Archive for the 'Relationships' Category

31
Dec
10

Magic on Ice

As the year comes to a close, so does our holiday season. This year, the season settled in with disillusion. I resented the materialism and mourned the childhoods of my daughters, all the while seeking a spiritual connection that went missing some time in September. It was difficult to stave off cynicism, particularly after a Black-Friday all-nighter that left me feeling used and exploited like a night at a frat house caveman party.

Then I took Berlin ice skating.

Ice skating is like mainlining childhood for me. Growing up in Minnesota, I spent many weekends on the lake. If it got dark, my dad would turn on the Nova’s headlights and I would circle the lake, getting more and more bruised as I pursued a doomed Olympic career. The minute my feet are captivated by little white boots with metallic blades, I am eight again, and everything is possible.

So mother and daughter circled the ice, together in childish spirit, chatting about the latest pop stars and admiring our icy grace as we twirled around dodged wobbly grown ups and slow beginners. Most of these obstacles belonged to the same group. When we got cold, we left the ice to sit by the fire and we stopped talking long enough to notice these people. It was a family, reunited from lives that took them all over the country. Grandpa and grandma were there with thermoses of hot chocolate for the brothers and sisters they had borne. The cousins were scattered around the ice and the fire pit, according to age, and they chatted feverishly, distracted only by the effort of gliding around the ice. Remember that? The anticipation, the travel, the arrival, the hiding away with those so dear and precious for their absence?

Magic. I nearly fell off my skates. The season IS magical, there is no denying it. It is the only time we step back from living to make love a deliberate part of our routine. We have parties and gather, but even as we are alone in our daily routines, we think of others. We think of their needs rather than their demands…What to gift, whom to gift, charity, life changes as we catch up through Christmas letters and admire growing families. This season, despite the guerrilla tactics of retailers, exemplifies humanity at its best. I believe that love is our greatest emotion wrought with a power we cannot understand. The media has undermined love with manipulation and lust, but deep, platonic love is the closest we can come to a God who is Love. Perhaps the retailers are stealing Christmas from the Christians as we stole it from the Pagans, but there is a reason it is so sought after. It exemplifies the best of us and that is a perfect reason to hold on to it. There is a movement among Christians to give up the materialism and commercialism of the holiday and while I agree that these things are distracting, I think that the cost of letting them go is too great. Our material prowess is the result of a human spirit set free, and we ave a right to embrace it. If we do not, it becomes a controlling force and embraces us. We are commissioned to act as the Lord’s Hands and Feet, serving humanity. This means many things, but giving is a large part of it, the easy part. The rest comes in time as we learn to express love untarnished by a fallen mankind. We need to practice. We need this season. We need this magic that is really a miracle.

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01
Aug
10

Last weekend, I traded my fresh cut suburban paradise for a moonlit forest high up in the mountains. When I arrived at the campsite my family had set up, it was dark and all I was aware of was moonlight and a crowd of very concerned loved ones (we spent two hours lost in the forest on the way). Morning unveiled a spectacular view of rocky peaks jutting up over the treeline and reflecting in the lake below. It unveiled something else, too, something unexpected.

Freedom.

After years of wondering why anyone would leave the security of paved roads, stoplights, and Target just to get dirty in the woods and sleep on the ground, understanding settled around me like Superman’s cape. Up here, there were no cellular towers (something we rued the night before as we wandered over miles of backroads). I didn’t wear a watch. I didn’t bring any make up, and in the interest of keeping warm, my clothes were mismatched. My dog was off a leash and my children were exploring the wilds of the forest. There were no child molesters to worry about, no schedules to keep, and, in the greatest paradigm shift I have experienced, there were no social standards to maintain – nobody to impress. For these moments, I had no persona to maintain, but plenty of time to ponder the person I wished to be.

Looking over the quiet of the morning lake, I fantasized about building a cabin with all the beetlekill pine. By hand. I would piece business suits and cocktail dresses into quilts and curtains. I would start a small garden, then grow it into something bigger until we had gourmet meals cooked on the open fire. The children would learn all they needed right by my side. I would never be beholden to anyone or anything. This only lasted until the coffee kicked in. I wonder how many regrettable decisions were made pre-coffee?

I hate it when people say that we don’t actually live in a free country anymore. Americans enjoy freedoms that others don’t even have the privilege to fathom. However, there is truth to the statement. Free will was bestowed upon us by our Creator. For just one moment, contemplate the implications of this. It is this very will that gives us the power to doubt, that drives us to find our own answers, that pulls us away from faith and strips our need for trust.

Yet, it is this gift of the will that completes the Creation as we become ourselves. We choose our beliefs, our ideals, and our priorities. Then we guide our lives accordingly. But with what compromise? That is when priorities become the issue. By the time I finished that contemplative cup of coffee, I was not just willing, but anxious to apply make-up, put on uncomfortable shoes, shove my lower half into pantyhose, and and run under the crack of a gun just to have running water complete with privacy.

Free will, properly regarded, is that which makes us great. It separates us from the animals and even from the angels. But we often fail to regard. We were given a perfect, Godly gift, but we are human and The Gift was brought down to us. While the human spirit is great, humanity is not. Humanity is guided by the physical and the physical bears limitation. In the years since the founding of this nation, we have seen the human spirit thrive. In a mere 500 years, this land has gone from savage to productive and wildly developed because of the spirit of greatness. We can travel the globe in a matter of hours and can have the world at our fingertips in a matter of seconds. Untold fortunes are made and lost each day from ingenuity, hard work, or greed. Is the great fortune our great failing? This is where spirit meets physical. An ability to do the great things of our imagination shrouded in responsibility and stewardship. What is the cost for amassing such fortune? How many compromises are struck each day as a man says the end justifies the means? Every compromise erodes greatness and yet, because of this society we have built, success is not possible without compromise. We have compromised greatness for that which we already know and in so doing, we have redefined success to fit a media mold. We forget to follow the pursuits of imagination because we believe we know what is beautiful and we have disguised success as such.

Today, we reap the rewards of all that has been sown. Every plan is laid with a plan B close behind as we anticipate failure along the way. Athletes, once national heroes, are in no way great. World leaders fail us daily, constantly. Business men are not moral pillars. We accept this and account for it in our daily lives, making our own plan B. Then we forget the failure and compromise the standard, which lowers yet again. We compromise for comfort, for success, for a future that grows more bleak.

We know what is great. Instinctively, looking over that lake, I momentarily glimpsed the true freedom that bore such enterprise, the very enterprise that has shackled us since. The time has come to stop settling. We can no longer excuse those who force us to compromise for their agenda. We must strive for greatness and forget Plan B.

26
Apr
10

My Crisis of Faith – From Seed to Blooming Tree

It started in church one Sunday. There was a technical difficulty during worship, a missing piece. The worship pastor asked us all to bow our heads in a prayer he eloquently led. Amen, heads up, eyes open, order restored on the stage.

It was a seed.

How often are we led in prayers that are less of a plea to the Lord than they are curtains for a very human pastoral staff to rally behind? I began to wonder about the humanity, the efforts they made for the appearance of seamless perfection. It is not the imperfection of that humanity that nurtured this seed. It was the effort to cover it up. Mistrust began to grow from my church’s inability to admit imperfection.

I love my church, and the pastoral staff has always exhibited the utmost wisdom and integrity, so it’s possible that this little plant rooted in such shallow soil could have quickly died, but then Pat Robertson spoke. If you remember, he blamed the Haitians for their sorrow after the earthquake, saying that it was God’s judgement. My little plant sprouted so fast, the economy turned green with envy. Then missionaries went to Haiti and stole children, assuming they were better fit to raise them, apparently. More leaves on my little plant.

Then I watched a debate unfold over a Super Bowl ad. Christians fired off in support of Focus on the Family, decrying everything that had ever stood in their way. I love the American Family, but it’s time to take note that married parents, 2.5 kids, and a golden retriever is not realistic for most Americans. Though the ad itself was positive and not controversial, the message was lost in the debate. Both sides were cruel, but there is a real problem when Christians are cruel in the name of the Lord. My little plant leafed out all over the place.

Then it grew a branch. The Catholic Church chose to stand with those priests accused of the most heinous crimes of pedophilia. What cruelty from an institution that should be based on hope and love? Jesus Himself said that the punishment for a man who leads His flock astray is beyond that which anyone else will experience. If the Church stands behind these “men” in the name of forgiveness, I appreciate that. But forgiveness and trust are very different. Forgiveness does not imply restoration, as illustrated by the way this same church treats divorcees, homosexuals, and those of other faiths. To allow these priests to continue to represent what is right and holy uncovers gross dishonesty that I simply cannot abide. It has become nearly impossible for me to watch a public display of religion without skepticism. The branches are in the way.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches,“ but I’m pretty sure he meant something entirely different. He meant that we should feed from Him and grow like Him, strong and fruitful. But an interesting thing happens when a person accepts Jesus as his Savior. Nothing. Loved ones still get sick. There still isn’t enough money. Tragedies still headline the nightly news. When we hear of salvation, the message is confusing. It is disheartening and discourages real growth in faith. We have fed from soil polluted by humanity and grown into weak hybrids. Then, we have taken it upon ourselves to save the world, to fuse it to our hybrid trees. Since we recognized that the tree didn’t look right, we tried to coerce everyone into being like us. We forgot about the branch entirely as we promised our own cross-bred salvation borne of judgement. This judgement and coercion is coming back to us now as our great nation dies from within, suffering from the fatal wounds of deep division.

Jesus promise of salvation is simply to save us from ourselves, a need we don’t always recognize. When God created us, he granted us the greatest gift, far greater than anything He gave even to the angels who dwell with Him in Heaven – Free Will. But, like anything great, it is this gift that leads to our demise. Within free will rests ego, greed, self, and everything else that divides the human from the divine. Thus, it is that very free will that Jesus asks us to lay down for Him in obedience. Not a popular pulpit message, bu to be free from the trappings of humanity is a gift, indeed. What we do with it is where our free will lies. Do we continue to live the same lives, resting on the laurels of this forgiveness? Or do we accept the brevity of our salvation and walk alongside others, trudging through the furrows of humanity?

20
Oct
09

Joy is in the Journey

Sometimes just sitting in church is overwhelming. I go to a church that nearly 10 per cent of my city attend. It’s huge and I never know who I will see…the mayor, presidents of banks, scandalized newsmakers, teachers, friends, and even enemies and convicts. Once in a while, I glimpse a moment for one of these people – a tear or a hug more emotional than just hello – and I realize that we are all journeying together. Regardless of station, good or bad, every one of us is a human being with very similar feelings and struggles.

Sunday was one of these days. There is genuine concern in these times. Children are at war, homes are being lost, and the future is uncertain. Pain is everywhere. Then I wonder how many people walked into this church, hanging their hope on a Sunday school promise that God will take their troubles away. Because of this pretty and simple package, how many will leave this building in a bitter sadness, defeated and even angry at a God they have never met?

I hold the church responsible, in “recruiting efforts,” for painting this simple picture of a joyful life lived with the Lord. I believe in this picture, but it stopped being simple the first time life got hard. When life got hard, I discovered that the Lord Himself does not just hand us a colossal aspirin and pain-repelling umbrella tied up in a red ribbon of exuberant joy.

What he does do is reach out a hand, often times from across a chasm, and promise to take the walk with with us. Unfortunately, when we have been promised a fluffy cloud will carry us along – over the hard parts – it’s hard to understand a God who still makes us take the long way. I worry that this is where people are lost, when they hoped to float over the chasm so they don’t take the hand and make the frightening leap.

Real life with the Lord is exactly that – real. The joy part of it is learned, through trials that are conquered because our faith is placed in a God who is unchanging. He never promised to remove the trials, he promised to make them smaller. Feeling the Love of God on my life reminds me most of being a child. There were scary times and sad times and so many times that I didn’t understand. In those times, there was my dad. He would pick me up, or put an arm around me, and nothing around me changed, but I felt safe. Somehow I knew that whatever came of us, at least something would be the same – my dad.

My dad was certainly not capable of fixing all the trouble that found its way into my life, but he made it more bearable. God cannot remove trouble from our lives, either. If He did, it would mean taking our free will, which is a dangerous but crucial blessing He gave us. He gave us rules to make the climb a little less painful; our obedience is up to us.

That is why there are so many severe warnings against sin. It is not to make us feel guilty or give us restrictions. As adults, we understand that there are just behaviors that are destructive. It would be miserable, if not even impossible, to live as eternal beings in a pattern of sin. And that’s where we got the provision, through Jesus, to give us the opportunity to live as was intended. God grieves that any of us perish, surely grieves in a way we cannot even comprehend. His love for us was the original first love. It is fully passionate, exciting, and hopeful. It never goes away – it may be put away, stashed comfortably in a recess of our heart, but it is never gone. He carries a torch for the world as we carry a torch for those we first loved, a torch that will never be extinguished.

17
Oct
09

Furthermore…

I can’t let it go. In my previous post, “Use Your Words,” I veered from the point I wanted to make. Thankfully, this can be said quickly, in 300 words or less.

The name calling and general disregard has escalated over the past year. I really think it has a lot to do with social media. We can post any vitriol we want, forgetting the implication when a loved one reads it later. I certainly am guilty of this. Frankly, though, I hate the names, particularly “breeder.” Well, I really hate being called a racist because I don’t agree with Obama’s policies. From the bottom of my soul I can say that I am completely unfazed by his skin color. It is offensive to me that people I have known for many years would take such distaste down to something so shallow and disregard anything I have to say about the actual policies in question.

Regarding the namecalling, though. We have hate crime legislation on the books and anti-discrimination policies. In the workplace we all sit through diversity training. To me, all of this points to one conclusion. If we could simply behave ourselves, would any of this be necessary? Do we really have to be visited by a consultant in the work-place to ensure we don’t use offensive references? The lack of civility in our culture is distressing. The citizenry cannot be counted on to behave in public and we continue to defend such behavior. When Kanye or Letterman commit a gaffe, people are rushing to their defense, justifying it for whatever reason. Whether or not we agree on the issues, it would be helpful if we could agree on conduct. Playground rules reign supreme – share, don’t call each other names, no hitting, and take turns. If we could just abide each other the way we did when we were five, the government may be able to step back into its appropriate place.

17
Oct
09

Use Your Words!

Birther, Becker, Rushian, Becker-Head, Breeder, Bigot, Racist, Closed-minded, Hater, Greedy, Uncompassionate, Hypocrite, Deluded, Homophobe…Just a few names being tossed around the blogosphere lately in reference to the conservative movement. I have seen some of these in actual news articles, and I have even seen some arise in a judge’s decision (see Judge Land’s verbal levelling of Orly Taitz. Professional?). Yep. There are some naughty conservatives, too. I heard from a dear friend of mine that his sweet mother was SPIT on while campaigning for Obama. It was a shocking revelation to me as I have never been mistreated by a fellow conservative. I truly believed that we were above such mean and unproductive tactics but I’m guessing those on the other side would say the same thing.

So, we all have to accept some responsibility, but personally I try to abstain from name-calling. Many liberals are my friends, family, and even their mothers – real people I don’t want to hurt. Still, I slip from time to time. Judging from the vast world of social media, we are all slipping. When we were little, our parents told us to use our words and we have practiced ever since, sharpening these verbal skills into a weapon that would divide a nation. The rhetoric and sound bites divide us, fostering distrust and even hatred that sometimes threatens to turn violent. And yet, we continue to use our words. Words are thrown around in our culture without too much thought to their impact. The impact is that we cannot have an honest debate about important issues because both sides are shielded by rhetoric.

It’s dangerous ground. Each day, our way of life is threatened and we citizens are powerless against the tide of politicians. We are fed questionable facts but debate is stifled by fears of being called bigoted, hateful, or worse. Take, for example, the emergence of HIV in the early ’80’s. It didn’t take too long to determine that the disease was sexually transmitted and was spreading most rapidly among homosexual men. The transmission among this demographic was not specifically due to homosexuality, but to promiscuity. The cases were first isolated to San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. Officials like Harvey Milk and his supporters tried to warn the gay communities about this rising epidemic and were silenced by Gay activist groups like the Stonewall Gay Democratic Club. These groups stated that any admonition against promiscuous gay sex was a statement against the gay lifestyle and they threw such epithets as homophobe, Nazi, and sexual fascist their way. At that time, one in 333 homosexual men in San Francisco had the disease. They were concentrated in the Castro district and promiscuous men in the area could potentially come into into contact with up to ten partners a night, making their odds of contracting the disease 1 in 33. Harvey Milk, Bill Kraus, and Catherine Cusic, all homosexual community leaders tried to get the word out to protect their own, but they were continually brought down. It was political suicide to warn the homosexual community specifically of this potential danger. Unfortunately, Milk gave into political pressure and dropped the issue. Of course, it is difficult to blame him.

At that time, in 1983, there were about 5,000 HIV diagnoses in the US. It was a rare and preventable disease, had anyone heeded the warnings. Today, over 500,000 Americans are living with the disease and another half million have died from it.

Being homosexual himself, I hardly believe that Harvey Milk was trying to be hateful. I don’t really think the man was homophobic, either. And I know he wasn’t calling anyone names. The price our country has paid for his inability to speak out is dear. Now, we have more and more issues of similar import. Unfortunately, the discussion is the same. We have hurled insults across party lines so long that the line between right and wrong, good and bad, is completely blurred and nobody is willing to uncover it for fear of what will be said. The fastest way to stifle a debate is to call someone a racist or hater. But while we throw these ugly words around, lives are being lost. Money is being lost. Our national identity is being lost. We stand to lose an entire generation. Are we really going to let name-calling stand in the way of greatness we were meant for?

29
Jul
09

Life is Steadfast

My daughters make me miss my grandma. She was an amazing woman who always had time to share something sweet with me. In those moments she told me what it was like to live through the depression, how she felt when her husband built her a house in town – away from the farm, and how she cared for four children by herself after he passed. Then she would tell stories about life on a Minnesota farm and she’d even pass on the stories her parents told of their journey from Norway to that very Minnesota farm. Nobody could accuse my grandma of being rich, yet anyone who spent an afternoon with her came away knowing something about the richness that life holds. My grandma understood, above all, about the twists and turns of life and how to make the most of the few things that remain constant. Like children. She would have been just “tickled” to see my girls.

Even as a little girl, I understood the wisdom my grandma had earned. She shared what I was ready for and I appreciated what I could. My mom looked to her grandma the same way. She was quick to dispense with great advice and engaging stories and the small tidbits that made my mom think things out for herself. I remember being hesitant to say too much to my great grandma because she always knew what motivated me and that scared me just a little. Now I think she would be a much needed mirror for my soul.

Many cultures recognize this. They revere their elderly and are honored to care for them with respect and adoration; but Americans seem to have a somewhat different view. We weigh the value of a life against the cost of sustaining it. We consider whether it is worth caring for the elderly and if their quality of life justifies such care. Then, as we pursue our busy lives, we consider where to put them so they will be out of the way.

With the elderly neatly tucked away, we are forced to find counsel in sources we consider relevant to our lives. We have turned our backs on Grandma’s years of life experience for the more appealing package of Tyra Banks, which begs the question, when did we begin to equate beauty with wisdom? We hang on Madonna’s every word, wait with bated breath for Brad Pitt to speak, and take Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental advice as law. We call their voices relevant in a world foreign to our grandmothers. We are so wrapped up in the image that we shut our grandmothers out, refusing to look at the soul-mirrors they hold.

That soul-mirror just may tell us we are faltering, reinforcing the voice calling out from the backs of our minds. I know that the only thing that would impress my departed grandparents and great-grandparents is my character. There is nothing material that can impress someone who survived the Great Depression. There is no vacation or even party that would impress a woman whose fingers bled from her chores on the farm, the chores she did before her children woke up and she made them breakfast. And I can just imagine how these departed people would shake their heads at my morning road rage, which reminds us just how easily we forget our character as we carry on with the busyness of “keeping up.”

As we fear the opinions of generations refined by hardship, it is not hard to imagine that we can find comfort accepting “non-advice.” That is, the pleasure that comes from watching Jerry Springer and his guests, knowing that we are not that bad yet. We ourselves have turned our worlds upside down with this thinking. We say that we cannot get away from the trappings of the world, yet we consistently invite these trappings into our living rooms, bed rooms, and even our children’s rooms. TV has given us the visual entertainment that we crave, with none of the admonition we fear. Programmers are certain to avoid anything that may convict or cause discomfort, so we watch beautiful people living lives we covet and slowly but surely, our priorities turn inside-out. Grandma is sent away to a nursing home and we are free from burden, not the burden of care, but the burden of introspection. With Grandma away, we are free to pursue these lives of the rich and famous regardless of cost. Unfortunately, worldly pursuits will always leave us wanting, for as vast as they are, they are finite so somebody keeps changing the goal, just to keep us interested. It is defeating. To find fulfillment, we must remain steadfast in character and priority, following the legacy of the generations before us.




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