Saturday, November 24, 2012

You can't be there for everyone, but be there for someone.

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” - Seneca

     The universe began as a random chance happening.  A gathering of great mass and matter that had no choice but to expand outwards with such energy that an even more random chance had formed what we see in the skies light years away and what we live in today.  

Chance occurred again and instruction sets were perfectly written into the first living organisms billions of years after that initial energy push.  Chance kept occurring in such a random set of violent happenstance that down to the molecule, organic Nano technology that make up you and me occurred naturally, over billions and billions of years that we are here and know each other by the slimmest of odds that made our existence possible.  It was all chance.

Or, it wasn’t.

I tread very carefully when I have conversations about our origins.  Since I was not around In the Beginning, and neither were you, the acceptance of your worldview without empirical data comes down to one thing.  Questions like these are important but the overall outcomes of the answers are the same in the end.  You have people trying to prove one point of view or another for answers that require a bit of faith.

Christianity centers itself less in our origins, even though they are important, but more importantly on our relationships.  Jesus told those who would listen to treat others how you would like to be treated: Mercy, compassion, kindness, understanding and love. No one wants to be unloved, unforgiven or treated harshly. Humanity acts otherwise.  We are mostly selfish and we protect our own immediate circle of relations.  It is a conscious choice to move beyond that.

     In the past few years I have come across many different kinds of people.  If I can ever teach my children anything it would be to pay attention to people.  Not in areas that do not matter but in areas that do.  In Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” Jacob Marley’s guilt says it best when he shouts

“Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Who really is my neighbor, and why should I care?  Many times in the past, I admit to my own ignorance and selfishness, I have been brought into contact with people who didn’t need another anonymous greeting and experience in which they were forgotten as soon as they left my sight, but that is what I gave them.  Their problems are their own or someone else’s who knows them better.  How hard would it be for me to be something different, an ear to listen for a few minutes; to think and offer another perspective to an issue that was so easily seen in a painful expression on their face?  

I am not a leader in my church, not a psychologist with a practice, not a person who works in a local community outreach type environment or a licensed counselor.  I speak to Christians.  My prior excuse would always focus on the fear that I would make matters worse, or be no help at all.  Sometimes problems are so bad and run so deep they do require that level of support. 
Initially, I just made decisions that allowed me to be a better friend to those I knew, and care about those who I saw my own faults in.  Then, if anyone else I met along the way needed either of those two things, I made choices to be available to them.  That made a difference.

Understandably when you take on another’s problems you take on them as a person.  Bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.  THAT’S Christianity, don’t ever think anything different.  You take care of their recovery in health, or pay their debts and you come back to check on them to see how they are recovering later on, YOU are the Good Samaritan after all.  You integrate this person into your life and are sure before you cut the strings that enable them, that they are made whole, they can walk, provide for themselves and be on their way and hopefully do the same for others.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” - James Arthur Baldwin

You find that your kindness and caring was the courage they needed, the acceptance they sought and the understanding that no one else cared to offer.  Suddenly they matter when someone else showed them they mattered.  It sounds simple, but I have found so few people that do it.  And in that established relationship you help lighten the load of what they carry and you begin to carry it too.  You learn about the death of their child, or the unloving spouse, the dying relative, the home in foreclosure, the fight with the college roommates, the parent who never approved of their job, the infidelity of their heart, the horrible abuse from a relative when they were young or the teen who wonders why a parent left.  In a moment of listening and assurance you validate an existence.  How selfish we are with our time, when just a few minutes can make such a difference to someone.

How far that little candle throws its beams, So shines a good deed in a naughty world. - Shakespeare.

To me, personally, I am no different than the people I form these extended relationships and friendships with.  I have the same flaws, the same imperfections.  It’s humbling when you see yourself in another person who is struggling.  It forces honesty in you about your own flaws and shortcomings.

You can’t be there for everyone, because you will never meet everyone, but you can be there for the people that come across your path.  What you are capable of is something that takes just a little time, and enforces qualities in you that we all wish the world had a bit more of; selflessness, gratitude, giving and understanding.

It’s qualities I hope to teach my children and what I hope to have a little bit more of for those around me.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. ~Corinthians 13:7-8

Saturday, September 1, 2012

No Matter How Old I Get...

Today was Katie’s Birthday Party.
Before her friends arrived, the pizza did.  We were outside and the pizza was brought in the house and paid for.

Katie asked me, “Dad can we stay outside?”

“You mean go for a walk?”

“That would be nice.”

She’s 12.  No matter how old I get, I will always go for a walk with my Katie.

“Of course, sweetie.”

Earlier that day I had gotten home.  I was on the phone with a friend who was having a rough time at home.  I left Katie in the other room while I was on the phone with this man who was struggling with his own family issues.  I didn’t have time for her then, but she didn’t seem to mind.

We stepped off the front lawn and she slipped her hand in mine.

“You’re 12 now, sweetheart.  You sure you want to be seen holding my hand?”

“Well, yeah.  No matter how old I get, you’ll always be my Dad.”

We started walking; she started swinging our hands as we walked.
No matter how old I get, this feels perfect.
We said and waved Hi to neighbors.  Talked about the right time to be sarcastic.  How it isn’t a good technique when meeting someone for the first time.  Better save it for when people know you better.  If you use it too early you come off looking like...

“…a jerk, Dad?”

“Yes sweetie.  A big Jerk.  Trust me.”

We walked around the block, away from her party.  Just me and my Katie.

“Dad, you think I can be as smart as Sherlock?”

“I don’t see why not.  You can spend time developing an eidetic memory if you put the time in, there are different techniques you can use.”

“Do you think I will be good with deduction?”

“That’s just being a quick but accurate thinker, sweetheart.”

“Will I be as smart as you?”

“Smarter, Honey.”

No matter how old I get, I will always enjoy talking with her.

I told Katie, later in the evening, I had another friend to visit.  Someone who needed some of my time to talk ideas out.  She knows that person and thinks highly of him.  I would have to leave her party, but I promised it wouldn’t be until after she opened presents.  She smiled and said she understood.

When it was time to leave, I told Katie I had to go. 
In front of her friends, she ran up unembarrassed, hugged me, kissed me and said 

“Tell your friend I said Hi.”

As I walked out the door, and shut it behind me I heard her say to her friends through the open window, 

“My Dad has to go out tonight and be there for one of his friends, he does that.”

Every day, she grows up a little more.  Every day, I let her go a little more.

No matter how old I get, she will always amaze me.

Monday, August 6, 2012

No one is fighting...Do you see any elbows?

When I was little I would be taken with my sister to family holiday events at my grandmother’s house.  We would gather together not to celebrate the Holiday so much as it seemed was supposed to happen, but to argue.  

Well, I didn’t argue.  I was 9.  I had no interest in the apparent discourse other than when we were going to open presents and who was going to get the prize for the worst gift.  Seriously.  One year my cousin received a Bat House.  Yeah, you read that right. Who does that to a kid?  I myself developed a keen psychic awareness towards underwear regardless of the package it was hidden in.  I could tell when it was given to me and would respond with an audible groan.  Did one of the Kings give Jesus underwear hidden in any of the gifts they brought?  Nope.  Nor did our Savior get a bat house.

Anyway, around the time everyone had finished eating the arguing would start.  At least as a kid it sounded like arguing.  What it actually in essence was a family that loved each other very much; speaking freely and openly ideas that had contention and conflict associated with them.  Because of the family relationship there was no worry if someone during the heated disagreements would cut ties and discontinue the conversation for fear of offense or worse…hurt feelings.
During the lively wild finger pointing and elevated voices discussion, no one for once thought that anyone was trying to hurt anyone's feelings.  THIS was how you exchanged ideas, took a stance or contended for your belief.   It wasn’t personal.  It wasn’t vitriol spewing against who you were as an individual.  It was just how you would talk.  No subject was taboo. Religion, Politics, Abortion and current events were all up for debate.  All things were fair game.  There was no waiting your turn to voice your opinion.  You jumped in the ring and held your own, or you sat quietly back while the adults used big words that made you feel inferior.  It was rough, but it wasn’t personal.  You either hung in there, or you put your bat house together.   

Now I am older, a believing Christian, and I can only compare those things to which I have seen and heard.  And something has always troubled me horribly:  Some Christians can’t argue.  Most of them can’t tell or take a joke (or be severely teased), but some can’t argue.

I think it comes from the programming of hearing “Childlike faith” and then falling into the trap of believing what you are told all the time without question.  There is no iron sharpening iron, no practical contending for what they are taught.  No growth.   They rely upon someone else to support their beliefs.  And should that person ever fall, they either fold up their own convictions, or attach themselves to the next strong willed individual who they can feed off of.

Let’s look at something.  I’ll shorten the bible lesson because I am tired.  Jesus left the Apostles.  Peter was running the show mostly.  Here comes Paul, an outsider who formerly killed Christians but decided after a road trip to Damascus to join them, has Peter meet up with him in Antioch.  Peter, the guy who the Catholics say was the first Pope.  THAT guy.  Now, there is a lot of stuff that goes down but Paul says he WITHSTOOD Peter to his face because he was wrong.  That isn’t a simple “let’s work out our differences nicely” type of statement.  No.  It was Christmas dinner and Peter said something stupid about an incorrect belief he held.  The bell was rung and Paul came out before the sausage stuffing was put away.  They argued.  Christian believers argued.  Paul was right, Peter was wrong.   No one had their feelings hurt, if they did they got over it.  They moved on.

What I find even more distressing is people nowadays, not just Christians, don’t discuss or debate so much anymore as they shout down at each other what they believe.  There is no respecting of the individual or the person that they are.  We paint people quickly with labeled names and classify them as either one of us or against our firmly held and cherished beliefs.  Even worse, is the arrogance and pride associated with what appears to be a large number of people who fear being wrong.  Some individuals will THINK they know your background because of a belief and re-frame the argument consistently against how they hold a bias against your worldview.  There is no person in front of them, just a set of thoughts they choose to be biased against.  Conversation has lost its humanity.
There is no exchange of ideas, no refining of an opinion and worst of all no teaching of a different point of view.  There are fundamentals that I adhere to in my life, things that shape my worldview and personal perspective.  Because another individual doesn’t share those does not for a moment give me the right to discount them as a person.

In fact, the opposite occurs.  If I find someone willing enough to share their point of view with me and debate or argue the topic it proves out if I really believed and understood what my position was to begin with.  

During an argument with a friend over a topic close to both of us about American Government, I remember him stating in aggressive frustration “Read a book!”  I don’t think he had any book in mind, but it was perfectly in flow with what we were talking about.

The other day, I was driving with Katie in the car.  I asked her simply why she believed this or that.  Her response was “Because someone taught it to me”.  That’s a great starting point, but it isn’t good enough.  Because someone taught something to her means at some point someone else can come along, and unless she is grounded and knowledgeable in what she thinks she believes her perception can be changed.  That grounding only comes with discussions, questions, and sometimes arguing.
Don’t argue with just anyone who is looking to pick a fight.  Some people are more interested in hearing themselves speak than defending passionately what they believe while leaving the door open to be taught.  That’s key.  Every discourse should be entered with the understanding that you may very well be wrong.  Peter had to face it.  You might too.

 I have seen to many statements of faith come from some people’s mouths that when asked to back them up, crumble against basic stress testing.  They didn’t really have an idea or belief formed.  They were just letting stupid happen from their head.  In all reality though, their Holidays were probably a lot quieter than mine.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How I Parent - Honestly - People have asked me this

Several people (Seriously, ten people) have asked me THIS WEEK how I parent my children and I have to be honest, I have no idea why. 

My first response is always “Wrong, I do most of it wrong”.  I then follow it up with comments about my kids pertaining to locked closets, abandoning them for “survival skill training” and telling my children about their older siblings they never met because “They didn’t quite work out like we had hoped, but hopefully things will be different this time around.”  I have gotten my daughter to play along in this game now with the younger two.  It’s fantastic.

Yes, I do a lot wrong.  Mostly, I pass my humor to my children.  People hate to love my humor.  My daughter Katie has it mostly.  And I love to hate her.

My son Collin appears to be raised by feral cats while we aren’t around.  He gives the best hugs and he means it when he says he loves you.  He just doesn’t have an off switch.  I’d settle for a pause on this kid.

         Brandon?  He is the sweetest kid in the world.  But he is also the only 8 year old with washboard abs.  I am not telling him about his genetic good luck, because honestly, I am not sure where that came from.  Luckily, he looks like me in the facial feature area; otherwise some questions would have to be addressed.  Such as “Craig, When will your wife, Marianne, come back from vacation in Mexico?  She’s been gone for what, 14 years now?”

There are a few things I adhere to when being a parent to my kids.

Let’s do what the cool kids say and “Break it down…G”

#1  I am my kid’s best friend.  No one will be a better friend than I am.  People say “You can’t be their friend and parent at the same time.”  I say “Why not?”  A friend loves at all times, is honest at all times, will do anything for you, should never lie to you, be firm with you and if you step out of line how they know they should act, the friendship allows for correction to occur.  Listen, I am a parent in relationship to my children, but friendship is what binds us as a family.  I hold the authority position, but I am not an overbearing idiot.  I want my kids to come visit on Christmas after they move out, ya know?

Also, point number 1 gives me advantages.  By being not only their father, as a friend I can usurp the idiotic influence of their peer group friends they find.  Since I am a better friend that has proven over the course of their young lives that I do care for them when I tell them that the moron they just met is a bad influence I can say so and they believe me.  They then avoid the moron.  Simple?  Yes.  Biblical principle?  Yes.  Am I going to tell you which one?  No. 

#2  I teach my kids to apply biblical principles.  I don’t read verses to them and ask them to recite them back to me.  If I wanted memorization there are funnier movies we could do as a family and reenact skits or maybe musicals…Like Cats.  I never saw Cats, but I bet I would love it.  Space Balls would be a good one too.

No, I spend time explaining to them the reasoning behind the words.  It’s amazing, there are verses where God tries to explain to his people (He calls them his children)  he would just love to gather them, or reason with them.  Honestly, the Creator of the Universe who knows everything wants to explain and talk out things with us.  Figured as a Dad I should do the same with my kids.

The last thing I want to do is create kids, raise them as Christians and have their only explanation to things when asked intelligent questions that actually have answers to be “Because God said so!”  You know these people I am talking about.  

I avoid these people I am talking about.

#3  I realize I have few answers.  It’s OK to not know everything.  It’s fantastic to say to your children “I don’t know, let’s find out together.”  They see how you think, and they learn to think like you and to learn and understand like you.  This helps if you aren’t an arrogant moron. 

I am still working on this one.

#4  I adapt my parenting.  My daughter Katie is 11.  Sometimes, she elevates her thinking to that of a 14 year old or a 30 year old.  If I am not careful I miss the chance to broaden her viewpoint and give her a better understanding of something at the very critical moment her mind is THINKING that way.  Every moment parenting is a teaching moment.

Stop blowing it.

#5  Have fun.  Honestly.  I have heard people say when they get home form work they are to tired for their family or their kids.  I get the rut you can get in.  But I don’t want to be a horrible parent.  If I can’t pass my faith, my viewpoint and have my children know they were loved while doing so I failed as a parent.

Each one of my kids gets their own special time with me.  I take them out individually.  I ask questions, they ask me questions, or sometimes we just go and grab a toy.  You force this time.  You have it in your schedule; you just need to understand where to find it.

Katie and I, we’ll have tea, listen to music, ride bikes or go for a drive.

Brandon and I, we do experiments that he finds in science books from the library, play catch or head to Grandpa’s house.  He asks questions about what it was like when I was a kid.

Collin…Well.  I am Collin’s limo service.  He makes me drive him to the McD’s play land then ditches me.  Afterwards I get a hug and a kiss, but eh.  It’s all good.
In the end, my desire is to see my children THINK.  To think for themselves means they weren’t programmed.  They were taught.  Does that happen at age 6?  No.  But the older they get the more I need to understand that an adult is forming and not a child in an adult body.  God doesn’t wish for an obedient robot and neither do I.

I work from the understanding that at 18 years of age in the United States they could find themselves either by choice or potential draft on a battle field getting shot at or potentially killed in a foreign country.  At 18, my child needs to be an adult.  If I didn’t get the groundwork laid for that now, I failed.

And shame on me for that.

I hope that helps the few people that asked me my feedback.  For the other 200 of you that read this, I will write next time about the free telescope I got.

Free stuff is cool.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Truth Deserves An Audience

“Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Recently someone asked me one of the toughest questions that any Christian can be asked.  “Do Christians believe that because someone doesn’t believe the way they believe that they end up in Hell?  Do you believe that?”  Most of the time I am asked this question because the person asking the question ran into an abrasive, thoughtless and uncaring Christian who was more interested in “being Right” than “being Loving”.

I am not saying I am not abrasive and thoughtless, I just decide to handle this question differently. 

The fact is Truth deserves an audience.  It doesn’t demand one, and it shouldn’t.  It does not force a will upon people and it does not proclaim its case in self righteous statements of uncaring abandon to the listener.  Truth in essence is humble, it asks nothing, and it just is.  If I tell my kids that water is wet, whether my children understand my statement or not matters little.  Water is still wet.  It’s a simple application of a topic most can comprehend.  If we can associate to truth being water, sometimes water being wet is not a sufficient explanation to an individual hearing truth for the first time.  Sometimes, truth is an ocean.  It’s not just wet; it’s unfathomable and impossible to navigate without help.  It’s a tsunami and a destructive force when confronted alone.  And no one likes feeling alone.

We all are different.  We all come into this life with genetic imprints and then socially develop opinions and cognitive biases over the course of our lives that when challenged make us reflect on how we believe. 

“You never find yourself until you face the truth”~ Pearl Bailey

The question about Heaven and Hell is in essence “Is what you believe in, is it true?”  This is where I as a Christian arrive at the ocean.  It’s an isolating question.  It carries its own stigma.  What someone is asking for is a burden of proof.  Christianity, to me, isn’t only about a destination at the end of this life.  It isn’t only about a way of life.  It isn’t only about how I raise my kids, how I present myself to others or any disappointment that is generated should I do something wrong.  It isn’t about the petty judgments that some Christians pass on those that live a life they think is less than perfect.  It spans more than that. 

But every focal point of understanding of what I can grasp in my finite mind comes to this:

Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

The conversation needs to be shifted and the destination corrected.  We don’t focus on a destination. It’s a person. A person who had a most peculiar life, and after his time on this earth was finished, cast a reputation that changed the outcome of billions of lives.
Some of us had someone, an individual, which made such a profound impact on our lives, for good or for harm, that we never forget them and what they taught us by their actions.  I know very few people though, who would be willing to continue till death for that one person. 

We selfishly want to live.

Do people today die for what they believe in?  Yes.  But these men, they had a chance to flee, a chance to return to a normal life without persecution.  If the man they followed was killed, and at the very least what was viewed as a religious or political rebellion was put down I could understand a percentage of them, you know, the crazies, continuing on in the leaders absence.  Not all 11. 
And more importantly, would never suspect a murderer like Paul, a persecutor of them, to actually join them.

If I critically look at the 11 men that followed this one man, this Jesus, something clicked in them that according to historical tradition sent them to their deaths in their later lives for something they continued to believe in after the Jesus they knew was gone.

That deserves an audience.  It requires us to examine evidence and forces a conclusion.  What if what they saw was true that it affected them to push through the natural instincts of self preservation?

Or was it just a collection of made up stories?  Stories gathered from many different religions of the time, taking their themes and beliefs and amassing them into a large collection which some point to inconsistencies in to force a social means of control over a large populace to obtain power?

Or is the truth stating something else. 

Is there really a God?
Is what Jesus said and what he did the truth?

It’s a personal question.  Not meant for a crowd.  Not meant for a congregation.  It’s meant for an individual.

And each of us comes to that ocean.  It deserves an audience.  It deserves our attention.