Youth Activism for a New Generation

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SAVE OUR EARTH!

On the Ides of March this year, young people around the world held climate strikes to protest what is happening to our environment on our beautiful planet.  It’s wonderful that today’s young people want to step up and do something to improve our beloved earth.  Certainly, our weary earth could use a little support together with some positive changes.  Along with the protests, I heard a few short clips of young people talking about why they were protesting.  Some of them said that climate change is the biggest current threat to human life.  One young lady was lamenting the condition of the world and her future.  She laid the blame on older generations and she said something to the tune of “We just want a world like you had.”

Her words struck me as (at best) uninformed.  Really?  You want the world that we had?  We had the Cuyahoga River filled with so much debris and pollution that it caught on fire.  We had so much air pollution that the skies over Detroit and many other major cities were red.  What we did not have was recycling programs or trash to energy plants.  We had Three Mile Island and superfund sites.  In our youth, we had rampant discrimination against blacks and lynchings.  We had Emmett Till, the Mississippi Burning civil rights murders, and the Birmingham Baptist Church murders.  Then we had the civil rights demonstrations where people were tear gassed and water cannoned.  We had the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcom X.

We should never desire to go back in time or wish that we could have something other than our current situation.  Our generation made it possible for the new generation to worry about single use plastic bags, bottles, cups and boxes.  Our generation created recycling programs and trash to energy plants and closed down many nuclear power plants.  We demonstrated for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.  Although some of us embraced chemical fertilizers and GMO crops, others of us began organic gardening, seed saving and the Environmental Protection agency.  So, quit blaming the preceding generations.  Now it’s time for you to step up to the plate.

Your generation has awesome ideas.  Put all of your boundless energy to a positive use.  Many of your generation are creating ways to clean up the oceans, end the use of plastic bags in grocery stores.  Do some research.  Find out what the problems really are and create solutions that will not only work, but also add something positive to our earth.  Remember that you too will leave a legacy.  Leave one that you will feel proud of one day, and when your children reach their age of maturity, don’t let them tell you that they wish that they could have what you had.  Remind them that you had issues too and that you dealt with those issues and that they should not look back, but look forward and use their energy to solve the problems of their day.

Check out Regeneration International, a group that is not just going organic but is trying to leave the earth BETTER than it was before.  (https://regenerationinternational.org/)  We don’t have to continue to hack down our forests and destroy the earth with mountains of chemical fertilizers.  We can improve.  We can go one step further than previous generations.  You can.  You can do it, but don’t waste your precious energy blaming generations before you. They did their best.  They didn’t know what you now know about plastics.  Create something better.  It’s all inside you.  Let it grow.

Has Forgiveness been murdered by political correctness?

Political correctness has claimed another victim.  So many of us recognize that as soon as someone says one thing a shade off (and sometimes more than a shade off), the news media jumps on its collective bandwagon and is screaming for that person’s head.  Pretty soon, sure enough, the perpetrator becomes a persona non grata and often is fired, excoriated in the press or worse.  Even though political correctness is vilified by many, it just keeps on rolling.

The latest person is Liam Neeson.  Yesterday a news show on the radio was talking about him and it occurred to me that Mr. Neeson was very brave to come forward with his struggles.  He is not brave because of what he did (many years ago by the way).  He is brave for recognizing his fault, dealing with it, overcoming it and being honest about it.

Are we at fault for the way we grew up?  Are we at fault for the ideas of the past?  In some ways, yes because we inherited or learned from our parents, who learned from their parents, and on and on.  However, we are most at fault if we let those ways continue.  Mr. Neeson understood that his reaction was not proper.  He understood with his mind, but he needed to bring the rest of his life into union with his understanding.  He did that.  He has already shown his disgust today for his actions in the past.  What more do people want from him?  Perhaps a pound of flesh?

Over the course of my working life, I have met people from all over the world on a constant basis.  I have had so very many situations in my life in conjunction with many different ethnicities that brought out reactions that were not stellar.  Every time it was only because of my reaction that I could see the false ideas or feelings that I had about that situation.  Thank God for bringing those situations to me.  The alternative would be to continue being blind to those areas of my life.  Dealing with so many people and learning to love all kinds people has been the treasure of my life.

We all love the loving words of Jesus when he forgives us for what we have done.  Why can we not be forgiving towards our brother?  Do we have to punish people for opening up a conversation about racism that could help and enlighten many?  There is latent racism in many of us, no matter what our race or ethnicity.  We may never even be aware of it until God is kind enough to create a situation in our lives to raise it to the surface.  Something happens and we react.  God, in His infinite kindness, allowed that to happen so that we could see our reaction, recognize the problem, and deal with it.  He let it happen so that we could change and get that out of our lives.

Should we condemn others because that process happened to them and they admitted it?  Or should we learn from it and pray that we are also able to see our own faults when situations bring them out in the open?

Didn’t Jesus also say, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”  Jesus was without sin and yet he did not cast his stone.  He could have.  He chose to forgive.

 

Is emotion the guiding force of our lives?

Last week I was listening to the radio.  The talk show host told a story about a Dutch man who is 69 years old.  In spite of his senior status, the man feels much younger and his doctor told him that he has the body of a man 20 years younger than his actual age.  Rather than feeling content about this revelation, the man has decided to sue his government to make them allow him to change his birth certificate to reflect the age that he feels rather than reflecting the years that he has spent on this earth.  Absolute insanity.

Principle.  The world has thrown it overboard.  I don’t know when it actually happened, but in the last several decades, there has been an increasing progression towards emphasizing how you feel.  Do you feel like a winner?  Well, then you must be one even though you lost.  Do you feel love for your spouse?  Or have life’s troubles made you lose that initial spark?  Forget the commitment that you made.  Throw the bum out.

My daughter teaches in a school overseas.  As a lead teacher for two middle school grades, she is responsible to deal with problems that arise and with parents that may have questions or problem children.  She has had kids that fight with others, that cut themselves, that bully, and that want to commit suicide.  These children have been thrown under the bus by adults who focus everything on how a person feels.  Middle school children are notoriously emotional.  They feel really up or really down; they feel a little wild or don’t even know how they feel.  They have been given no anchor to their soul, nothing to hold onto in the midst of all this frenzy.  So, of course they turn to things like cutting or total despair.  Their feelings have nothing to hold them in.

In years gone by, many couples weathered severely trying times as a couple, times that threatened to tear them apart.  However, even though their emotions were desperately frayed, they had an anchor.  Their commitment was a vow between them.  They stood on that principle and eventually the storm passed and love returned stronger than ever.  My parents were one such couple.  They weathered many such storms, held on for dear life and grew from their experience.  Their marriage lasted 75 years, the last of which they spent holding hands at one another’s side.

Sometimes we feel as though our world has gone insane.  It has.  An emotion that is left to run wild becomes insane.  Principle holds us.  It keeps our emotions from getting the best of us.  When everything tells us to give up, principle is the anchor of our life.  We hold on for dear life and the eternal principle of faith gets us to the other side of the tumult.

Godly principle holds in emotions that have gone astray.  Godly emotions soften principles that are too hard and fast.  Together they bring a person through the choppy seas of this life.  When we arrive at the far shore, we are stronger, wiser, and kinder.  Our principles have guided our emotions and our emotions have become soft and caring, sweet and wise.  I remember the movie, Parenthood, with Steve Martin.  At the end, the couple is riding a wild roller coaster.  That roller coaster that we call life can bring us safely to the end of its journey, but what if there were nothing to hold it back from flinging us off of its highest peak or one of its most dangerous curves?  Principle holds us to the tracks.  Sometimes we need the sheer force of gravity or the security of seat belts to hold us while our familiar world is being shaken.

We must teach our children principles.  It will give them structure to their lives.  They will have the emotions.  The principles will show them the way and carry them through the trials that they will undoubtedly face.  My age is a fact of life.  No feeling that I allow myself to convince my mind that I am twenty years younger than my actual age will change my actual age.  No matter how much I want to be a bird and fly away, I am still in a human body for the rest of my natural life.  To believe that I am a bird and can fly because I feel like one is just insanity.  Believing that lie will not make me a stronger person.  It will just cause me to try to fly out of a tree and fall on my face.  Emotion without principle is just a wisp in the wind.  The slightest puff of wind will blow it away.

   Matthew 24:35 (NIV) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Isaiah 40:8 (NIV) The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 

Building the temple of God

1 Co 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

As Christians, we sometimes neglect to read the Old Testament because we sometimes think either that it is no longer relevant or that Jesus’ life’s work was so overwhelming that we’d rather concentrate on reading about him than delve into those old stories of kings and prophets.  However, the Old Testament stories have so many shadows and prophecies of wonderful things to come that it is sometimes just as overwhelming to read those old stories.

This morning I found myself in just such a situation.  I was listening to a Bible podcast, and the reader was reading from 1 Chr 28.  In this passage, David is at the end of his life, and God has told him that it is not for him to build a house for the Lord, but rather for his son to build it.  David loved the Lord so intensely and had such a passionate desire to build a house for the Lord.  Imagine his disappointment when he could not accomplish it!  Instead, he gathered building materials: gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and precious stones 1 Chr 29: 2).  He gave his son, Solomon, the pattern for the house.  He did everything that he could possibly do to make it easier for his son to build the temple of the Lord.  He encouraged his son and told him to be strong and of good courage (1 Chr 28:20, 21).  Then he prayed to the Lord and asked him to give Solomon a perfect heart to keep all of God’s commandments, testimonies and statutes.  He blessed the congregation as well.

As I was listening to the story, a beautiful picture began to form in my mind.  Just as David provided everything that his son would need to build the temple and to worship the Lord in the temple, so did our Lord and Savior do for us.  Jesus was not able to finish setting up a glorious kingdom of God on earth.  By that, I mean that it didn’t happen naturally in his lifetime.  During his life, he prepared all of the materials that anyone living after him would need in order to build that temple of God in their hearts.  He left words, advice and even commandments for those who love him to follow so that they might also become his disciples in their sojourn on earth.  He left a pattern to follow.  At the end of his life, just as David prayed for his son, Jesus prayed for his disciples and future sons and daughters and left us beautiful verses in the gospel of John so that we too could know that his kingdom is within and that we can live in this world and yet be kept from the evil of it, so that we too could be one with the Father and have His kingdom living in and through us.

Jesus was not exactly like David.  David was a man of war and had killed many men.  Jesus only warred with spirits, but otherwise was a man of great love and wisdom.  At the same time, David had a passionate love for God.  Likewise, God was the all in all for Jesus.  God was his only love and desire.  Everything he did was to bring out God in the lives of those he met.  What a beautiful treasure he left us!  We can grab onto the raw building materials, which are his words and we can live them and build our own temple for the Lord so that he will live in us as well.  We truly are the temple of the living God and the Spirit of God lives in us (1Co 3:16).  May the Lord’s words and deeds live strongly in your life.  Thank you, Jesus!

If you see something, say something

 

Tuesday was a spectacular day, high on blue sky and sunshine, low on humidity.  A perfect ten!  I was taking advantage of such great weather to repaint the steps to both my front and back porch.  By 11:30 am, the front set of steps was finished and already drying.  I moved onto the rear porch steps and began to scrape them.  As I scraped the loose paint off, I noticed a car driving by that had stopped near the top of my drive and a little boy stepped out.  He must have been about nine or ten.  He took out a phone or camera and began taking a picture or sets of pictures of the little woods on the other side of my driveway.  It seemed rather strange to me and I kept my eye on the car as I continued my scraping.  The car did leave and another car quickly stopped in their place.  A woman leaned out the window and began screaming at me.  “Get inside!!!  There’s a really large bear!!!”  She repeated her strong warning again as her words sunk into my brain.  I quickly jumped up, ran inside and looked out the window.  The biggest bear that I have ever seen was ambling down my driveway just a few feet from where I had just been.  He strolled down my driveway and into my back yard where he shuffled around a bit more before heading downhill towards another street.

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The bear – taken from a safe distance!

As I processed the situation, several questions popped into my head.  What was the lady in the first car thinking!  Why did she allow her young child to get out of the car when there was an obviously large bear close by?!  Did she think it was a cute little puppy coming towards her and her son?  And the next thought, why did she fail to warn me?  I do think she saw me because I looked up to see what was going on several times.  Did she think that I would just figure it out as the huge bear got closer?  After those puzzling questions, it struck me about how kind the Lord is. “THANK YOU LORD for the second lady!!”  Thank you Lord for people who care enough about their fellow man to warn them of impending danger.  The bear was not looking to eat me, but who knows what he might have done had I reacted unwisely in my own fright.

I can only guess at the first woman’s motives.  Maybe she was too busy in her life to think about the consequences of her actions.  Maybe she was just ignorant of bear behavior.  Sometimes people are so involved in their own lives that they can’t see the needs of others.  Self involvement creates a total lack of compassion for what others may be feeling or needing.  Am I so self involved that I can’t see the need of another human being?  Would I stand by while my neighbor gets attacked by a bear, either actually or metaphorically?  Would I be the one to leave the Samaritan lying injured by the side of the road?

There are plenty of Scriptures that tell us that we are in fact our brothers’ keeper.  We don’t have to be overbearing about it, but there are many ways to warn, advise, counsel or discuss with our brothers and sisters without acting like we’re somehow superior.  Sometimes, when a threat is immediate, it calls for an immediate and clear trumpet blast.  Watch out!  There’s a cliff!  Don’t go down that road!  Don’t respond to those scammers!  I can’t let you drive when you’re drunk.  Give me the keys.  I’ll take you home.  Whatever it may be.  Of course, other times require a soft approach.  How can I help you?  And even sometimes, just silent prayer.  What we can’t do is just ignore people’s needs.  I am certainly grateful for the woman who observed the situation, took a moment out of her busy day to stop her car and shout her warning.

If you see something, say something.  It’s a good reminder in so many circumstances, both natural and spiritual.

A Willow or an Oak?

In the past few years, the supervisory positions at both of the higher ed institutions where I teach as an adjunct have changed hands.  Learning to adjust to new styles of supervision has been both difficult on the one hand and interesting on the other.  At one university, the change was devastating and, within a few months, led to drastic and unwelcome changes that in turn led to the removal of every single one of the longtime teachers (including me).  Thankfully, the changes at the other institution were not so dramatic.  Instead, what has happened there has been both fascinating to watch and amazing to learn from.

The former director of our program at a local community college was an incredible, kind, cheerful, organized and dedicated Christian woman.  Now, there’s a hard act to follow.  We all loved her so and were deeply sorrowful to see her retire to a distant location.  When the new director came on board, we were all skeptical.  I heard that she also was a Christian, but she apparently did not wear her Christianity on her sleeve.  The most visible difference in their styles was instantaneously obvious.  The previous director’s office was constantly and thoroughly organized and tidy.  There was never a stray paper or textbook.  The first time I walked into the same office under the new director, it looked like a bulldozer had come through and left heaps of file folders and books in disorganized and messy stacks on every surface of the room.  It was stunning to me that it could even be the same room.

Personally, my first semester with her did not go very well.  She observed me teaching one day and the class was not exceptionally successful.  It seemed that by the end of the first year, I did not know her much more than I had in the beginning.  Even so, whenever I had a problem with students or entire classes, as I was accustomed to speaking with my directors, I continued to do so with her.  By the end of that year, I felt that I was confiding in her too much and that she might think that I was being overly emotional and perhaps not quite capable of dealing with things myself.

The next school year started and because of another teacher’s sudden illness, she asked me at the last minute to change the class that I was going to teach.  I did and in the end, it worked out quite nicely.  We began to chat more often and she seemed to begin to trust me more.  Now, just this last week, something happened that has become a lesson in my life that I will need to meditate on and work on to implement for years to come.

I stopped by the office the other day to check on the status of a struggling student who had gone to the tutor.  It turned out that the tutor was out, but that my boss had tutored him herself.  We chatted and then the chatting turned to the books we would use for next fall.  She explained that she was studying the books currently being used by different teachers and told me of her frustration with how the books were not fulfilling the needs of the students.  Some were too difficult.  Some were not difficult enough.  Students were not talking enough.  They were not being required to improve their grammar.  Eventually, she shared her frustrations, without naming names, of some of the teaching styles and how some of the levels had no continuity among the teachers at that level and how some of the students were being passed on to the next levels without being ready.  Specifically, she was frustrated by some teachers who were more interested in being liked than in making the tough choices to hold the students to a standard.  I just listened as she continued on.  It seemed as though she really needed to talk it out with someone and it was very clear that she had a vision and she wasn’t going to let it go.  It was almost like a dress rehearsal for the topics to be brought up at our next meeting.

After listening to her express herself, I came to a realization about the two directors and about life as a Christian.  My previous director was a very nice Christian.  She lived her Christianity, listened to students who came to her with their devastating problems.  When they were very low, she was able to sympathize with them and help them get up off the ground.  She cried with them, went out of her way to help them, and prayed with them when it was clear that they wanted her to do so.  She prayed for new students to come and they came.  Just before she retired, I spoke with her and she told me her story, how she came to be director and some of the things that had happened while she was director.  I felt humbled, deeply moved and emotional about her story.  She was a willow tree bending with the wind.  In her own way, bending was her strength and many students responded well to her “willowy-ness.”

However, I can see now that she wanted so much to be a Christian that she allowed some things to continue on unchecked.  She allowed some teachers to have too much freedom in what they taught.  She allowed teachers at the same levels to have apparently different standards.  She was wonderful, but she could only take our program so far.  I’m sure that she prayed that we would get the best new director for our needs.  Our new director was the answer to her prayer.  Our new director is also a Christian, but she has principle.  She can discern what needs to be done and she has the strength to carry it through.  Although she needed to test out her ideas with me to get a little reassurance, or maybe just make it more sure in her sight, she has the strength to stand up to teachers who are used to getting their own way.  She has the strength to say that “this is what we need to do to improve the integrity of our program.”  She is an oak tree.  She sees what is needed and she will do it as kindly, but as firmly as she knows how.

So, there are different kinds of Christians.  Some have so much empathy that they can feel the difficulties that others are facing.  They can get people’s attention and help them to go in the right way just by feeling and understanding and demonstrating their love.  This is a start.  However, to make the nitty gritty changes that will produce real results, you need a Christian with back bone, someone who will stand on principle and not tremble or flee when the earth begins to shake.

I think that sometimes we need a willow.  We especially need a willow when we are at our most fragile.  The willow will give us encouragement and help us to recover from the sometimes seeming cruelty of life.  However, in order to truly progress, we need an oak.  We need someone who is willing to tell us that we’re wrong or that we’re behaving badly.  How can we know these things by ourselves?  Sometimes, when we don’t understand ourselves, we need someone willing to tell us exactly what we are doing wrong.  We need standards that we must abide by.  Only then can we attain to those standards and pull ourselves up higher, one step at a time.  Thank God for both the willow and the oak.  Taking it further, am I willing to be the willow when the situation necessitates it, but in other circumstances, will I be able to be the oak?  Either way, souls are at stake.