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Friday, July 27, 2018



I don’t know about you, but I have really felt for the folks who have been forced to evacuate homes in recent months, and sometimes for the last time.  Volcanoes in Hawaii and Guatamala, the aftermath of hurricanes down in Puerto Rico and Haiti, flooding on the east coast, and all the wildfires out in California.  Perhaps you have seen, as I have, stories of individuals who chose to ignore evacuation orders, and found themselves in peril as a result.  I was especially struck by the images I found on MSN of the news team in Redding, California giving their report and then having to evacuate in the middle of the broadcast 

 It must have been pretty scary for those ladies and their staff, but they knew that concern for their personal safety in the face of impending disaster was more important than continuing their reporting. Good choice.  

Not to diminish those disasters at all, but there is a degree of parallel for divorce, wouldn’t you say?  That is, when you do determine that it is time to evacuate the marriage, and when is it too late? 

I used to teach an introductory speech class for a community college, and I remember one of my students who gave a speech on physical abuse in marriage.  She had resourced a story out of Redbook magazine some years ago, that told of a woman who had suffered abuse multiple times at the hands of her husband in Pennsylvania.  The story describe a time when he flew into such a rage that he attacked her with a baseball bat, hitting her in the head, and then threw her onto the floorboard of the back seat of her car and drove to Chicago.  She was dead by the time they arrived.  

Sadly, it is a fact that one can wait too long to “evacuate” from a dangerous marital situation.  Even more sadly, the stories of the “battered woman syndrome” describe how often some wives are willing to endure or persevere based on false hopes, ending up in situations like the one Redbook described.  And just as sadly, there are plenty of battered men out there, too, but many of them are very isolated, because it is often too embarrassing for men to admit they are being beaten by their wives, so they suffer in silence.  I knew of such a man, who would wake up to find his drunken wife over him, threatening to slice his throat with the broken neck of a beer bottle.

Then there are those who suffer, not physical abuse, but emotional and mental abuse, which can also be devastating and, like the men who suffer alone, invisible to those outside the marriage.  Individuals suffering this kind of abuse are like empty shells walking around, with the life snuffed out of them inside.  In cases like these, the question of when to “evacuate” is much more difficult to discern, because there are no physical wounds that show themselves to be life threatening, even though the person’s life is greatly suffering.

In many of the abuse cases of all sorts, the victim all too often blames themselves for the problem, often because they have been told they are to blame by the abuser. (Which, of course, is HOGWASH!) They then believe that if they can just be a little better, or change just enough, everything will be okay…not recognizing that unless the abuser is willing to take responsibility and work on changing, too, the out-of-control roller-coaster ride that is their marriage will continue on the same track.

Rather than make this blog overly long, I am going to propose a few points, and then follow up with a second part in the next blog.  The points are simple:

1)  Leaving a marriage just because it is difficult can easily be evacuating too early.  Studies show that couples who endure through the difficult years and work to make it out the other side can end up with a very rich marriage.  (Note—THEY work through the difficulties…it takes two.)  

2)  Don’t evacuate if you have the alternative of putting out the fire!  Sometimes a little effort can go a long way, and responding to difficulties with panic rarely leads to good results.

3)  As in the case of wildfire evacuations, divorce should be considered a last resort, not the quick solution.  But if you are in a life-threatening situation, evacuating earlier is better than too late, as the Redbook story shows.

4)  Be realistic about possibilities for working out problems.  When only one spouse is willing to make the necessary changes, or to accept any responsibility for the difficulties, to believe that everything will change because of one person’s efforts MAY BE delusional.  There are certainly many things one spouse CAN do that may help create the environment for change and improvement…but ultimately, it takes two to engage in creating a healthy relationship.

Many times, it is true, divorce is chosen too quickly, when there are better options available.  But there are also times when it may be the only solution short of God’s intervention. Next blog I will offer some ideas of how to sort out your own situation (or help a friend sort out theirs) when faced with the possibility of divorce. 

In the meantime, if you are having difficulties in your marriage, you might want to check out this recent two part blog by Les and Leslie Parrott.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Sudden Tragedy


Many people will experience today a troubling and unexpected surprise when they receive divorce papers on behalf of their spouse.  Some will not be unexpected, to be sure.  But any others will be blindsided, or at the least disappointed as they were hoping to get their marital problems worked out and their marriages back on track.  

At the same time, those people are not the only individuals who will experience a sudden life change today, and have to deal with the new situation they find themselves in.  

Granted, there is a difference when someone you love turns against you and rejects your love from losing your house in an earthquake or even suffering grief through the death of a loved one…but divorce certainly isn’t the only traumatic life change people experience.  

Life is just messy like that sometimes, isn’t it?  

None of us is immune from the unexpected, and having the skills to handle such events is critical.

How do you respond to sudden tragedy?  

Sure, shock, fear, depression, anger, denial, desperation, efforts to try to reverse the reality….all those kinds of emotions and reactions are some of the natural responses, especially in the early stages of the event.  But I am asking you to consider beyond the initial responses.  When we have such events thrust upon us, we all have to decide how to move forward in life afterwards.  Very often we actually already have skills to help us through, if we remember to use them. Some life skills, however, will only be developed in the crucible of such events.

I don’t know if you have heard of Christians who like to adopt what they call a “life-verse,” or not, but I know some folks like that.  They select a verse that has special meaning for them, or special challenge, or that reflects what they perceive as their calling and purpose in life.  In conversation with a friend recently, we were talking about that idea, and while it isn’t something that I participate in, I suggested to my friend that if I were going to adopt one, some days I think it would be the first half of Hebrews 10:36—“For you have need of endurance…”

Some days, enduring is about as much as I think I can handle.  Actually, I wanted to offer that as an example of the kind of life skill that comes only through adversity.  If you never had anything you had to endure, then you would never learn the ability to endure.

When life change events come along, it is very easy to get so caught up in the loss, that you start to live in the past, longing for how things used to be, even to the point of rewriting the past and forgetting that some of the past wasn’t so great!  This kind of reaction often leads to getting stuck in life, stuck in mourning, loss and depression.  Certainly grieving the loss that accompanies sudden changes is important, but healthy grieving involves eventual acceptance of the new reality and moving forward in life.

One of the hardest things to learn in such life change experiences is that, along with the loss, something is always also gained. Sticking with divorce as an example, one of the things gained is the opportunity for self-examination so as to restructure your future according to the values you hold dear, without having to negotiate or compromise those values with a spouse whose values are in conflict.  This can lead to a fuller expression of your self-hood than can sometimes exists in dysfunctional and stifling marriages (which, ultimately are the kind of marriages that end in divorce, in my opinion).  As part of that self-examination, one is also forced to identify previously unseen personal shortcomings and flaws that may have contributed to the divorce.  Such identification yields the opportunity for growth and change if we embrace it instead of fighting against it.

Moving locations can be one of those life change events. Depending on why you move, it may be one of the traumatic kind, or one that is more positively viewed.  Down through the years, I have lived in several different locations and states.  Each time I moved to somewhere fresh, it was always a mixed bag.  I was venturing into the unknown, usually going to a place where I didn’t know anybody.  It was always a bit of a risk, but a risk I often describe as an adventure.  

At the same time, it is also always an experience of loss, as I left behind good friends, homes in which I had grown comfortable, local opportunities that I enjoyed.  For example, when I lived in the Cincinnati area, I loved visiting the many huge preserves of protected forested areas, and enjoyed regular visits to the wonderful zoo that is there.  Those experiences are now among my treasured memories, as I no longer live there or have the opportunity to visit those places as freely as I once did. However, there are other opportunities that have come in other places.  In one town, I had the chance to coach and referee soccer games, in another the chance to enjoy an older home with lots of character, and now that I am a resident of Nebraska, I had the opportunity to attend one of the College World Series baseball games in Omaha.  Each experience was unique to the location where I lived, opportunities that would not have been mine had I not relocated.  There is no doubt that I often miss being with friends I have known over the years.  Some of those friends are on the East coast, some in the Cincinnati area, some in the Kansas City area and other places.  But it is because I have moved around that I have developed these friendships in all these places with people I would not otherwise have met!

Sometimes when we grieve the changes and loss, we long for things to be as they were, to stay the same.  However, it is foolish of us to think that if we stayed in the same situation, things would be the same.  The truth is, many of my friends from the East Coast no longer live where we lived at the time…they have moved, too.  Friends who had time when we were studying in graduate school are now caught up with families and careers, and their time is limited, as is mine.  

Things don’t just stay the same.

So what kind of skills get you through life changing events? Well, they probably vary according to your own personality and experiences, but I will suggest a few. 

One is developing the ability to not only see the hardship and loss, but to find ways to see opportunity and advantages, to reject the blinders that keep us from seeing only the hard things in life.  

Another is learning how to not face these changes alone, leaning on old friendships and developing new ones to provide the companionship and encouragement we need when life leaves us confused and uncertain.  

And to close the blog, I would suggest only one more skill to develop, and that is the skill of appreciation or gratitude.  Appreciate and treasure those memories and special times from prior to the life change, rather than simply mourning them.  But don’t let yourself get stuck even there….develop the kind of perspective that allows you to also appreciate and be grateful for the positive things that are in your life NOW…refusing to live in either the past or the future, recognizing instead that each day of life is a precious gift, and that there is always something good around us if we would but take the time to notice.  

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Wrestling with God


For those of you here in the United States, I hope you had a good celebration for the 4thof July.   I happened to be on the road late in the evening the night before, and skirted the western edge of Omaha just as fireworks displays were lighting up the night sky.  I’m not quite sure why they were being done on the 3rd, but it was something to see, because it appeared that there were neighborhoods or suburbs all around the city each having their own display.  As a result, I was treated to a horizon of multiple fireworks displays almost 360 degrees!  Last time I saw something like that was when I was in San Francisco on the 4thof July some years ago, and went up the hill in Berkeley from which we could see the displays of San Franciso, Oakland and Richmond simultaneously.

At the same time, I might add that to me, it is a hard thing to celebrate our country’s freedom and heritage when we are seeing its citizens on both ends of the political spectrum declaring the other end to be their enemies, with so much vitriol and anger…...and choosing to do battle against one another instead of finding ways to work together, which is what the U.S. is at its best.  

Our people and our leaders have a long way to go to heal the divisiveness and rift that have torn our nation apart in recent decades.  It is sad.  Pray for change, and then work to learn to actually respect and accept people who happen to have a different view of things than your own.  

Well, that’s my rant, but not really the subject of the blog. Today in worship, the topic for the day was learning how to hear God’s voice, based on the words of Jesus describing those who have “ears to hear.”  For those individuals experienced in the Christian lifestyle and trained in biblical teaching, that seems to be such a simple topic…a foundational piece of the Christian faith.  After the service, though, I had an individual remind me that to some people, the very idea that we could hear God speak to us sounds utterly foolish or crazy. (Gee, what biblical book have we heard THAT before?...the answer, by the way, is 1 Corinthians 1…non-Christians have been making that claim since the very beginning!)

After our consideration of ways to be able to recognize when God is speaking to us, my parishioner shared with me that while watching a national television talk show recently, the same topic had come up.  On the show (and I shall leave it unnamed), the individuals were discussing a well know person and that person’s faith.  My parishioner said that the general tone of the discussion was that it was one thing to claim to talk to God, but they just found unbelievable the idea that somebody could actually believe that they can know when God is talking to them.  I suspect that most Christians would find unbelievable the idea that people think God DOESN’T or CAN’T or WON’T talk to the people he created.   It made for a very interesting contrast this morning.

Many religions teach the notion of a transcendent being they call God, a being far beyond us in power, understanding and even presence.  Their notion is that there is a God, but that God is so big or so busy that God can’t be bothered with the trivia of our individual lives. 

But the most profound teaching of Christianity is that there is a tension that exists in the fact that God is, indeed, transcendent and far beyond us, but that in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God is also imminent…present with us.  

One of the Christmas names of Jesus is Immanuel (or Emmanuel), which means simply, “God with us.”  Jesus goes so far as to say that God knows when every sparrow falls from the sky, and the number of hairs on our heads, and it is God’s desire for us to know him personally in an ongoing, mutual and intimate relationship.  But for those who only know the concept of God in terms of his transcendence, the notion that God would be interested and involved in communicating with us and guiding us and listening to our concerns is absurd. Such is the wisdom of men, which is foolishness to God.  

One of the passages we mentioned today was from the story of Jacob, whose wrestling with the angel of God is recorded in Genesis 32.  Jacob took hold of that angel and refused to quit until he had received what he needed from God, which in that moment was God’s blessing.  That is the challenge for us, as well, to approach God and not give up, not let go, until we hear from God what we need to know.  

If you are a person struggling in the throes of divorce (or any other of life’s struggles for that matter), I want to encourage you to remember this central and powerful teaching of Christ:  

that no matter what your struggle, God is with you, and cares for you, and will help you, guide you, and yes dear talk show hosts, even speak to you! There is nothing that you can encounter in life that you have to face alone.  You can invite Christ to be part of your life, and walk through life’s toughest journeys with God at your side.  Even if nobody else understands, you will know that you have been in the presence of God.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Slave to a Better Master


Tomorrow, in the United States, is July 4, and we celebrate Independence Day, remembering the date when our founding fathers decided it was time to rebel against Great Britain and form a new nation.  It took several years for that declaration to become reality as they fought against the British soldiers in a variety of skirmishes, and then had to come to agreement about how the new nation would be constructed. Nevertheless, it is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed that we remember and celebrate.

Many people seek independence in lots of ways.  I think that, no matter how independent we may think we are, the truth is we are far more dependent and inter-dependent than most of us would want to admit.  We rely on others to manufacture vehicles and provide gasoline so we can move from one place to another.  We rely on others to make medicines to help us when we become ill. We rely on others to provide clean water to our homes, along with electricity and natural gas to light and heat our homes.  That list could go on forever, for we really are not as independent as we might like to believe.  

In Romans 6, the assertion is made that none of us is actually independent at all, for we are all either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness, depending on whether or not we are pursuing God’s ways in our lives or ignoring them.  A lot of people like to pretend this isn’t true…but challenge someone to live a single day without a single sin….it will become quickly clear that they are not able to do so.  It might be a small sin that day, but it will not be the perfection of God they experience on their own.

In seeking independence, though, people pursue many different avenues to get there.  Some seek to throw off any constraints on their behaviors, reject the norms and rules of others and declare themselves “independent”…often to their own hurt. Others declare independence when they reach adulthood, and move out of their parents’ home to establish a home of their own, fending for themselves as they venture out into a new life.  That tends to be a pretty good thing, it seems to me…although sometimes it is done in a very high-handed and angry manner. Still others decide they can no longer handle the ties of their marriage, and run to divorce court seeking their independence.  Interestingly enough, that isn’t what they always find is the result of pursuing divorce. 

Of course, it truly depends on the circumstances.   For instance, there is the person who has suffered years of abuse, and been stifled from being able to be the person they were meant to be because of a domineering and controlling spouse (which can be the husband OR the wife, by the way).  Such a person may well experience the divorce as a liberation into the freedom to be the person they truly are meant to be, and to experience a meaningful and positive life rather than the repression they have suffered.  But a person whose experience of marriage has been shared responsibility in the ongoing tasks of life may well find that their so-called independence has instead become a very burdensome life dominated by overwhelming tasks that once were cared for by their spouse.

When children are involved, so-called independence from a spouse can become instead an entangled nightmare of waiting for or trying to raise child-support, figuring out holiday schedules that are not convenient for anyone, and lop-sided parenting with children receiving very different perspectives on what the divorce means and what appropriate values in life are. Sometimes, the individual trying to manage to pay child support can find themselves struggling to meet their own daily bills to survive.  Far from being the wonderful independence imagined, life becomes extremely complicated and frustrating.  Sometimes it would be wise for those seeking independence through divorce to take time to visit with someone who has gone through it, so that they base their decision on reality, not on a fantasy notion of what independence from their spouse would be like.

My point is, sometimes “independence” isn’t really all we are led to believe it is.  There certainly is great good in the idea, as I certainly have no desire to live in a country run by a capricious dictator.  However, it seems to me that the most fulfilling of lives is not found in demanding some kind of independence, but in learning, as Paul said in Romans, how to be slave to a better master than self-centeredness and sin.  God’s slaves, or servants, end up pursuing the kind of life for which they were designed by their Creator, and thus find a kind of fulfillment that can be found nowhere else.  Dependence isn’t such a bad thing, when you dependent on Someone whose goal is to make sure you have the best possible life you could ever have, and who has promised to meet every need you would ever face.  
By the way, my fellow Americans, early wishes for a Happy Independence Day!