be touched by two such caring people.

 

Thankful… for….?

It doesn’t quite seem like it should be Thanksgiving.  The weather has been too warm (until this weekend), the time too early, the election far too fresh, the mood not quite right.  And yet….here it is.

On an individual level, I struggle with giving thanks.  Life is not as I wished, not as I expected.  My life seems less full, just plain “less” than others.  And yet… and yet.  I have my health (not withstanding plantar in my feet and SAD in my head).  I enjoy my job (mostly). My apt is nice and sunny and cozy, lined with books.  Benny has been a great joy, all 14 lbs of feline affection that he is.  Mom is still alive and healthy, even having barreled past 90 a few years ago.

Nationally, I struggle as well.  I’m concerned both with the outcome of the election and with the tone of the country during the election.  And yet…..despite the challenges, our election was peaceful, our protests within the bounds of what has been done in the past.  In this respect we are far better off than Greece, and their last round of protests. Or any number of African countries where elections lead to coups or riots that destroy have of a capital city.  We are far better off than Syria, in the midst of a civil war longer than ours.  Or Iraq, being slowly carved apart literally and figuratively by ISIS murderers. Or Venezuela suffering through catastrophic economic issues.  Or El Salvador with gang murders. Or North Korea with…..nothing for anyone but Un dear leader.

Are things great?  No.  But I am thankful that they are as good as they are.  That I have the ability to appreciate that, and the ability to change what I don’t like.  That I can take a day (or more) out to thank God that I have been blessed….if I just open my eyes.

Happy Thanksgiving.

No, God didn’t….

One of the more disturbing quotes I’ve seen since the election came from Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and an evangelical leader in his own right. I have, until now, had the greatest respect for Franklin Graham and the great good that has been done by Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child.  However, his politics has become increasingly far right in recent years.   The quote I found upsetting was “….I believe that God’s hand intervened Tuesday night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our country.”

No, God didn’t.  At least not the God I’ve known and worshiped.

I do not believe that God intervened in the election  on the politics of one side, because it would mean that God would be endorsing the politics and morals (or lack thereof) of the winning side. I do not believe that God intervened for the prayers of hundreds of thousands of Trump evangelicals and ignored the prayers of the hundred of thousands of anti-Trump Christians (yes, you can be Christian and be anti-Trump). I understand that the political evangelical community supported Trump over Clinton because of Trump’s anti-abortion stance (although it’ll be interesting to see how that works out).  I understand that many of that community would support a perceived pro-Christianity/anti-Muslim stance (from a man who has said he hasn’t had to ask God for forgiveness, because he hasn’t done much wrong, according to his own words in the campaign).  But did God intervene in the election to support a man who doesn’t need to involve God (Trump’s words)? A man who was unfaithful to his first two wives? A man who failed to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s in his taxes, or render unto God what is His? A man who has said he has little to ask God’s forgiveness for? Or whose whole campaign was the antithesis of the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control)?  A man who used blatant lies about a birth certificate and faith to denounce, challenge, and belittle an intelligent, faithful man?

I am tired of the evangelical “christian” community invoking God’s name for all manner of things to make some political statement, usually one with some aspect of hate, division, self-righteousness.  This isn’t the first time the evangelical community has done this.  It has happened with California droughts, with AIDS, with Katrina, with Sandy.  And now this.  I see no respect for God or His word in this politicizing of events, especially in a case where the alleged benefactor is so totally an anathema to the Gospel of love and grace.

I wonder, though.  Perhaps the evangelicals should consider a case where God did answer the prayers of a people…prayers that were perhaps as equally based politics.  The Israelites wanted a king, they wanted one badly.  So God gave them one, Saul.  He was not what they hoped for, and in their answered prayer their relationship with God was forever altered, for the worse.

Whether in direct actions by the new President, or in the inevitable backlash of the rest of the country, I wonder if this “intervening” will work out the way they think.

#HoCoFaith