Couches are better than recliners for dads

Young dads, I thought of something this morning that made me think of you.
 
When I was a kid, my dad was almost always on the move — working in the yard, working in the garage, working at work, fishing, or hunting. He sat still for two reasons — to eat and to read the newspaper in the evening.
 
This morning it hit me, the closest I came to dad physically was as he read the newspaper. He sat at the end of the couch by the lamp. I sat right beside him, against him.
 
Dad had is place on the couch just as surely as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang. Dad plopped down there, and if I was in the house I plopped down beside him, up against him, doing whatever I was doing.
 
That was the most Dad and I ever touched.
 
I don’t think I did that for my kids. I suspect I had a recliner or armchair. They would climb up in my lap, and I surely loved that. But bigger kids will not usually climb into your lap, but they may sit beside you, against you.
 
When your dad is 92 and you are 64, it’s interesting the things you remember and treasure. I love that he sat still, read the paper, and let me be as close as I wanted. One of the smartest things he ever did, and he was a very smart guy.

Listening is the way to wisdom

Listening is the way to wisdom.

You don’t have to be old to be wise.
You don’t have to be a genius to be wise.

You have to listen.

We can listen in so many ways. Listening in its most direct sense is a use of our ears to hear. But I’m using “listening” in the broader sense of paying attention, taking in information and experience and processing it.

The processing is important. Just as we can hear without listening, we can take in information and have experiences without paying attention and thinking through what we have encountered.

Why do we all need wisdom? Because it helps us live a better life, and life is extremely important — a gift from God, a one time for each one person, a passing thing, a joyous experience, a challenging experience.

But we also need wisdom because this life journey is not just about each of us; it is about the people we encounter. Wise people are more likely to be a blessing to those they encounter. They are less likely to say stupid things that cause pain and hurt.

Reading has been a primary means to wisdom for centuries. But do not despair if reading is not your thing. Before reading, humanity shared its wisdom vocally — telling stories and sharing insights. There is so much knowledge and understanding available today in audio podcasts and in video form. Of course, there is also a bunch of trash, just as there are trash books that do not grow wisdom but rather promote shallowness.

We choose what kind of person we want to be when we choose what we read, listen to, and watch. Take in thoughtful content, process it, and you will become a more thoughtful person.

Those of you who are talkers — like pastors, teachers, public speakers, and just conversationalists — have to be especially careful if you want to grow wise. Every moment you spend talking is time not spent learning.

Those who don’t like to talk so much, have a different challenge. This promotes good thinking and wisdom, but it does not promote community and relationships, and they are important to our whole health, as well.

Healthy living, both for each person and for those they encounter, is along a middle path of thinking and sharing. This is one of the reasons why when I teach I love it when the quiet ones speak. The talkers keep things going and make class interesting, but the thinkers often are the ones who can bring wisdom into a group, if they will but speak.

Solomon prayed for wisdom not just so he could be smart but so he could serve well — the inside and the outside of his life.

1 Kings 3:7-9:
“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (NRSV).

Grace-faith leads to love-hope

The road to a better life begins by acknowledging where one stands.

The truth is that for those of us who seek to follow Christ, there is a certain disappointment in how well we are living with Christ. We don’t measure up to what we hoped when we started the faith journey.

Hannah Whitall Smith said this about the Christian life:

“Your victories have been few and brief, your defeats many and disastrous. You have not lived as you feel children of God ought to live. You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power. You have rejoiced in your knowledge of the things revealed in the Scriptures, but have not had a living realization of the things themselves, consciously felt in the soul.”

If she was writing this today, maybe she would have begun with, “Let’s get real.” I think anyone who really desires to follow Christ will feel, at least at times, the truth of Smith’s words. (Those who just wanted a ticket out of Hell may not understand it, but that is another issue.)

I especially like Smith’s sentence, “You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power.”

We act as if the correctness of our doctrine is what saves us. We don’t say that, but it’s kind of lingering in the background. Of course, that doctrine differs widely when you get into the weeds, even among committed Christians. We, with our varied theologies, cannot all be right.

Which gets us to what the New Testament says is the key to life with God in Christ — grace and faith and love and hope. We keep it simple or we get it wrong.

As I have written multiple times, we are not saved by correct theology, we are saved by God’s grace through our faith.

The grace-faith life leads to love-hope.

Back to Smith:

“Christ is believed in, talked about, and served. However, He is not known as the very life of the soul, abiding there forever, and revealing Himself there continually in His beauty.”

Today’s is my birthday. My birthday wish for us all is that we would all grow in the “life of the soul.” That grace-faith will lead us to love-hope.

My family and friends, I love you because God first loved me. Thanks for enriching my life.

Stepping on the moon required a giant leap

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most amazing events in world history. On July 20, 1969, my family and our neighbors watched via fuzzy gray images as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon with that famous “one small step,” which marked “one giant leap.”

My dad worked for Collins Radio/Rockwell and helped make the radio equipment that carried the astronauts’ voices over the many missions leading to Apollo 11 and afterward. It was one of his proudest achievements in life — right up there with catching 13 passes against Dallas Jesuit High School.

George Will says this of the US effort to put a man on the moon by hearkening back to President Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to do just that:

“Kennedy’s goal was reckless, and exhilarating leadership. Given existing knowledge and technologies, it was impossible. But Kennedy said the space program would ‘serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.’ It did.”

And, Will added this from Robert Stone and Alan Andres that made me think of my dad:

“The American effort to get to the moon was the largest peacetime government initiative in the nation’s history. At its peak in the mid-1960s, nearly 2 percent of the American workforce was engaged in the effort to some degree. It employed more than 400,000 individuals, most of them working for 20,000 different private companies and 200 universities.”

The US is a special place because of its founding principles and the people who have come from all over the world to throw in their lot with this grand experiment in democracy. The nation is indeed strong and powerful, but the things that hold us together seem so fragile right now.

It’s not popular any longer, but I still like the “melting pot” imagery of America as a place where different people come together to be something new and different — even better. My ancestors were mostly English, and I love to visit England, but I’m not English. I’m an American, connected to other Americans who come together to amazing things, like defeating fascism and landing people on the moon and bringing them home safely.

As long as humans write history, they will be writing about this thing called the US and all that we accomplished. Let’s not tear ourselves apart.

We can’t go back to where we came from

I don’t say much about the current US president’s wild tweets, but I think it’s important to stand against racism, whether or not he thinks he’s racist. This president is from a much more recent immigrant family than many of us. (And there are some Hispanic Texans’s families, for example, who have been in this continent much longer than my Revolutionary War-fighting family members.)

Maybe we should all go back to where we came from. But there’s a problem; I can’t go back to England, Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia, and other places. And this is very common of Americans; we are a mixture of peoples, and this mixing has broken down walls of prejudice and enmity.

If we could all go back to where we came from I suspect the Native Americans would be more than happy to do without us. But even that gets tricky since they may have migrated centuries ago when there was a land bridge to Asia.

Let’s face it; there is no going “back,” and we shouldn’t want to. The US is an amazing nation. Part of our exceptionalism is that we have been built on principles of freedom and personal responsibility. European descendants like me are no more American than African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native peoples who have taken up the mantle of American citizenship as spelled out in the Constitution.

Stop wishing for something that never was and start working to build something that expresses love and appreciation for all people through this crazy, messy process called democracy.

Take a trip to Ideas

A vacation for me is having time to travel, not to places but to ideas. I go there by means of books.

The books grabbing my attention now sit on the flat arms of my recliner in the study and on the top of my nearby desk.

This morning, I started with The Thickness of Glory by John Killinger; it’s in my lap.

The New American Standard New Testament rests to my right. It will be next.

On the left is T.S. Eliot’s For Lancelot Andrewes and Denise Shekerjian’s Uncommon Genius.

In the middle of my desk is Will Durant’s The Age of Faith. And on top of it is A Game of Thrones, which is how I ended Tuesday and probably will end today.

I’m not sure why I thought to share this; maybe because it is a way of enjoying a day that seems so foreign to this time. For many of us, the best traveling occurs in our minds.

Last night I started watching a movie that included an airport scene. I found myself getting stressed just watching it. Exit. This is vacation from stress time.

I do like seeing interesting places; I just hate the getting there if it involves airports and airplanes. I do like a good road trip because there is plenty of time to think. One of the best trips of my life was driving from Texas to Vancouver with Cameron. There and back again, to quote a hobbit. Thousands of beautiful miles and precious company.

With books and ideas I like both the trip and the arriving at the end.

My perfect vacation day continues.

We push beyond self to the Other

There is a danger at work in the religious life. It is that we take every thought in our heads as words from God. Connecting with the Infinite, I suspect, is a bit more otherly.

This, I think, points to the allure and the limitations of reason. Thinking is an act of the mind (the self) even when we are thinking about something or someone else, such as the Divine. We may think we fall in love with God when we actually have fallen in love with our thoughts about God.

That is not to say we cannot fall in love with God, the object of our thinking, but there must be more than our thinking; there must be experience. And both our thinking and our experience are best comprehended in connection with other thinking and experiencing persons. Then the God we fall in love with is more likely to be the true Divine, not just my divine.

But, no, that is not true. People tend to think badly and to misunderstand experience, and we tend to hang out with others in the same predicament. Many people, some in very large groups, have fallen in love with notions of God that I highly suspect are untrue. Some already have passed off the historical scene; others will.

We do not despair. We are merely humbled, or should be, in our desire to connect with the true Divine. I suspect our connections will be weak because we think and experience in such confusion.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13:

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (NRSV).

Or in the venerable and beautiful King James Version:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

Looking for a leader

People, especially those who would lead, are interesting. Check out these two descriptions:

1) man of medium stature… hair lay smooth as if it had been combed… beard shaggy and trained to a point… eyes were bright and full of fire, bespeaking the keenness of his mind… eyebrows fine… nose perfectly straight… mouth a bit large, with full lower lip… neck thick and bent… shoulders large and broad… from head to fingertips well proportioned, and therefore strong and a good runner.

2) not handsome nor youthful… long beard with lice, like a thicket for wild beasts… head disheveled… seldom cuts hair or nails… fingers nearly always black with ink.

Two interesting, very different descriptions. Same man. The most powerful man in the world at the time. In the first he is described by Ammianus, in the second by himself. In other words, he saw his flaws.

The man — Roman Emperor Julian, called the Apostate by some.

“This pagan lived and dressed like a monk. Apparently he knew no woman carnally after the death of his wife. He slept on a hard pallet in an unheated room; he kept all his chambers unheated throughout the winter “to accustom myself to bear the cold.” He had no taste for amusements. He shunned the theater with its libidinous pantomimes, and offended the populace by staying away from the Hippodrome; on solemn festivals he attended for a while, but finding one race like another, he soon withdrew. At first the people were impressed by his virtues, his asceticism, his devotion to the chores and crises of government; they compared him to Trajan as a general, to Antoninus Pius as a saint, to Marcus Aurelius as a philosopher-king. We are surprised to see how readily this young pagan was accepted by a city and an Empire that for a generation had known none but Christian emperors.”

There can be such a thing as a powerful, exemplary, service-oriented leader. He or she will not rise to power in the USA as Julian did in Rome. Here, the people need to be looking for such a person and then lift them above the crowd of egotistical and power hungry.

It is good to lift up people of competence, integrity, experience, intelligence, compassion, and humility. Maybe such characteristics can be summed in one word — wisdom.

We need wise women and men to lead. Any leader will make mistakes, and no leader can right every wrong. But a wise leader gives us our best hope.

On Memorial Day it is good to remember the responsibility we all have to choose our leaders well.

Quote and info from Will Durant, The Age of Faith: The Story of Civilization, Volume IV . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Learning the art of listening

It struck me today how fortunate I was to have been a journalist.
 
Real journalists ask questions, lots of questions, and most of their time is spent listening to the answers — getting the responses right but also thinking about the responses. Is it a real answer to the question? What new questions does the answer raise? Thought upon thought, all while listening and trying to understand.
 
Then, after all the asking and listening is done, you try to make sense of what you learned, fitting it in with what you’ve learned from others and also letting it stand on its on.
 
Usually by the time I got to a keyboard, I had shaped in my head what I thought was most important in what had been said and how I could convey it. A one-source story is simple, but it gets more complex as you layer in sources trying to get at broader truth, not just one person’s perspective on what is true.
There are good and bad journalists just as surely as their are good and bad ministers, politicians, cops, plumbers, housewives, etc.
A bad journalist doesn’t really listen. He or she is more interested in finding what he or she wants or expects to hear or even “making” a person say what the writer wants. It happens.
A good journalist listens and shapes the story to the emerging understanding of reality, wherever it might take the reporter. And a resulting story is never the last word; it is part of the word, often the first word, which one hopes will lead to more understanding.
My thoughts surfaced as I read the introduction to Denise Shekerjian’s book, Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born. She wrote about the process of interviewing 40 recipients of the MacArthur Prize. Here’s some of her words about the process:
“In the end, the common themes linking these creative people separated and floated to the surface like cream. . . .
“But some of what I learned was a surprise. . . .
“With these conclusions in hand, the problem then was to devise an artful structure for telling the story. . . .
“Somehow, I had to allow for the untidiness and inconsistencies of it all. And, too, there were the subtleties of reducing an interview to the written page: people should sound the way they really talk. A casual statement, isolated from the whole, shouldn’t be made to stand for an entire formal dogma.”
She reminded me of what it’s like to listen, to really listen, to listen for understanding, to listen for honest sharing. That’s what good journalists do; that’s what all of us could benefit by doing.

Andrewes: ‘Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have. . . .’

I’m thinking this morning on a nasty word. It is an old one we don’t speak of much. The generator of my thoughts is a man long dead and little known today — Lancelot Andrewes.

The word, the almost lost word — sin — with a simple truth.

“Sin it is will destroy us all.” — Andrewes

If we forget sin, we forget our destroyer. All we need do is look around us to see the truth. But sin does not merely destroy life in the now; it has consequences that reverberate through both history and eternity.

Andrewes, sounding somewhat like Yoda: “Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have, and it is our better by far. . . .”

I read these words from Andrewes’ exposition on Luke 2:10-11, which tells of the birth of a savior who is Christ, the Lord.

Andrewses speaks of the joy that a savior of any kind brings. People may talk all they want, but there is “no joy so great, no news so welcome” as when “when ready to perish” hears of “one that will save him.”

To a person in danger of dying to sickness there is no greater joy than to hear of one will make the person well again.

To a person sentenced by law to die there is no greater joy than to be pardoned.

“Tell any of these, assure them but of a Saviour, it is the best news he ever heard in his life. There is joy in the name of a Saviour,” Andrewes said.

But most of us are not on the verge of death, in sickness, or living on death row. The thing Jesus came for is the “saving we need all; and none but He can help us to it. We have therefore all cause to be glad for the Birth of this Saviour.”

“. . . there is another life not to be forgotten, and greater the dangers, and the destruction more to be feared than of this here, and it would be well sometimes we were remembered of it.”

Our spiritual joy arises out of our true selves — our flawed selves, our sinful selves. It arises because we see ourselves and those around us, and thus we see the need of a savior. In seeing our sin it becomes possible to find our joy, it is in a savior from that sin — a savior to love and lift up, to heal and pardon, to walk and reside with us.

[The Andrewes quotes are from T.S. Eliot’s essay on Lancelot Andrewes.]