Wednesday, December 21, 2016
A DISCOMBOBULATED CHRISTMAS
How are your plans for Christmas going? Those of you who might be newly divorced or separated may find that the plans are very difficult as emotions swirl, schedules become awkward and times of loneliness and loss come to the fore.
Perhaps you can relate to the notion of a “discombobulated” Christmas. Though almost 20 years out of divorce myself, Christmas remains one of those holidays regularly impacted by the fallout of divorce as even grown children have to make choices regarding their schedule and plans that would have not been an issue apart from divorce. Yet life goes on, and there develops a new normalcy.
But life gets discombobulated for other reasons, as well.
For me, this year, Christmas will be very different.
I very recently took on a new pastorate in another state, which will result in making a move of our entire household. Our situation is such that the move will be in stages, and include some time with my wife and I not always in the same place. I am celebrating Christmas and Christmas Eve with a new congregation, and we are sharing with one another our traditions and celebrations, some the same, some different. Most of our Christmas decorations were moved to a new house, but mainly in time for a chilly reception as the polar winds dipped down and dropped temperatures throughout the Midwest and announced that the decorations may be best inside their storage containers this year.
With some things here, some things there, and other things yet to be located, we are experiencing some discombobulation ourselves. In addition, as we celebrate Christmas in a new location, our participation in family Christmas is going to be in one of the kid’s home this year located halfway between our new and old homes, while we are in transit from one to the other. Discombobulated.
But you know what? I was reading through the Christmas story again in preparation for our worship services, and somehow, I think that was a fairly discombobulated time for Mary and Joseph as well! My discombobulation may be more akin to Joseph and Mary’s experience of Christmas than the best laid plans and celebrations that are normally the makeup of our traditions.
At least our move was because of choices we made, they had to leave because of an imperial order! It seems likely to me that they had family and possessions scattered in Nazareth, Bethlehem and who knows where else that first Christmas. They didn’t even celebrate Jesus’ birth in a home at all. In fact, as I was reading G. Campbell Morgan the other day, he pointed out that even the word “inn” from the story doesn’t refer to an inn as we might think of it, but was more of a walled enclosure in a field where people could bring their cattle for protection at night. No host, no restaurant, no cozy bedroom, just some open space with perhaps a few spaces of shelter for people inside. Mary and Joseph couldn’t even get a place there! And then, later on, after the wise men came, they had to abandon home again and escape to Egypt in fear for the life of the new baby.
And yet, in what may have been the most discombobulated time of Mary and Joseph’s lives, God was working the most incredible plan of history, working in ways they would never have imagined. This Christmas, what in your life, feels discombobulated to you. What things just don’t seem on track, or where do you just feel out of sorts? I invite you to consider that it might be a Mary and Joseph moment for you, that God has a plan he is working through your time of discombobulation, even if it doesn’t feel like there is much of a plan. Just as in the moment of creation, God brought order out of chaos, so God will bring meaning and purpose out of the most discombobulated times of our lives when we submit our will and our ways to him.
And you know what? Christmas is the perfect time to do just that! Offer God the discombobulated areas of your life, and invite him to use them for something wonderful. It just might be the best Christmas present of all!.
Monday, December 5, 2016
It was a sad day for me. I recently had to have some trees cut down in my yard. A big old elm and two big maples, because they have died. The elm probably died of old age…it hasn’t looked very well for several years. The maples seem to have not survived some recent drought summers. None of them looked very good, and they were all probably more dangerous than I care to admit, but still, I hate to cut down trees. It probably goes back to my love of my childhood tree house. In most places where I have lived, I have planted trees, bushes, flowers, and more. To cut down a tree is just not something I relish, necessary though it may have been.
However, there was a surprise in the cutting. One of the elm branches was hollow, and the home of a honey bee hive. The tree trimmer showed me where the branch had fallen, described the stings he had suffered, then asked whether I wanted him to load that piece up with the rest the fallen branches to the tree dump. I asked him to leave it.
Over the years, I have seen articles here and there about how the honey bee population has been declining in recent years, and the concern some have that the downturn could be dangerous if it persists, since fruit trees and other important vegetation are dependent upon the bees for fertilization. I decided we needed to see if we could locate a local beekeeper who might rescue the hive, although I also thought it might be fun to set up a hive myself, but the timing isn’t good for that for lots of reasons.
It took several days and numerous phone calls to find someone who could come to take the bees. A local beekeeper did, but not until after a good number of them had died due to the cold and the trauma of the fall. While I wasn’t here when he took the combs, my wife was, and she said he was concerned whether they might survive or not, but would give it his best shot. The man sent me a text stating that he wasn’t sure how good their chances were, and I replied that they had a better chance if he took them and tried than if they were simply left to die on the ground.
My tenderheartedness toward bees even applies when I’m mowing and working on the lawn. I have seen some taking pollen off the clover in the yard, and as a result have gone around the section to let them finish before going back to mow that area. I even chose not to put the kind of weed killer down that would kill the clover, just because I knew the bees liked it, even though I had no idea the bees lived in that old elm tree. I know, kind of dumb, but it is just one of many ways that I am a sap!
Friday, December 2, 2016
THE CHRISTMAS PARADE!!
I just returned home from Memory Lane! Tonight was the Christmas parade in our community of small town Americana. Forgive me for overtelling the story, but I invite you to join me in watching that parade before you mind’s eye.
I was standing across the street from the building in which my father had his photography studio for some 40 years or so, proudly crowned with a stone proclaiming 1895 as the year it was built. The upstairs was lit where someone now lives, as had been the case before I was born, and the main floor stood empty. On either side stood the buildings that once were shoe stores, but now house a women’s gym and offices (or former offices—hard to tell) of an attorney. Further down the block are several vacant lots, created nearly two decades ago by a tornado, where once stood the greasy spoon restaurant and the smoke shop that housed really great pinball machines. I was standing near the Mexican restaurant and local radio station, where once had been several very nice clothing stores.
The parade began, as many do, with the police vehicle sounding sirens to announce the start of the parade, followed by the sheriff’s vehicle, the color guard from the local VFW, and several assorted fire trucks, emergency vehicles and other important “Christmas” type(?) rescue trucks. But in small town America, that is how parades start. Always. Then came the politicians: mayor (I forgot we have a mayor), city commissioners, then a state representative and his wife who are actually one of the most down to earth political families I’ve ever met. After these preliminaries, the next phase starts, as we get down to the business of a real Christmas parade, with lots of business sponsoring the entrants, logos proudly displayed, and sometimes OVER-displayed.
I stand and watch, chatting with those nearby, as before me passes candy canes, reindeer, Christmas lights, a ginger bread house, cute little children elected royalty for the parade, and candy flying left and right into the hands of eager children. Well, actually the candy was flying onto the street where the eager children reached their hands down to scoop up the candy. And sometimes had to move several feet in either direction because the old folks like me weren’t picking up the candy that fell in front of us. I started helping, pointing out candy the kids had missed, and picking up some nearby to hand to the starving little ones. (I think the dentists should give me a commission, don’t you?)
Lots of different folks passed by. There were Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, little girls representing tumbling and dance clubs by cartwheeling and high kicking their way down the street, following behind the giant guitar playing Alvin, Theodore and Simon chipmunks on a float (you know, somehow the concept of “giant” chipmunks just seems wrong) . There were four marching bands, and as they passed I was close enough to thank their directors…one of whom shook my hand. I found myself remembering how cold a trombone mouthpiece becomes when it sits idle on the instrument as you march down the street. Many a time I did as these young people were doing tonight, in my hometown and other places as part of the local school’s marching band. A marching band which was significantly bigger than the struggling music program can produce at this time. Nonetheless, I was proud of every marching band member, and clapped so they knew they were appreciated….even if they weren’t quite as picky about straight lines as we were forced to be.
I have lots of fond memories of the marching band, although a friend of mine recently commented that whoever thought giving kids instruments and telling them to walk and play at the same time was a good idea had to have been drunk at the time. He may be right. But all the same, though the music may not have been as perfect as the professionally played digital renditions, the presence of live marching bands added a lot to the celebration atmosphere of the parade. I didn’t see any baton twirlers, though. Flag girls waving flags, and pom pom dance teams or cheerleaders were in the group, but that’s okay, I wasn’t all that thrilled with them marching with our band anyway.
A float moved by with friends on it, sporting the International Lion’s Club emblem and a big, gold lion, and I found myself remembering sitting on floats in “Santa’s workshop” on behalf of the local Lion’s Club many years ago, as we drifted past the no longer existent J. C. Penney’s, Montgomery Wards, soda fountains and dime stores. The buildings now are filled with other businesses, which is actually a significant achievement in a small town such as mine that has struggled with the WalMarts, mega-malls and online shopping of the world.
Of course, there were a number of things that have changed somewhat. There were some entries that seemed a little challenging for Christmas, such as Minions on a float. There was also a Frosty Snowman walking along who seemed to have gone to Weight Watchers a little too often, a float with a “Grinch” who gave a good representation of what a Christmas sequel to “Planet of the Apes” might have been like, and a group of guys in what looked like kilts swinging clubs at each other as they walked (the ladies next to me started to explain, but I asked them not to…I didn’t want to know).
There were other entries I didn’t quite understand. For instance, I never really thought about giving someone a yard of cement for Christmas…nonetheless the local cement mix company participated in support with a full size and several miniature mixer trucks, horns blaring and echoing off the walls. I also don’t remember blue and green “light sabers” being sold by street vendors as part of a traditional Christmas parade. I told the man next to me that they could have at least gone for blue and white for Hannukah, or red and green for Christmas. They yelled loud offering their wares for sale, with nary a Merry Christmas out of their mouths.
Included in the procession were also a number of vehicles from the local army reserve…whom I appreciate, though I’m not sure I get the Christmas connection…and yet, they are clearly an important part of our small community. Further in the parade was a long line of “classic” cars from the local cruise club…the same models that my friends drove in high school, which means I am now "classic." That’s a polite way of telling somebody they have become old…calling their cars “classic”! They were nice cars, but I thought they could have at least hung a little Santa from the mirror, or a bobble head Rudolph in the back window.
Missing from the parade were the miniature motorbikes and motorcars of the Shriners making their fast and noisy circles, and there were no horses decked out in their finery, except the ones pulling Santa’s sleigh at the end of the procession. I suspect the marching bands and those walking along to hand out candy did not miss the horses, though. And I’m guessing the reindeer had the night off, or maybe they need snow to operate in. Even Santa has to make do sometimes!
One of the most fun entries was a group of kids from the local high school, walking down the parade route with a mascot and emblems showing. Some of them were singing “Jingle Bells,” most of them were just walking and talking and saying, “hi” to folks along the way. I’m not sure if they were actually officially in the parade, or just needed something to do on Thursday night, but they were very friendly, and their songs fit the occasion, and they seemed to be having fun.
When the nursing home bus drove by, decorated with lights and staff walking nearby handing out candy, I recalled another year watching the parade, and finding that my own mother was riding one of those buses and waving at people. One never knows what to expect when watching a parade in small town America!
As the evening progressed, I was struck by the fact that the parade was about three fourths over before the first presentation of anything related to the origin of “Christ-mas.” That first appearance was on a float presented by, interestingly enough, a couple of local pharmacies who dared to have images of a Nativity and similar scenes. The earlier church bus was merely decked out in Christmas lights and handing out tracts. Not that I am saying that the parade should be exclusively Christian, but at least Jesus should be represented! I was very appreciative when the pharmacies came along, and decided I would tell my pharmacist friend as much the next day. Toward the end of the procession was a nicely done live Nativity presented by another local church, and then the parade ended with Santa and his lovely wife.
But most of all, there were streets lined by friendly people, talking together with strangers, waving at people on floats and laughing as they took pictures of one another or caught candy. Nobody seemed terribly concerned about a terrorist attack, or the mess that the political world is in. Nobody worried what color someone’s skin was, or saw the police as enemies of the young people walking along the sidewalks.
The parade created a delightful blend of the past, present and future, as generations blended together for the night, and I enjoyed memories of years gone by, while recognizing that things have changed and it is a different world.
And yet, through the changes the years have brought, and even that the centuries have brought, there remains one constant: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”—John 3:16.
That is the Christmas message proclaimed to shepherds on a hillside and wise men who studied stars. As you enter into the wide variety of celebration styles for the year, I hope you will also not leave out the core, the most important message of the season.
Don’t save it for the end of your life’s procession, either; keep it central. After all, it isn’t really CHRISTmas, if you leave Christ out of it.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
WONDERFUL MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS?
(Note to readers: This is NOT our house and not our Christmas decorations! Those that know us well know that the energy for this much decorating does not exist in this home!)
I have learned in life that there are people who absolutely love Christmas, those who absolutely hate it, and those who are somewhere in between.
You can always tell those who really love the holidays. Their houses have lots of lights, the decorations are up at the first opportunity, they wear Christmas ties or socks or sweaters, their radios are always set to the stations playing Christmas music 24/7, and they will have the most wonderful family meals you have ever eaten with lots of happy people and lots of presents under the tree. Many of those who are Christian, and some who are not, will celebrate Advent and candlelight services and maybe a cantata or performance of Handle’s “Messiah” as well. Among these folks that will be many who also have lots of wonderful memories to share from past celebrations of Christmas, often extending back to their childhoods. These people are great people to be around when you feel like celebrating the birth of Christ.
Those who hate them tend to have lots of reasons for their hatred. Some of them remember empty stockings and soup kitchens from Christmas. Others have memories of those who abandoned their family at this time of year. For some the Christmas holiday feels like nothing more than a pointed reminder that they don’t have the money to buy people presents. Some of these people walk with fresh wounds of a spouse having just divorced them, or a loved one dying leaving them to face the holidays alone. Some despise the commercialism of a religious holiday, and then there are, of course, those who simply hate what the feel is a religious holiday being shoved down their throat. Whatever the reason, generally speaking these individuals have lots of valid reasons they struggle, and in some cases, simply need some time to heal, or a way to find the path back to the meaning and real celebration of the Christmas holidays.
Those who are in between, are there for a variety of reasons. While they may rejoice and celebrate the season, they may also have some mixed feelings for some of the same reasons others hate the holidays. People who have been divorced often fit into this category, because even though life goes on, through the process of divorce there are some things that are changed forever.
Memories of baby’s first Christmas that once were shared and a source of bonding between mother and father often become harder to recall, and become reminders of the loss of what could have been. What once had been simple celebrations in which one made holiday plans with the children often becomes a major negotiation process, with neither parent really experiencing the fullness of family celebrations that can more easily exist with intact marriages.
What is the point?
Well, simply to encourage you, my readers, to recognize that people are different, and their experiences are different, and so maybe a blanket “Merry Christmas to all” may not be the best way to approach this season with everyone you meet.
Instead, I recommend some degree of sensitivity and working on listening skills, so that your expressions of love can be heard as that, rather than be experienced as calloused and uncaring empty words. In fact, I might even encourage you to go one step further this year; why not seek out someone for whom this is likely to be a difficult time? Let them know that your friendship is real, that your caring is more than surface, and find a way to brighten their lives just a bit. It just might be the beginning of pleasant Christmas memories for someone you know. And it might begin a special Christmas tradition of love for you, too!
Thursday, November 24, 2016
THANKSGIVING AND MEMORIES
A friend gave me a book a while back called, The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn, which includes a lot of very interesting “coincidences” about American history and the shifting values of our country through that history, especially in recent years as religion has become sort of a laughingstock to many in our country. I was most struck by the contrast of what I see today in government leaders compared to some things George Washington said in his First Inaugural Address at the founding of our country:
“Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency;”
(as recorded on Bartleby.com)
In terms of national and business leadership, (or for that matter, most of the nationally known outspoken people in our country) it is a rare thing today to hear an individual speak in the spirit of George Washington. What happened to the humility and the recognition that our success stems not from our own efforts alone, but from the grace and guidance of God who has chosen to bless? Even Thanksgiving has become little more than a celebration of the kickoff of Christmas sales and the appearance of a mythical man in a furry red suit who promises to bring presents to all.
Every day many of us are surrounded by material blessings beyond the imagination of millions of people around the globe who have no cars, no closet filled with clothes, no clean water in their non-existent kitchen faucets and no pantry filled with food. And the meals we consume at Thanksgiving truly would be considered great feasts by those who live without. But today, more than any other day, begs the question of whether we are even thankful at all, or have any recognition of our high obligation to God described by Washington.
Every Thanksgiving I turn the television (for which I am grateful today) to a station that covers the Thanksgiving Parade in New York City. As I watch it each year, including this year, I am reminded of how blessed I have been in my life with opportunities and a good home. It makes me remember the childhood years of Thanksgiving dinners meticulously prepared by my mother and various aunts who were often part of our celebrations. It makes me remember the special opportunities I have had in life to see and do wonderful things, such as once watching the Thanksgiving Day parade in person (including the blowing up of the balloons the night before) because of a special cousin who provided me the opportunity. Which also reminds me that I also got to attend once the New Year’s Rose Parade in Pasadena with my parents, with the aid of other special relatives, an aunt and uncle from Phoenix. And those are only two of the many special memories God has granted me through the course of my life.
Today, as I think of these things, I realize that wonderful as all those things are, they do not begin to compare with the incredible parade we shall experience in heaven when Christ leads us in triumph to the throne of God as his followers. I think that is the best thing of all, and suspect President Washington would agree. Recognizing the hand and blessing of God in this world, can be a foreshadowing to remind us of the wonderful things awaiting us in eternity, if we have first humbled ourselves before “The Great Author” to whom we belong and from whom we have received so much. Whether you are in a country that celebrates Thanksgiving Day or not, I encourage you to join me and take time today to express fresh gratitude to God for whatever blessings God has given to you.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
DISSENSION AND DIVISION
It’s the end of the world, everything is going to be awful, what will we do?” That’s the way a lot of people feel about the election results that resulted in Donald Trump becoming our president elect.
Of course, that is also the way a lot of people felt when President Obama was elected and re-elected, and when George W. Bush was elected and re-elected, and when Bill Clinton was elected and re-elected…and I suspect it was experienced by people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as well.
A number of us struggle even more with the way dissension and division seems to be growing in our country, which as our pastor pointed out last night, was the kind of sentiment that once led to a Civil War in our country and the deaths of thousands of people. And the truth is, one can follow that thread back century after century, nation after nation to find that humans are experts in arguing and fighting. It is getting along with people who think differently and focusing on common ground that is hard for us.
Perhaps this is part of the cause of divorce…that we are better at arguing, fighting and creating dissension than we are at compromising, finding middle ground and working together with others who think differently than ourselves. What we see on an international and national scale is replayed in home and home around the globe. If we can’t find a way to work with a person to whom we have committed our love and our lives, then how will we ever learn to work with individuals with whom we have no personal involvement and few shared values?
It is hard to admit that maybe somebody else’s point of view is just as valid as your own. It is hard to let go of something important to you so that others can have something important to them. It is hard to put as high a priority on another person’s values as you place on your own. But, it seems to me, that is exactly what is required to make a marriage work, and to make a country of diverse people work as well. It is also what is required of us sometimes when we stand for what is right, even at personal cost, especially when we speak up for others who can never pay us back and for whom nobody else is willing to speak.
It also seems to me that these kinds of things are embedded in the fabric of Christianity as described in the Bible (all quoted from NASB):
John 15:13, the words of Jesus-- Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
Matthew 5:44-45, again from Jesus-- But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Philippians 2:3-4, penned by Paul-- Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Colossians 3:12-14, again from Paul-- So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
1 John 4:16-17, penned by John-- We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
James 3:18, penned by James-- And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
In whatever arenas of your life where there is division, dissension, or the urge to participate in them, let me challenge you to be the one who is big enough to create peace and forbearance instead. We have plenty of people demanding their own rights and interests in the world. We need more willing to lay down their lives for a greater cause, for someone and something beyond themselves. I’m not one who engages in magical thinking and believes everyone will come together and join hands around a cozy campfire.
But I do believe each of us can make a difference in our part of the world and in our relationships when we are willing to truly care about the needs of others instead of obsessing about our own.
Who knows, maybe somebody reading this is contemplating divorce, and that slight change of attitude could be the very thing to turn their marriage around!
Sunday, November 6, 2016
If you have noticed that I have missed posting lately, it is the wonder of technology…and computer repair shops…but we are back in commission now, so welcome to tonight’s blog.
I had a nice time this weekend. For a significant portion of the weekend, I was in the company of long term friends whom I don’t get to see very often. Some of them I saw for a few brief moments at the worship service I attended, others I was privilege to spend several hours with while playing cards or just visiting over a meal or while doing little or nothing. We laughed over favorite stories, caught up on one another’s lives and families, worshiped God together, and encouraged one another in the challenges of our lives.
As I drove away with all the memories of the weekend as well as memories of lifelong friendships, I also thought of all the ways so many of those friends offered support and encouragement for me during the dark days of divorce. I was reminded of a time, years ago as I was struggling with the reordering of life that comes with divorce and the financial strain it entails, when in the midst of those dark days I thought to myself, “Lots of things in my life are changing, with a lot of loss and uncertainty. I may not have a lot of money, but I am rich. I have a treasure chest FILLED with wonderful friends.” THAT is a good thing to remember.
Are you experiencing upheaval and uncertainty in your life? Are you struggling, discouraged and fearful? Is the path ahead clouded so that you cannot see what the future holds even an hour ahead? God is always available to help and provide us the strength, hope and encouragement we need…and more often than not God makes that provision in the form of gifts he calls “friends”.
I like the old saying that we need God to love us, but sometimes we need God to love us in a tangible way, and in those situations, our fellow Christians, our dear friends and loving family can become “God with skin on.” Their kind words, their helpful deeds, their encouraging support, their warm and caring hugs are often the very love of God reaching out to meet the needs of your life. There is not a more valuable treasure on earth than caring people who offer their love and support in the midst of a time of desperation and despair.
Who are the treasures in your life? Today might be a good time to tell God thanks for sending them your way. It might not hurt to tell them thanks, too!
Sunday, October 16, 2016
I would like to follow up on my reflections about our shifting society, as noted in Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation. One of the topics discussed a lot in the book is that of personal and societal values. I was struck by the topic afresh the other day, when I was having lunch with a group of friends. Looking around the table, we commented that it had to be a gathering of old folks, because nobody had their cell phones out texting and looking at Facebook posts and surfing the internet while eating with friends, choosing a focused visit with one another instead.
Later that same day, in another group with younger folks present, sure enough, the cell phones were active the entire time. It got me to thinking about Brokaw’s comments regarding shifting values in our society.
One of the areas where values have shifted has to do with hard work, rewards and perseverance. I remember when I was younger; people lamented the rise of “instant” foods as evidence of the impatience of my generation. Instant potatoes, instant coffee, instant rice, instant oatmeal, even a drink to instantly meet your breakfast needs….all were cited as proof that people were losing patience and perseverance. Take that a multiply it by a million to be where we are today, with email conquering “snail mail” and individuals frustrated when an internet download takes more than two seconds.
In two generations we have moved from the perspective that anything worth having is worth waiting for” to the advent of instant gratification to a new expectation of INSTANTANEOUS as the norm for anything. Nice homes, marriages, job success, building a nest egg….all things that once were accepted to be the tasks of a lifetime are suddenly now the expectations and demands of the moment, which are then abandoned if left unmet.
Another meaningful value I found highlighted by Brokaw was the idea of serving for the greater good…sacrificing one’s own personal interests for the sake of others, to make the world a better place or to aid the lives of others. Time and again that was how individuals described their commitments and efforts in serving and supporting during World War II, an attitude that came back to civilian life as those individuals sought to make their communities and their world better through personal efforts. Many today also want to make the world a better place, what with environmental concerns and desire for world peace and mutual respect. But the missing element, it seems to me, in the realm of personal sacrifice. Often today, people appear to support causes that are conducted by others, government agencies and so forth, using their excess funds or time to help. The concept of going without myself so that a cause can be advanced or for the welfare of others is not a common trait.
If you will forgive my cynicism, an illustration of this concept can be seen, I believe, in the work of Al Gore. While warning the world of the dangers of global warming and the need to change how we live, he travels to speak in a personal jet polluting far more in one trip than most individuals do in the course of an entire year or more. His defense was reported to be that he buys carbon offsets in the rain forests, but that is a far cry from personal sacrifice, wouldn’t you say? His example is the way many live in these times, standing for causes as long as those causes do not interfere with their own personal lifestyle. That is a far cry from the sacrificial lifestyle of “The Greatest Generation.”
Loyalty is a value that has made significant shifts over recent decades. So many of the people in Brokaw’s books remained working with the same company for decades, pursuing stable careers. Now, it is much more uncommon for someone to work for the same company for an entire lifetime, and even if someone sets out on that path, attractive salary offers can easily lure individuals from one job to another, one location to another. Loyalty is an important character issue. People can be loyal to their employer, loyal to a brand name or a store, loyal to their spouses, and employers can also honor loyalty by the way they treat their employees. When loyalty breaks down, so do lots of other things. Marriages are devastated every day because one spouse is no longer loyal to the other. The Enron disaster of a few years ago demonstrated what happens when management/employers choose not to honor the loyalty of their employees, as so many lost their pensions while those responsible walked away with millions. In cases like that, sometimes I wish I could have been the judge on the bench. I would have sentenced those executives responsible to forfeit their entire savings and personal possessions…including property in spouse’s names, and then be given simple homes and a basic car with which to start life over. Then, I would have ordered them to use the vast sums they stole to pay back proportionally each individual who lost retirement funds, requiring the executive to personally write a check, hand it to the individual with a face to face apology. Why? Because it is clear the individuals involved had lost their way when it came to character and values, and needed to be reminded that real people suffered, and real people trusted them, and real people are important.
Let me provide one last example. Brokaw’s book also highlights the pervasive values of family and religious commitments. Sometimes marriages fall apart because individuals’ values place perceived personal interest above their family when making a marriage and family work is making more demands on them than they are willing to give. The mindset can be one of wanting one’s fun before it’s too late, or it can be an unwillingness to face one’s own shortcomings or put forth the effort needed to make the necessary changes. When family takes second seat to self, there is often a high price to pay. At the same time that this emphasis has suffered decline, individual’s need for God has also declined, not unsurprisingly. When one’s first priority is oneself, there is no need for a God, nor an interest in learning what God might think of our self-centered actions. The cycle continues to spiral, because as one’s involvement with God declines, so the choice of one’s personal values also decline. Values are based on one’s own ideas, one’s desires, and the whims of societal and political winds…each of which provides unreliable guides for one’s moral compass. I guess it wouldn’t really matter what morals and values one might choose to live by, except that when all is said and done, God will judge each of us, and it will be HIS standards that he judges by, not our own. Choosing to live by the wrong set of values will bring great disappointment to say the least.
The point of this blog is simple. I was struck in reading Brokaw’s books to look at my own life and choices in comparison to the examples set by those who went before in that “Greatest Generation.” I encourage you to do the same. What are the values of YOUR life? Not what your words would indicate, but the values actually demonstrated by the way you live, the calendar you keep, the finances you handle. And, having examined those values, what is the basis out of which you choose those values? I would encourage you to not allow the foundation of your values to be the shifting sands of self-interest or popular opinion…be a better person than that! If nothing else, learn that lesson from the Greatest Generation.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
I have finally gotten around to reading Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation. He writes lots of things I relate to, as he could easily have included my parents for a chapter in the book. In many ways, he did, not by name but in terms of the kind of people they were.
In his book, Brokaw highlights such characteristics as honesty, loyalty, humility, endurance, the ability to face hardship and deprivation, dedication, faith, the importance of family and the commitment they demonstrated as they kept lifelong marriage vows. These were the characteristics instilled through the hardships of the Great Depression, of hard physical labor, and of the crisis of a world at war. I know personally a number of individuals from that generation whose marriages lasted 50 or 60 years or more! Brokaw addresses this theme time and again, stating that this generation just seemed to take the vows more seriously back then, and did not consider divorce an option.
As I have encountered these friends of mine with their long term marriages, I have often wondered how many people from my generation will ever see their 50th anniversary.
So many divorces.
Brokaw sees it as a major symptom of changing times, one that is tragic in many ways. Many in my generation had the blessing of growing up in a stable home with married parents who stayed together throughout their lives. It is a sad thing that so many children in this day and age will never know what that is like…including my own. Studies indicate that it really does make a difference.
At the same time, I would like to raise some thoughts of my own, as kind of response to the ideas raised by Mr. Brokaw, with no slight intended on his observations about that “greatest generation”.
One of the shifts that I believe has taken place is in the realm of expectations. While courtship and romance are as popular today as they were back then, the expectations of what married life would be like appears to be different. Brokaw points out time and again how many of that older generation expected that marriage would take work, and that difficulties, including marital difficulties, were just part of life that had to be faced and conquered. They didn’t expect to have the perfect marriage. Instead, they expected to build a great marriage.
They also didn’t expect to start out with everything in place, but to work their way up. Dad and I used to take a lot of wedding pictures, and he often commented that newlyweds these days moved into homes that his generation worked their way up into, rather than starting out there. Brokaw illustrates this through comparing the 1000 sq. ft. homes of that generation versus the 2000+ sq.ft. homes of the 90’s. Another interesting shift I noted was that while Brokaw highlighted individuals who followed careers for their entire lives, in this day and age instead, it has been estimated that high school graduates today will experience something like 5 major career shifts by the time they retire, and most of those careers do not even exist yet. These are all significant shifts. And then there has been that fundamental shift from the fact that back in those days, the bulk of the marriages occurred before they had children and before the couple took up residence together. It is a different world…and not necessarily better!
There are lots of things that have changed over the years, and the size of starter homes is only one. Brokaw points out the advances against the racism and sexism which were the norms of society in those days. But, it seems to me, as Mr. Brokaw focuses on the “ease” with which divorces are obtained these days, he fails to recognize that the change in the divorce rate may well be more than just a lack of follow through on commitment. An argument could reasonably be made that the hike in the divorce rate is also a symptom of the stresses in a radically changing society. In addition, in my opinion it is also is a symptom of changing expectations.
For the last few decades, the gender roles in marriage have been shifting. The fact that more wives are in the work force, sometimes earning more than husbands, and husbands are more involved in the raising of children serve as two simple examples. I believe the expectations of what to expect a marriage relationship to be like may have shifted as well, with young couples believing, as with the house, that their relationship should start out with a depth they may have seen in that of their parents, without recognizing that their parents’ relationship was the fruit of decades of hard work and committed love. When they experience hardship, frustration and disappointment instead, it is interpreted as failure rather than as a challenge.
And now, with the next generation moving to adulthood and marriage, having seen so many parents split up, perhaps even their own, for many of them, the example people like me grew up with is now lost. Many of this next generation assume single parent homes, step families and divorce is the norm. Or, conversely, having observed or experienced the brokenness of a divorcing home, they may be building a relationship of reaction against being like their parents, rather than intentionally building their own unique relationship.
Permit me to turn a different direction, and add one comment that is counter to the image of these wonderful marriages from days of yore. Much as lifting the cover of those times reveals the racism and sexism of the day, it is also a fact that there were many couples who stayed together in spite of an awful marriage, filled with abuse and adultery. One of the things that has resulted as women entered the workforce, as well as the social programs that provide assistance to the impoverished, is that women, particularly, have the option of choosing to NOT stay in a bad or dangerous marriage. While this may have contributed to the divorce rate, it may not be such a bad thing, as it faces the fact that some marriages are not godly marriages at all, but a sham of abusive relationships.
Better than divorce for even those abusive marriages, of course, would be for the couple to agree to face their problems head on, and do whatever it takes to make the changes necessary to build a better marriage, as many in the “greatest generation” surely did. But when one partner is unwilling to do that work, the remaining partner faces the choice of whether to stay and endure, to stay, pray and work for gradual change, or to file for divorce and finally acknowledge that the unhealthy situation is dangerous, ungodly and abusive. Had the men and women of this “greatest generation” also had the same kind of option to choose, and some I have known would have appreciated feeling like they had a choice, then perhaps the “greatest generation” story might have been different.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
GOT THE BLUES?
Life has hard moments for everyone.
Some people appear to take things in stride, to keep the proverbial “chin up” attitude.
Other people fight back and, with a flurry of activity, attack perceived problems head on and get back on their feet in that way.
Still others go through a bit of a down time, perhaps consult with friends, work it through a bit, and move on. But there are many people who find themselves cast into depression, unable to shake loose what others might call “the blues,” but what for some people are minor challenges can be, for a person in the midst of depression, overwhelming and paralyzing. I have known many individuals struggling with depression in the events leading up to, during and after divorce, but I have known just as many people in healthy marriages who also struggle with divorce for one reason or another. Times of depression can be tough.
Today I thought I might simply pass along some tips for dealing with depression. Before I close the blog, I will also include some thoughts for those of you who, while not depressed yourselves, have a family member or friend you would like to help through their time of depression.
- It isn’t useful to pile guilt on top of your depression. It is often a temptation to blame oneself for depression, as if it is something you have chosen. Most of the time, however, it is not. Depression is just what it is, adding guilt over being depressed only leads into deeper depression. Argue with the thoughts that would convince you otherwise. Depression is sometimes a natural response to difficult circumstances, sometimes induced by brain chemistry, and generally only lasts for a season. By the way, don’t let others pile guilt on your for it, either.
- Realize you are a unique individual. Just because something helps someone else you know who is depressed, does not mean it will be helpful for you. For those who struggle with periodic depression over a lifetime, it can be a wise preparation to develop some self-awareness. Along the way, take time for some reflection as to what kinds of things help create depression for you, as well as what things you find helpful in the midst of it. These things can be useful when facing another round of depression.
- Though you may not feel like you have the energy or motivation to do it, I encourage you to get out of the house and be around other people regularly, even if you have to drag yourself out.
- Take care of your physical needs as best you can. Try to eat more healthy and balanced meals, as depression often expresses itself through one’s relationship with food, and unhealthy eating can also contribute to feelings of depression. Stay away from alcohol during depression…it is a drug that is a depressant, remember? Pursue an exercise routine, it can release mood lifting endorphins, boost energy, and help your focus. Enforce for yourself boundaries on your sleep…refuse to stay up out of bed when you wake up in the middle of the night, and refuse to spend all day sleeping. You may have to take sleep aids and read really boring books, or in contrast, you may have to force yourself to take that shower and get dressed or to go out to the store, but don’t let depression’s sleep patterns control YOUR sleep patterns.
- Find something to make you laugh, preferably on a daily basis. There are lots of options for this; a stupid movie, a humorous book, a pet you can play with or some ridiculous YouTube video are all options that could brighten a few moments of your day.
- Keep in contact with those who care for you. While you don’t want to drag them down into the dark hole you are experiencing, neither is it wise to shut them out of your struggle completely. Ask for support and encouragement when you need it, share your prayer needs, spend some time in positive social interactions, such as dinner out, a movie or a walk in the park.
- If you had bronchitis, you would go see your doctor and take the medicine the doctor prescribes. Similarly, chronic or deep depression may compel you to see a professional counselor or take medications to help you through. Don’t be afraid to get help when help is needed. Just as it is unwise to wait too long and let bronchitis turn into double pneumonia, it can be just as unwise to wait overly long before seeking help in depression.
- Your pastor, Bible study group leader or other Christian leader can be a good source of encouragement, helping you address the spiritual battle often accompanying depression. Keeping faith through the dark days can require support from other people of faith, and nurturing your spiritual side in the midst of it can help strengthen you to get through it.
- Provide regular opportunity to let God to minister to you directly and personally. Do your best to continue to attend worship. Talk honestly with God about your struggle. Spend time in the scripture, even if it is just reading a psalm or a few verses each day, and even if you don’t feel like it is doing you any good.
- Do at least one thing constructive each day. Often, when depressed, the load of tasks to be done is overwhelming, and begins to get bigger as time passes. As the list gets longer, it becomes more overwhelming and the depression grows stronger. Selecting something, anything, that you can do and scratch off the list helps. Some days you may take on a bigger challenge, other days, a simple task may be all you feel you can manage. So do what you can, but do something. If that something also happens to be the kind of something that also brightens your environment a little bit, such as a new coat of paint or planting petunias, so much the better.
- Last of all, grant yourself the grace and compassion you would grant to others who were suffering depression. Don’t expect more of yourself than you would expect of them. Cut yourself some slack. It’s okay if you can’t get through it instantly, some things just take time to get over, and depression can be the process that makes you slow down to get through the losses and fears. Give yourself time to make it through, one step at a time.
Now, for those of you dealing with a family member who is depressed, I will only offer a few thoughts. You don’t have to tiptoe around someone who is depressed, but it can also be counterproductive to be overbearing or pushy, too. Just do your best to maintain as normal a relationship as possible. You don’t need to avoid the topic of the depression, nor should you overly dwell on it in conversation with your struggling friend. Some days, a little challenge from you might be the encouragement that helps them turn a corner, or at least take a step forward.
Sometimes the greatest gifts you can give are the simplest, such as a listening ear, a thoughtful card, a meaningful scripture, an invitation out for lunch, or a token gift such as flowers or tickets to a show. Let them know you care, let them know you are praying for them, let them know you are available to talk or spend time together, but also let them know you will give them the space they need.
Finally, I would add, there are things you can suggest, encouraging your friend to see a counselor or to eat something, but always remember, your friend’s depression is not something you can fix. You can support, you can encourage, you can pray, you can assist, but you cannot fix this for them. Depression is a lonely journey, and much of it has to be traveled alone in the wee hours of the morning or in the silent recesses of the soul. Being available when needed and offering support during the difficult dark days can mean much more than anything else you can do. For the rest of the time, you just have to be patient, and in your patience, make sure you are doing your own self-care, lest you get dragged down into another’s depression.