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.

Bear 6-26-18

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.

COMMITMENT

 

Recently, my students were learning how to revise an essay in my evening ESL reading/writing class.  A few sentences in the introduction of the revised final draft that we were studying in the book caught my attention.  “A generation ago, it was common for workers to stay at their place of employment for years and years.  When it was time for these employees to retire, companies would offer a generous pension package and, sometimes, a token of appreciation, such as a watch, keychain, or other trinket.  Oh, how times have changed.  Nowadays, people – especially younger workers – jump from job to job like bees fly from flower to flower to pollinate.”  (Great Writing: Great Essays 4, Cengage Learning, 2014)  We continued reading as the essay went on to explain the reasons people have for quitting their jobs.  However, my eyes and mind remained focused on the ideas and images evoked by those descriptive words, ideas about the subject of commitment.

My own father worked at GMC for many years and retired exactly as described above.  He had a nice party where they gave him a fine watch and a very nice pension package.  He was rewarded for his dependableness and his loyalty and his retirement package helped him to live a comfortable life for many years.  In contrast to his traditional life, it seems to me that nowadays people are not content to be in one job.  They are always looking for something better, something bigger, something with better pay, more benefits, or more prestige.  High profile CEO’s and sports team managers flit from team to team or from corporation to corporation just like the busy bees in the essay that my students read.  University presidents stay at one university just long enough to make a name for themselves before they start a search for something better.  They appear to be loyal at the time that they are at the university, but they are on a career path for themselves, not for the university.

No one blames any of these career people for jumping ship.  The sole exception seems to be when sports figures leave one team for another one that offers them a better package.  The fans blame them for leaving the home team and may even boo them when they come back to the hometown for a game against their former team mates.  The booing may last for a while, but before long that sports figure is replaced by another favorite in the hearts of the fans.  It makes you wonder though.  With so many prominent examples of professionals doing “what’s right for themselves,” how can young people understand the importance of loyalty or of a commitment?

Furthermore, the lack of loyalty in a sports figure or a university president or on the job is just a scratch on the surface of modern society.  What happens when there is no commitment or loyalty in a friendship or in a marriage?  In the United States, many friendships don’t seem to last very long.  Even in marriage, the idea of commitment is on the wane.  Couples come together for a time, but when difficulties arise, their love diminishes and they lose their interest in maintaining the relationship.  Before too long, they find “something better” and move on with their lives.

However, commitment and loyalty are qualities that are desperately needed today.  They are not simply old-fashioned qualities for a generation that is quickly disappearing.  It occurred to me recently that the importance of commitment cannot be negated.  In this life, we all are made up of both emotions and principles.  Emotions are as fleeting as the wind.  They sweep in like a summer breeze and inspire us with all kinds of wonderful feelings and ideas.  We think that these intense feelings will last forever, not realizing that life’s situations will change just as assuredly as the weather and as our situations change, so also do the feelings that accompany them.  For one minute we are on cloud nine and the next we can hardly remember what it felt like to float so high in the stratosphere.  Emotions inspire us, give us courage and make us take giant leaps of faith, but they can never hold us.  In a relationship, when we no longer feel the intensity of our first feelings, the emotional “high” of falling in love, will we “fall out of love” with the person we are with?  Will we forget what we ever even liked about the person?

That is why we need commitment.  We make commitments based on those lofty feelings.  We jump into relationships or marriage because we know what it is to feel on top of the world.  We enter into something that we say is for the long haul, but do we have what it takes to hang on to it?  A true commitment is the faith to hold us through.  It is the anchor that we hold on to when the current gets too swift and knocks us off of our feet.  Life is such that difficulties will inevitably come.  Everyone is subject to difficulties.  If someone has no difficulties, they must not truly be alive.  Some of the troubles that pop up in our lives seem but a moment, but others linger and pester us for years and years.  What does a person hang onto that has no faith?  More and more, we see people around us that are drowning.  They flounder and flail their arms and cry out for help.  Some get angry and act out on their anger in horrible ways that become the next day’s headlines.  They have no anchor.  They would like to make a commitment, but they have no faith.  There is nothing there for them to hang onto when trials come along.  In their relationships, they don’t even see the point of hanging on.

Commitment, on the other hand, hangs on in troubled times.  Commitment knows that troubles cannot last forever.  Faith holds on when everything around it is just a blur, at times not even remembering why it is holding on.  It just knows that it must hang on.  Everything we know and hold dear can crumble, but faith stands strong.  One day, when the situation finally changes and the summer breeze returns and the tender feelings fill our hearts again, then that faith finally receives its reward.  The emotions that once were strong are stronger still.  The person him/herself could not have ever imagined that the original loving emotion could somehow one day be doubled in sweetness, but now finds that it is so.

Reading the Bible in one year

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A wonderful new website to help us read through the Bible in one year!  Very nice that the mayor of a small town in Texas would like to promote the Bible this year.  What a great way to begin this new year!

http://www.thebible2014.com

Shopping trumps Thanksgiving? Or can Thanksgiving trump shopping?

A quiet morning after Thanksgiving perusing the headlines that shout out to us that shopping has trumped the traditional Thanksgiving meal (cnn.com) has produced a contemplative spirit.  A little outrage too.  Why?  Why would anyone want to give up a delicious meal and relaxing moments with great conversation with friends and family to go out in the cold in order to face off with thousands of people looking for the same bargain?

The outrage comes first.  The whole media/shopping blitz is eroding our country’s family values and traditional ways of living and taking away from time spent relaxing and renewing one’s spirit.  It’s frustrating to see people falling for the media campaigns and enticing ads to constantly shop and spend more money.  To keep a person focused on shopping and attaining more in the way of personal goods is to keep that person focused on the apparent trappings of this natural world and to keep him at the same time far away from reflection on his spiritual and emotional state.  His/her mind is constantly engaged in this natural world and what he/she “needs” to continue to improve his natural surroundings.

After the outrage, more reflection creeps in.  You see, I did not spend my Thanksgiving waiting outside the doors of the local big box store, nor did I head out this morning to get the best deals at the mall.  The question returned: why would someone give up a nice, relaxing afternoon and great conversation with friends and family for …..?  The answer instantly appeared.  They did not give up a nice, relaxing afternoon with friends and family.  Many families barely tolerate each other.  Put them all in one room and the tension can be cut with the same knife used to carve the turkey.  So and so is not talking to so and so and those who are talking to so and so are just feeling sullen today because … who know the because?  Just because.

It’s easy to see in that light why so many would prefer to be out shopping.  I have not ever had to spend a holiday in such an angry environment, thank God.  I have, however, heard of such things.  It’s really a sad commentary on our society that shopping would trump a nice, relaxing afternoon spent in thoughtful conversation and childlike laughter with one’s beloved family and friends.  A lovely and loving afternoon can refresh our spirit and prepare us for the days ahead.  It can give us insight into our world that will help us for weeks and months to come.

The media and advertising campaigns are therefore not the issue.  The underlying issue is the problems in our homes and in our personal lives.  Those problems keep us from making and maintaining strong social and familial relationships.  So, instead of blasting the shoppers and the mega media moguls, we should put our strength into helping families to renew their relationships.  We cannot influence all of those with broken families, but we can influence those around us who may be struggling.  It would be so refreshing to see the shops HAVE to close up on holidays for lack of shoppers.  They will only need to do that when there is something much better going on in American homes.  We can make it happen.

Living now

What happens when I live just in the now?

  • There is no more fear of the future and what it may or may not bring.
  • Anxiety is banished.
  • I’m just walking along with God, talking with Him now.
  • I trust Him to take care of everything as He and I walk along this road together.
  • He’s the one that knows the future.  I haven’t got a clue about it.
  • I know that when choices present themselves in my life, the decisions that I make will influence the direction of my life’s path, but I don’t worry about that.  I just make the choice based on what’s right and wrong now.  Then I don’t feel badly about the results because it was the best possible choice at the moment.
  • I know that it’s an adventurous path that I’m on.
  • When I’m relaxed (since there’s no more stress), the present moment is much more alive and interesting.
  • Some future plans do have to be made in this world, such as: work related issues, vacations, other kinds of business, but it all becomes ‘God willing.’  God willing, there will be a vacation this year and if it does happen, it will be that much more relaxing since God allowed me to have it.

Walking with God, living in the moment with Him creates an adventurous, interesting, meaningful and stress free life.  There’s no other way to go!  People who don’t have that don’t know what they are missing!  They think that it’s exciting to go out and get drunk and party etc.  There is no excitement in that.  What is there?  Just heartache, troubled relationships, hangovers, and depression when parties and life don’t meet up with expectations.

The Scriptures say, “I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;” …. “Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”  (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19)  Those words are in really old language.  If we look at it in the light of what it means to us today, we could say: In each moment of life, we have a choice between what is good and what is not.  When we choose to follow the good, we will have a fuller and more adventurous life!  When we walk with God in the ever present now, we will have a more rewarding life!

Parables

Jesus spoke in parables so that those who loved him could understand and learn valuable lessons, and at the same time those who didn’t know him would just think that it was a story.  People loved his stories, whether they understood them or not.  However, those parables teach us priceless lessons.  How?  Through correspondences.  From the parable of the mustard seed, we understand that the mustard seed corresponds to faith because it is so small, but becomes something much larger.  We also understand the pearl of great price, the story of the ten virgins who took oil in their lamps and many others.

Today, our world is telling us a story.  It smacks us in the face each and every day, but do we understand it?  Do we see beyond what is happening naturally around us?  One of these modern day parables is the food we eat.  The food we eat corresponds to truth.  Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth (Mt 4:4).  What are we eating?

The world is being flooded with junk food.  What an appropriate name!  It appeals to our taste buds by including plenty of salt, fat and sugar, but it is making us sick and even killing us.  More insidious is the food that looks real, but has been completely adulterated.  It is either poisoned with herbicides and pesticides or it has been changed genetically from the way God perfectly created it.  The result?  Cancers and more diseases.  Not only is it killing us and making us sick, but we are addicted to it.  We love it!

Looking at it as a parable, we have to see that people are dying from a lack of knowledge (of the word of God).  “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Ho 4:6).”  People don’t believe that they live by every word that comes from God. (Mt 4:4)  They accept falsity rather than truth, they change the truth into something more ‘acceptable’ in our times, and they look for soothing words to appease their consciences.  Read Jeremiah 23:16, 17.  That is real spiritual junk food with all the elements necessary to make our souls fat and lazy, overpowered by the sugar high given to us by smooth and  ‘sweet’ words.

Let’s get back to the real Word of God.  It will nourish us and when we see the beauty it brings to our lives and how we flourish from living it, the world around us will change with us and reflect the new reality that is ours.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  When that becomes reality, the natural elements of this earth will show forth God’s kingdom.  There is no junk food in God’s kingdom, only delicious food that nourishes our bodies and spirits.