Monday, November 28, 2005

Not helping ourselves

I start today with a big sigh. One of those big deep "Oh Lord WHY do we keep doing this?" kind of a sigh.

It all begins with two brothers in Christ, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson.

(Right about now some of you are thinking "Oh boy, he's wading right into the quicksand on this one". Let me assure you that this isn't a diatribe against either of these two. That I don't agree on virtually anything with them probably isn't a terrible shock. But this isn't about any of those kinds of issues. Whether I agree with them or not they are brothers in Christ and that's where my problem is)

About a month ago I stumbled on Rush's show as I channel surfed the radio on a long drive. Normally I'd keep right on going but he was doing a rant about the court case concerning the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. What got under my skin was his repeated statements that atheist "hate God". It bothers me because that is absolutely NOT what the atheists I've known would say. A fair number of them hate the church and many of the members of the church (often with good reason). But they don't "hate" God. For them it would be like "hating" Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. You don't "hate" imaginary figures. And for them that's what God is, an historic figment of the popular imagination. One that they feel has been a stumbling block to humanity and civilization. While I certainly disagree with that assessment (the human institution known as the church has in its history been such a stumbling block but not God in my belief) it's dishonest to spin that into a hatred of God. Sadly it's a spin that I hear all too often.

Our other spotlight figure is the well known televangelist Pat Robertson. Pat has recently been quoted advocating the assassination of a foreign head of state and warning a town in Pennsylvania that God will abandon them because they voted out members of the school board with whom they disagreed. I hope I don't have to explain the ridiculousness of both those statements.

The part that bothers me most about them both is the damage done by such high profile Christians making such patently self serving statements to standing of the church within our society. And the even greater damage done to our ability to reach the unchurched when the rest of the Body doesn't call them on it. Allowing our faith to be represented as being intellectually dishonest, violent and power oriented makes the work harder. A fellow youth minister I know in passing recently asked his youth what the biggest stumbling block for them living as people of faith in their real lives was. The answer? Televangelists. I'd bet a large portion of ALL high profile Christians would probably also qualify. Allowing people of faith to be seen as buffoons, incapable of reasonable discourse or outright hypocrisy (which I believe the assassination statement to be for any Christian).

Do you believe that the words "under God" should stay in the Pledge? Good, go argue your case. But don't do it by mis-stating other people's beliefs in order to support your own. Think the President of Venezuela is a looney? Fine but don't claim that you find justification for killing a democratically elected head of state in the faith set forth by Jesus of Nazareth. And kindly don't use your pulpit as the stage for your opinion.

Either our faith is strong enough to endure on it's own merits, without subterfuge or disingenuous statements or it's not. And if it's not then the bright light of examination needs to be turned inward, not outward.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A time for Thanksgiving

Just time to stop and take a moment to give thanks.(Is that possible, Jay? This is the HOLIDAY season you idiot. You're supposed to be going full tilt, all out, push it past ten to eleven! I'll have more to say on that in a week or so)

What do I have to give thanks for?

I'm married to a remarkable woman who for reasons I have never comprehended loves me deeply.

I have an amazing daughter who is going to continue her journey to becoming a remarkable woman just like her mom.

I have two incredible brothers, a bunch of amazing aunts and uncles and cousins, nieces and nephews and other family members of various descriptions.

I have the memories and life lessons of two amazing parents. I miss them both deeply.

I have a group of friends who are smarter and more profound than I will ever be. And tiny little bits of them have rubbed off on me over the years.

I have not just a job (but that would be reason enough to give thanks) I have an amazing job that is also my ministry. And it's done with people young and old who humble me and inspire me virtually every day.

I'm healthy.

I live in a time and place that offers me an amazing array of opportunities.

I was going to say "I'm a member" of a great congregation. But I prefer to say I belong to a great congregation. I hope you understand the difference that makes.

I believe that God loves me and is watching over me. While still leaving me the discretion to make my own decisions. And loving me despite the stupid decisions I make on an appallingly regular basis. And I hope you understand how wonderful that is.

I have so much to be thankful I should feel guilty ever moaning, complaining, griping, or whining about anything else in my life.

Today I give thanks for every one and thing mentioned above. I can only hope that I am a fraction as much a joy in their lives as they are in mine.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Deep Thoughts by Gman

I'm adding another blog to my list over on the right here. This is one by a fellow youth worker who:

1: I think he is a great human being, and a great person of faith, and
2: Has some very good thoughts worth sharing, plus
3: It's not just a personal blog. I read several of those written by friends, and they're all very good. But this is part of my ministry, and while there are personal thing here as well I'm trying for something larger than just a personal journal. I think Gerrard succeeds at doing just that.

So check the Gman out. There's a link in the title too.


HAD to do this one

Yep this is the one I see myself as.


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A learning process

Well I've done it again. I've reacted to something I read on the web as if I were getting the full emotional value of the message. In the short form of IM, or comment sections, or forums or even blogs the chance that you fully comprehend exactly what the author meant is pretty small. It happens all the time on every online community I've been a part of over the last five years. Suddenly a flame war breaks out, feelings are hurt, hard things are said. All over an understanding that was different than the original intent.

Today I did it to a guy I've never met but whom I know by reputation. And it's a darn good rep. Well known, well respected and well liked in youth ministry circles. Let's face it, he's a wheel and a Big Wheel at that. In the course of a commentary (with which I almost totally agreed )he took a little dig at something I care about deeply. I'm not even sure why it fired me up, but it did. It just seemed unfair and unnecessary and it TICKED ME OFF!

That should have been the warning sign. That someone who I know to be a decent guy probably DIDN'T mean it the way I was taking it. And that maybe I don't need to climb up on my high horse over it under any circumstances. (Question - why don't I sell that damn horse? It's nothing but trouble) That maybe I need to remember that rule number one on the web should be - Lighten Up.

But I didn't. So I sent him a rather frosty little note. Got just the tiniest bit nasty right at the end too. Hit that "Enter" key with just the right touch of righteous indignation (I'll throw that in with the horse for free if anyone's interested). Only to have him come back with a soft answer. A soft answer that made me feel pretty stupid. That's fine, I earned it. So I made nice and ducked out as gracefully as I was able.

It's not the first time. About three months ago I swore off some sports forums because, I'm ashamed to admit this, I was becoming exactly the kind of person I loathe. I was angry, and acerbic, and vicious. I made personal comments about people I'd never met. I finally read something I'd posted and became nauseous. It still horrifies me to think about it. Not to say that some of the folks weren't every bit as vicious. But I have no control over them. I thought I'd found a better person along my faith journey and really become that person.

Turns out I still have some traveling to do.

I've been a communicator all my life. I'm a story teller, trained as an actor, almost two decades as a radio personality. Human communication is only partly about the words. It's about inflection, timing, tone, tempo plus facial expression and body language. I learned that years ago, I've made my living most of my adult life using that very knowledge. Yet I keep forgetting how much info I'm NOT getting in this electronic community. I keep making assumptions about intent without that information.

And I keep making a jerk out of myself.

So Marko, I offer my apology. To the members of the AOL Pirates and Steelers boards I extend an apology as well. If I've done the same thing to anyone else on any of the other boards I frequent I ask that you accept this apology as well.

I promise I'll keep working me.


Monday, November 07, 2005

In memoriam

I've been putting off writing this for weeks now. I've used every excuse I could find. I'm even thinking about dragging out this intro so I don't have to write these words.

My mom died.

She had a good sized stroke and collapsed in her living room. The neighbors found her and called the ambulance. She lasted a while longer, never woke up and died in hospice. She died five years and one day after my dad.

I've told that story, usually with a lot more details about 200 hundred times. I've cried, I've been angry, I've been depressed. It feels like there's about three hundred details I need to be taking care of, and I'm not sure I've done any of them.

The following thoughts keep occurring to me:

I'm an orphan.
I'm 47, so I'm not really an orphan but I may just be an a##h#l#.
I just want all go away.
I don't want any more sympathy.
I do want to feel sorry for myself.
I was probably an OK son.
But I still could have done more.
I'm actually sorrier for her (she won't see her grandchildren whom she adored graduate from HS or get married) than I am for me.
I'm not afraid of death anymore, but I'm pretty sure that dying sucks.
So I want to go quickly.
Between my wife's illnesses, my father's slow death over months and Mom's death I don't care if I ever see another hospital again.
That part of me feels guilty for hoping that she would die quickly. That's the first time I've acknowledged that feeling.
I probably still have a lot of processing to do about how I feel about this and what it means.

It means I'm the oldest living member of my immediate family. In days gone by that would make me the "head" of my family. Not sure I want that, and I'm pretty sure my brothers would have something to say on that matter. And that's fine. I don't feel like the eldest. I feel like a little kid.

A little orphan kid.

I love you Mom, and I miss you.


Friday, November 04, 2005

The further adventures...

Haven't mentioned my soccer playing of late. I am still toiling away at it. So far we're pretty horrible. Lost every game. My only highlight is that I've scored twice. So that puts me at two goals and two assists. Last week was something of a gimme, we were so far behind the other team was laying back on defense so I had lots of room. It was from an angle and I put it into the far corner so I did have to make the shot. Last night was a tip in on a shot through traffic by a teammate.

Our season high on goals last night too, 5. Lost 10-5 which is a pretty common score. Ref got mad at me at one point and I couldn't figure out why. Turns out it was a mis-communication. We each thought the other had said something else. Jeez, old, slow and now deaf!

I'm not sure I've ever been on a team this far off the pace of the rest of the league. And the rest of the league is younger and more skilled. I'll keep working at it. So far I haven't hurt myself or anyone else. Just got to keep in mind, I play for:

The Fun
The Exercise

The minute I lose track of that I'm likely to get hurt. Must remember. Old. Slow. Not very skilled.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The more things change

(The following is my column for the November issue of ChurchActs, our diocesan newspaper)

Adolescence and Middle Age.
In our culture these are the two great times of change, the two great passages in a persons life. I'm working through one and the young people with whom I work are making their way through the other. Over the summer I got started thinking about those two parts of life. What's amazed me was realizing how much they had in common.

Our bodies are changing That's the big one and it's scary at both times. A young persons body begins doing things, and feeling things that they've never had to deal with before. It's disturbing and the reaction from other people to those changes can be pretty scary too. Those of us who made it through can still remember suddenly feeling weird and not being sure why everyone else had decided to act so “weird too. The middle aged person's body is changing too and most of us don't like it one little bit. Things we've always been able to do are suddenly hard or even impossible. Just like our younger brothers and sisters our bodies are changing shape too. There are also days when we feel “weird” and aren't so sure about all the people around us.

Our lives are changing
– Young people are preparing to grow up and move out. Adults are preparing to deal with a home that has fewer people in it. There are whole new categories of decisions to be made about our lives, our dreams and our expectations. At both ages we need to re-examine who we are and how we've changed. As a boy I wanted to be an astronaut, as a young man I had to take a serious look at what I saw in my future. Today I need to look again at what I saw in my future at 18 and decide what part, if any, of those dreams have been fulfilled, still await me in the future or need to be discarded altogether. Our financial situations are changing, our employment situations are changing, the level of responsibility is changing.

Our relationships are changing This may be the most frightening of all when it enters that pivotal relationship of parent and child. The younger person is trying, often straining and fighting, to move away from their old relationship with their parent. It's a necessary and vital transformation but it involves great risk as well. The comfortable safety net of parental back-stopping gradually diminishes, increased responsibility for decisions and outcomes can be a heavy burden. (And one that parents often try to soften for their children. It's an incredibly bad parental decision in my opinion but that's for another column) Moving out and growing up are exhilarating and exciting experiences but they come with uncertainty as well.
The change for the middle aged person is just as daunting even when the changes are in the reverse. As our parents age often it is the children who must accept more responsibility for that relationship. We become the safety net for our parents and in many cases move into a “parental/caregiver role for them as they did for us in childhood. When the person you have looked to all your life is now looking, even beseeching you for guidance and direction powerful emotions are brought to the surface. They can range from sadness to anger to uncertainty to determination. Freud believed that no one became an adult until their parents died. That transition is no easier simply because we've had so much “practice being adults.

In the end my hope is that young person and adult can look at one another with greater empathy as we each travel our assigned portion of the journey. Very often as young people we assume that adults have it together (even if it's a pretty bizarre together) and that it's "“easier"” some how to be a grown up. Adults will too easily discount the pain and struggle of the transitions and transformations of growing up. The world our youth face is more complicated than the one in which we grew up. The choices they face are similar to ours but come with many more permutations and penalties.
Together we can comfort, counsel and guide one another through the hard parts. We can pray for one another and above all LOVE ONE ANOTHER. For through that love we give the greatest assistance, strength and support that there is.

The French have a saying that translates as "The more things change, the more they stay the same". As we walk through life it's important to remember that.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

In the unlikely event...

That ANYONE would ever confuse me with a saint.

You are Julian of Norwich! It's all about God, to
you. You're convinced that the world has a
happy ending. Everyone else is convinced that
you're a closet hippie, but you love them

Which Saint Are You?
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That I have anything in common with a 14th century mystic nun who lived as a recluse is enough to make me want to go and lie down for a while. By myself. Hmmmm, I'll let you know if I have any visions!

I promise some more serious blogs soon, I'm working on several.