Are You and God on Speaking Terms?

“Perhaps all the good that ever has come here has come because people prayed it into the world.” ― Wendell Berry

Americans have a strong belief in God

Here are some findings from the Pew Research Center on religion in America:

The vast majority of Americans (90%) believe in some kind of higher power, with 56% professing faith in God as described in the Bible and another 33% saying they believe in another type of higher power or spiritual force. Only one-in-ten Americans say they don’t believe in God or a higher power of any kind.

Trust Magazine

Americans also believe in and practice prayer

[Out] of 102 countries examined for frequency of prayer by Pew Research Center, the U.S. is unique in that it has both a high level of wealth ($56,000 per-capita gross domestic product in 2015) and a high level of daily prayer among its population.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found that 45% of Americans – and a majority of Christians (55%) – say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions. The same survey found that 63% of Christians in the U.S. say praying regularly is an essential part of their Christian identity.

A large portion of Americans believe in God and communicating with him on a regular basis. I do too.

“Believing takes practice.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

Have you and God been speaking lately? What has he been speaking to you about? What have you been speaking to him about?

Last week I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. In my prayer (I also write these down so I can keep track) I asked God to help me figure out how I was going to manage the next chapters of my life. I was thankful for all of the ways that he had helped me – in very tangible ways. I named my blessings one by one. But, the bottom line was, help!

A few days later, instead of an “everything is going to be okay” answer – I got some bittersweet news that would mean the next chapter of my life was going to be even more difficult than I could have imagined. What kind of answer to my prayer was that?

“The wise man in the storm prays God not for safety from danger but for deliverance from fear.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

A friend sent me a bird feeder to add to what I’ve already had hanging up. It’s been fun to watch the squirrels work so hard to try and get at it. I’ve been wondering why I didn’t have more birds these days – then realized, those blasted squirrels had taken over the neighborhood and run all the birds out. It’s no longer safe to nest around here.

But the other evening there was a loud and exuberant birdsong in the trees at the back of the house. I craned my neck again and again to try and see which kind of bird it was. It was full of joy and went on and on. Happened again the next evening as I sat and wondered about my answer to prayer. That prayer that seemed to have gone off the rails.

“In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not.” ― C.S. Lewis

My Bible study group at church is going to be studying the New Testament letter to the Hebrews next. I will be doing the teaching. In preparation I’m reading it in several different ways. First I went over the whole letter as an outline. I read it in different translations. Next I focused on all of the familiar verses that have meant much to me over the years. Right now I’m reading it slowly, sentence by sentence, to see how God might use it right now speak to me.

So, there I was, downcast about the latest bad news and not very hopeful about my future life. I was starting to slowly look at Hebrews while that bird was going to town out in the back. And there it was…

In the first sentences of Hebrews, the writer explains that God used to speak to his people through his prophets. Now he has spoken to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. That brought to my memory some of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples as he was preparing them for his leaving,

The Father is sending a great Helper, the Holy Spirit, in My name to teach you everything and to remind you of all I have said to you. (John 14:26)

So that means God doesn’t only use intermediaries anymore, He speaks directly to his people now. So when I sit there reading Hebrews, hearing that bird singing to Kingdom Come, I open my ears to hear…

In Chapter 2 of Hebrews the writer warns, “That is why we ought to pay even closer attention to the voice that has been speaking so that we will never drift away from it.”  Remember, in this reading my goal is to listen and hear from God. Well, while I’m busy worrying about my future (feeling sorry for myself, boo hoo) I am called to remember all of the ways God has taken care of my life so far – why do you think he’s suddenly going to stop? Go back and look at all you’ve written down, read some of these very verses you hi-lighted years and years ago and remember how God provided for you. What are you so worried about?

“We tend to be preoccupied by our problems when we have a heightened sense of vulnerability and a diminished sense of power. Today, see each problem as an invitation to prayer.” ― John Ortberg

Pay attention to the voice that has always been speaking to you.

And if you’re still too thick in the head to get it, I’m going to send a very loud bird to sing and sing and sing in the middle of the squirrel kingdom to remind you not to worry or be afraid.

Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don’t plant gardens. They do not sow or reap—and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird. If He looks after them, of course He will look after you. Worrying does not do any good; who here can claim to add even an hour to his life by worrying?  (Matthew 6:26-27, The Voice)

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.  (Matthew 6:33-34, The Voice)

What should you be talking to God about right now?

 

Can I Ask You a Few Questions?

 

What do your past experiences tell you about your life today?

I received a mysterious call the other day. People that know me would be baffled that I even answered it. I probably talk on the phone less than two times a week. I don’t know what possessed me to say hello. This was a survey measuring the health of Texas citizens. Well, a sociologist can’t hardly say no to a survey. It was about health, so of course that was a hot topic right now. She didn’t tell me how long it would take, but it was an extensive experience.

I answered the usual demographic questions to determine which categories I fit into – age, sex, income, and family composition. Whoever put this together (those paying for it) seemed to have been a wide range of groups. There were questions about:

  • prostate health
  • childhood corporal punishment
  • alcohol consumption
  • hours of sleep
  • doctor visits
  • relations with neighbors
  • trips to the grocery story
  • anxiety and depression

The questions took me back over my adult life thus far. Afterwards I thought about chapters that had been brought up in my mind during the interview. There’s just not much else on Netflix anymore is there?

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”― Søren Kierkegaard

 

I had my carpet and floor cleaned the other day. The young guy doing the work was asking me what I did, professor is a good answer. If I say “sociologist” I typically get a smile and a nod, but know that there’s confusion. I explained to him that what interested me was the context that helped explain why people do what they do. I told him at a party I’d probably ask him questions about his family, neighborhood, school to try and figure him out a little better. I could tell by his follow up questions that I didn’t do a good sales job. He was still thoroughly encumbered with the psychological mindset, as most Americans are.

“Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events.” ― Robert Penn Warren

That health survey reminded me of so many life experiences; where was I living when I was in the hospital for that surgery, childhood misbehavior, becoming a parent, taking care of each other once we got married. The experience with that lady over the phone got me thinking while I was talking and for days after.

There are friends of mine right now who are in the middle of terrible health crises. I can only imagine how they are getting through each day. I think about how they will live their lives in the coming years, never the same, always shaped by this terrible turn. What will they remember about these days and how will matter to them?

What do you think has shaped your life the most, so far? Can you find a theme, a theme song? I got desperate the other day and watched that Judy Garland movie. Did you ever see the film Cold Mountain? That Renee Zellweger is an incredible actress. Anyway, to get back to poor Judy Garland. What a mess! I hope your life has better chapters and a better song.

As I thought about my own chapters I realized again some important truths:

  • Stop letting the “Ghosts of Christmas Past” haunt the life you’re building today – it’s over with, there’s nothing you can do about it, laugh off that tragedy and move on! Leave these behind you and keep your eyes on the road ahead.

“He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” ― Gabriel García Márquez

  • Remember all those essential memories – the ones that really helped make a difference in your life (the people too) and find ways to pass them on to someone else in your life. Tell the next generation some of the important stories before it’s too late.
  • Talk to people from your past, catch up, do some hunting. Renew those connections in your life and tell people why they mattered – having friends is nothing to take for granted – have you been out there lately?

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Maybe the health of Texas (or wherever you are) depends on your reflection?

 

Hold Fast to Dreams

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” ― Anthony Burgess

I’ve been doing research on sleep over the past few years. Very interesting! From a great book by Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep:

  • Whether you’re a night owl or morning person is genetically determined. Around 30% of the population are considered morning types, 30% are evening types and the rest of us sit in the middle or are a combination of the two.
  • You can’t catch up on missed sleep. Getting a few extra hours at the weekend only goes a little way to reversing chronic sleep debt. To re-pay your sleep debt completely, try to reintroduce a steady sleep routine and follow it for at least two weeks.
  • Dreaming is a kind of emotional first aid for the brain; it’s during dreaming that we provide ourselves a form of overnight therapy to deal with traumatic experiences. However it’s a myth that if you forget your dreams, you’ve had a bad night’s sleep. While we know that dream sleep (or Rapid Eye Movement [REM] sleep) is essential for life – studies have shown rats deprived of REM sleep can die almost as quickly as being deprived of food – being unable to remember your dreams upon waking doesn’t mean you haven’t dreamt, it just means when you wake up, your brain isn’t able to access this dream memory.
  • Matthew Walker’s advice for everyone – and an iron rule of his own life – is to aim for eight or nine hours of sleep every night. Routinely getting less than seven hours will undermine health, harm the brain, demolish the immune system, disrupts the body’s blood sugar balance and damage coronary arteries.

“Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.” ― Heraclitus

According to researchers from the University of Basel, consumers are sleeping more since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the majority of that sleep hasn’t been restful.

“The improved individual sleep-wake timing can presumably be attributed to an increased flexibility of social schedules, for instance due to more work being accomplished from home,” the researchers wrote. “However, this unprecedented situation also led to a significant increase in self-perceived burden, which was attendant to the decrease in sleep quality. These adverse effects may be alleviated by exposure to natural daylight as well as physical exercising.” 

During quarantine people are sleeping more hours, because they are stuck at home, but the quality of their sleep is diminished because of worries. Solution: get outside and exercise more (shut off the stupid screens!)

“Man is a genius when he is dreaming.” ― Akira Kurosawa

I try to convince my college students of the value of sleep, how it’s the easiest way to improve their learning and retention. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been.

  • Each night of the week that college students have sleep problems was associated with a 0.02-point drop in their cumulative grade point average (GPA) and 10 percent higher odds that they would drop a course.
  • For first year students, the impact of each additional day per week with sleep problems (less than 8 hours) had the same impact on GPA as binge drinking and drug use.
  • Only learning disabilities and diagnosed depression or anxiety appeared to have a larger impact on academic success than lack of sleep.
Monica E. Hartmann and J. Roxanne Prichard. Sleep Health, Journal of the National Sleep Foundation. October 2018, Volume 4, Issue 5, Pages 463–471

What can you do to improve your sleep and thereby your overall health?

Russell Foster, Why Do We Sleep?

  1. Stop using all technology 30 min before bed- no cell phone- no laptop- no tablet. The light blocks melatonin which can help you fall asleep. A 30 min wind down with relaxation and reading (a paper book) can make it easier to fall asleep. Apps to reduce blue light on your devices are helpful when you need to work late, but still harmful if you’re trying to sleep.No caffeine after 3 PM. If you are up late studying or just need a little more energy, try a small energy-boosting snack instead of a caffeinated beverage. If you feel that you have to have caffeinated coffee when you are up late studying, try to limit the amount.
  2. Incorporate a small amount of time each day to be outside in daylight. Time spent outside during the day helps to preserve your body’s sleep and wake cycles.
  3. Be physically active most days. Exercise can promote more regular sleep and wake patterns as well as reduce stress. Avoid exercise and other vigorous activities three-to-four hours before going to bed to avoid awakening the body even more.
  4. Use the bed only for sleeping. Avoid doing other activities such as studying or watching TV. This ensures that your body will not associate the bed with these activating tasks, which can make it harder to fall asleep. If there are few options other than your bed for these activities, reduce the level of intensity of the reading material or TV programs you select.
  5. Go to bed only when you are sleepy. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity somewhere else until you feel sleepy again. Try deep breathing or relaxation techniques if you’re having trouble falling asleep due to stress or anxiety.

What I’ve learned lately is that sleep is a big deal. When I dream I am storing away memories. As I age, memory becomes a problem. Dreaming helps me to keep my memory sharper. Sleeping, exercise, sunlight – sounds like simple things I can do when the world seems like it’s become so unpredictable.

 

“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” ― Charles Dickens

 

The World is Too Much With Us

“I could no longer discern what was real and what was fake. Everything, including the present, seemed to be both too much and nothing at all.” ― Clemantine Wamariya

I have been feeling overwhelmed the past weeks. Maybe it’s been a month now.  Most of us are having the same kinds of experiences all at once and all together. I think if I made a list it would look very similar to yours. So many of our feelings right now are driven by a lack of control, the feeling that so much of life in general is off balance.

“Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.” ― Alain de Botton

One of the ways for me to get a better handle on things is to try and figure out what’s really going on. I’m a sociologist. That means that what I’ve been trained to do is to dissect the world of people, like I did with that frog back in middle school science class, and see how it all works (or doesn’t).

Right now, a global pandemic has left us all feeling like life is veering in and out of control. It’s an even more powerless experience because we can’t hit back at a virus. There’s no visible enemy, like a terrible boss or a marriage falling apart. So, what we end up wrestling with is the state of information being transmitted to us from leaders and healthcare experts. How well do we believe what we are being told? The issue becomes not the actual state of our health but what we believe.

“The amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there. The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.” ― Daniel Patrick Moynihan

As I’ve written before, the tremendous social movements now taking place are actually the result of months living under quarantine. The video of police kneeling on the neck of George Floyd and his subsequent death was a match that lit a population already kindled for catastrophe.

Social movements fall into two broad categories:

(1) Top Down (Resource Mobilization) or

(2) Bottom Up (Collective Behavior)

I was reading an article the other day about the making of the We Are The World song and video. It was a 1985 project to raise global awareness about suffering and starvation in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. It would fall under the category of a Top Down Movement. These tend to be organized around ideas and actions that need to be communicated to the population or groups so that action can be organized and problems solved.

What we are now experiencing with protests, marches, riots, vandalism and public displays by political and pop leaders would fall into the Bottom Up category. In response to the video of the police arrest and later death of George Floyd, people who felt tremendous anger and bottled up grievances exploded in protest. Political and pop leaders tried to catch up – but mostly looked silly and out of step.

In a Mass Society like ours, the media plays a powerful role in shaping public opinion about the “how’s” and “why’s” of social movements. Our media landscape is unique:

  • We have hundreds of media sources of information and opinion pouring into our lives each minute.
  • The distinction between information and opinion is typically blurred to the receiver.
  • We have media monopolies controlling a wide variety of content, from news, entertainment, social media, sports and publishing. All interwoven to produce a profit for shareholders. Go back and watch the film Network.

The goal of the media is no longer to provide information to the public. That is a secondary objective. The primary objective is to gain viewers – profit. This has happened because there is too much media, too many channels and apps. It’s not some evil plot, just basic market dynamics.

What’s happened in history right now? Viewers were tired of the endless Corona-virus narrative that seemed to never have a happy ending. A mass protest for social change regarding race relations was exactly what the doctor ordered. Each media source jumped on the events and shaped the telling to fit into their narratives.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.  – Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NLT)

Now, as you click around on your television or phone you will see that the information from the media is not the same. Remember, they are not reporting just facts but telling stories to gain and maintain audiences. So, you will hear one source emphasize the “A” part of the narrative and downplay the “B” part. Another source will do the opposite. This is normal marketing activity. We are not citizens in need of truth, we are consumers shopping for a narrative that fits.

“If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain, do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?” ― Warren Ellis

Remember, this social movement aimed at addressing injustices regarding race relations is happening now because the atmosphere was stoked by the quarantine. People were laid off, lost insurance, had no childcare, were trapped at home with family, experienced the hospitalization/death of family/friends. Who were we to express our frustration and anger at in the midst of all this? A mysterious virus floating around in the air?

Marching in protest about racial injustice and examples of police violence makes perfect sense in light of our collective circumstances. This doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be happening, just an explanation of why now. Of course there are a lot of actions taking place that don’t make sense – there always are. Welcome to the drama of living in a free society with a camera always on.

So, despite an explanation, I’m still as overwhelmed. I’m doing a few things different so that I can at least tread water and not feel too waterboarded by history. To counter this feeling, here’s what the doctor recommends:

  1. Talk less, listen more
  2. Stop watching TV news
  3. Read fiction (with happy endings)
  4. Read magazine articles that stoke your curiosity
  5. Take a drive in the country
  6. Watch an interesting documentary
  7. Write a note of encouragement to someone who needs it
  8. Tell your kids what life was like back in the Dark Ages, when you were their age

If you do get into a current event discussion or debate why not talk about something specific that you can do to help make it better? Talk about hope not anger or frustration or fear – there’s already plenty of that to last a lifetime.

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.  – 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Preventing a Forest Fire?

The horrible arrest that turned into a murder this week was not the actual cause of the turmoil we are currently witnessing across our country (and even in other parts of the world).

This terrible event was a match that has set fire to a society ready to burn for many reasons:

  1. People have been locked up for months. Know what that feels like?
  2. Whole segments of our society have lost their incomes overnight.
  3. Loss of income also means loss of a host of other related benefits, like healthcare.
  4. Childcare for many people who can’t afford it has gone away when the school system shut down – people who were unable to continue working from home or were furloughed but instead were “let go.”
  5. Government relief did not seem to work well for average citizens. Applying for unemployment benefits has been almost impossible. Financial bailouts seemed to effect large businesses not individual families. It will take a while for all of that to “trickle down.”
  6. Segments of our society already in poor health and the aged were particularly susceptible to this virus. It didn’t strike randomly.
  7. Where are the positive, strong leaders with an agenda to move us forward?  There’s so much conflict and controversy in our politics right now.

The horrible death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday lit a match and set fire to a society that was made ready to burn because of a plague of fear, frustration and lack of hope.

Human beings are prone to distorted thinking called Confirmation Bias. This happens to all of us at one time or another. We get an idea in our head and then stop looking for other information that contradicts that thinking. We then begin to see only what confirms our first belief. We stop thinking.

“In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.” ― Thomas Stephen Szasz

If you look hard enough you will see that there are and have always been protests and people voicing alternative ideas and opinions in the history of our nation. That’s what our nation is all about! Just think about it.

If you look hard enough you will see that our law enforcement men and women are almost all brave, kind, fair and just. You just have to call attention to the whole story and think about it.

The media today is not the same animal it was when I was growing up. I started out with a black and white TV! There were only three television networks (I guess PBS had news?). The news was broadcast during specific hours of the day. Was it more objective because there wasn’t much time for editorializing and opinions?

Today, the news media is on 24/7. There are dozens of channels pouring out information right and left. It’s almost impossible to tell the difference between news and opinion rants from media personalities. Fighting over ratings and advertising dollars may be the greater purpose, not so much getting the facts into our hands.

So I guess what I’m suggesting here is that we all make sure we are putting things into perspective. Use the context we are all swimming in to help understand what’s really going on – avoid the rapids and navigate more successfully down the currents that appear around each bend.

  1. Yes there are racial/class tensions in our society, but they are probably going to be better addressed by solving long lasting problems related to education and family.
  2. Our current health crisis has effects on layers and layers of our social structure and system – this is not limited to healthcare and economics. Events this week have brought some of this to light.
  3. Read more, watch TV/Social Media less!  Talk less, listen more. Pray for people who are different from you. Cross the road and be a Good Samaritan as often as you can (do it with your words too).

“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Always Worth Remembering

“I would like to learn, or remember, how to live.” ― Annie Dillard

  • Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
  • Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.  Did you realize it was that recent a holiday? (www.history.com)
  • Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. A “Taps Across America” is planned for this year. Click on the link to learn more. I remember being in Galveston for dinner one evening and discovering there was a veteran who played “Taps” each evening from the balcony across the intersection. All the other residents, business owners and tourists gathered together in the cool breeze and stood in honor for those few minutes, all together as one.

Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day. That holiday, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on November 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, November 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.'” As such, this new legal holiday honored World War I veterans. In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress — at the urging of the veterans service organizations — amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. (www.military.com)

You have people in your family or circle who have served in the military. Some have given their lives in that service. Of course you always remember them. But most importantly, don’t forget to bear their memory to the next generation. Tell your friends, loved ones, children and their ancestors about who they were. Don’t limit their lives to this tremendous service, open their story and tell some of the details to others.

I’ve got a platform in the classes I teach to talk about world events. World War 2 dramatically changed the fortunes of my family. Every male in my grandfathers immediate family served in the war, and all returned home! It was a very large family. I try and explain to others the dramatic change in fortunes this experience had on our extended family for generations to come. What I don’t do is tell the individual stories enough, how those young men left the hard scrabble of the Texas Hill Country and changed the world.

I just told my daughter that her great-grandfather, who served in WW2, helped to rebuild the bridge over the Llano River back in the 1930’s. It was a public works program, one of thousands that FDR had launched to help get us out of the Great Depression. My daughter is a history teacher, I knew she’d appreciate this part of the story. Also, a little drama, he fell off while working on it!

There are heroes in your life, aren’t there?

What about making your new normal life one that is lived passing down the memory of heroic figures in your life to the next generation? It seems we are surrounded by anti-heroes these days. These make for much better television.

There’s a box on my table that I’m collecting old framed photos into. My plan is to send to a cousin so he can hold these memories as I have. He’s got a young son who needs to hear about his ancestors and who he came from.

Why don’t you decide to hang up a picture, have more family dinners with no technology, make a phone call or write something down? Make an extra effort to remember aloud people who made a difference and whose deeds and values still could? Make a kind of memorial day in your life for the sake of others who need some nourishment.

I made some cookies the other day. The kind my grandmother used to make. None of us are supposed to be eating cookies these days, so there’s no one to share with. The act reminded me of a memory of place. There are people in your life who were significant, but there were also places and times. These should be remembered too. My grandmother had a little narrow kitchen, no appliances to speak of (certainly not a dishwasher!), yet she cooked and baked plain old memories for her family. My version of those cookies don’t seem right, but they did the trick. I remember the place so long ago and how happy it made all of us because we were loved.

“As you get older, it’s more difficult to have heroes, but it’s just as necessary.”
― Ernest Hemmingway

And then, there’s all the health and wealth that remembering brings to your own self. Don’t forget these people for all of the subtle influence, the investment of time and attention, the examples of character and love. Remember the heroes from the past and what each has planted in the soil of your life.

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts…. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.” ― Frederick Buechner

 

 

There’s Always Two Sides

I was listening to a video of Judy Collins singing the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now” – got me into a very reflective mood. Again.

Surely this great quarantine has also provided you with some reflective moods now and then. What has this incredible shut down forced you to think about while sitting outside under the trees? What fears are lurking around the next corner? What new goals have you decided to set for yourself?  Deciding to be a better person in your relationships (someone else making this decision for you)?

“…how sad and bad and mad it was – but then, how it was sweet” ― Robert Browning

For a long while now I’ve been putting down poems on my phone. Don’t tell anyone. First of all, I still can’t believe I’m the owner of a cell phone. Secondly, I actually know poets. They would be horrified that I was sitting in parking lots letting words, ideas and feeling spill onto my iPhone.

I’m in my first year as a widower. One of the recent stream of consciousness poems I jotted down was the reflection that “everyday there’s a hard part” – doesn’t usually last long, but it’s consistent.

Joni Mitchell’s song makes me think about the two divisions of life that I’ve lived (am now living). You should go read the lyrics with the song playing. Here’s a portion:

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions that I recall
I really don’t know love
Really don’t know love at all

Maybe this terrible time of isolation has shown you another side of life. Another side of your own life? What if one of the hidden blessings of this tragedy is that you’ve gotten a brief glimpse of what’s over the wall?

In my life, this other side of the wall without my wife isn’t going to go away.  Everyday, there’s a reminder out of the blue – the hard part. As far as this “shut down” goes, it will end. We will probably have a new normal – I’m working on planning a different way to do college classes this fall. But, we are all going to come back home to a version of where we left.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

“Both Sides Now” reminds me that there’s always a danger that when I go back to the new normal I could slip back into that automatic living I was doing before.

Shakespeare wrote, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I listen to Judy Collins sing that song (1976!) and for me, it’s true, I didn’t know how to really love. I see that now from this side.

But when this quarantine ends, I’m going to live with as few regrets as I can, because I’ve seen a little bit of both sides of me.

What about you?

 

“Now the wren has gone to roost and the sky is turnin’ gold
And like the sky my soul is also turnin’
Turnin’ from the past, at last and all I’ve left behind”
― Ray Lamontagne

What’s Your New Normal?

Have you heard about what the “New Normal” is going to look like once the current quarantine is lifted? Mostly it seems that our collective focus is on the strategic rearrangements that will have to take place so that we can get back to work, school and leisure as soon as possible. The media is streaming into our homes constantly with information and opinions about how all of this will or won’t work.

  • More online learning and working
  • No more crowded restaurants
  • Empty sports stadiums
  • Temperature checks
  • Less travel

At least for the immediate and unknown future, things will surely be different. Who really knows how permanent some of the changes will be. What about changes that you have decided to make in your own life?

What’s starting to interest me is how this intense period of social isolation has effected all of us, has changed each one of us in subtle ways that we may not have consciously thought enough about.

Certainly we all know that changes in these areas of our life are coming:

Family – you probably know each other at a new level now. Did you make music videos together or find places to hide for each other? Of course, for many, there are the concerns related to extended family members who needed extra help. That’s not going to go away. What’s your plan for the days ahead?

Friendships – who did you keep in contact with during the quarantine and who was too much trouble? Who kept up with you?

Work – we all now know that all those meetings are going to have to change, but what else? The economic hardships are going to cause painful changes and reorganizations for many. What’s going to change about the way you do business with the people you work with?

What’s your normal going to look like when it comes to some of these other pieces of your life?

  1. Your big goals in life – and all the little ones getting you there
  2. What you choose to get mad about – and complain to others about
  3. How you spend your free time (when you had too much!)
  4. What you took for granted about other people – and your relationships
  5. Your every day conversation with God – who’s talking, who’s listening?

This plague that spread across the globe and our response to it stole so much control from our lives. But as we re-establish ourselves in a post-pandemic life we can make choices and be less driven about by circumstances. Raising your self-awareness puts you on the road to higher levels of self-control.

“In a very tragic kind of way, sometimes things have to be gone before I fully realize that they were ever there.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

I was pulling out of the driveway the other day, watching my daughter holding my grandson in her arms. For a minute I thought to myself, hang on to him as long as you can. What I wouldn’t give to have one more day to hold you in my arms like that again – and to not take it for granted.

Your new normal ought to be something that you stop taking for granted.

So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.  – Jesus, Matthew 6:34 (The Voice)

 

 

The Secret Is In Your Routines

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.” ― John Steinbeck

What has the quarantine done to the old routines in your your life?

  • Eating like a Hobbit (6 meals a day)?
  • Sleeping longer (more dreaming, good for thinking!)
  • Cleaning out closets (so there’s room to hide from others in the house)?

Right now we are all living with new and improvised routines.

We see what our lives look like when taken-for-granted routines are removed.

Routines in our lives are often unconscious and automatic patterns that guide daily living and accomplishing simple and important goals.

If not careful, your routines can trap you in ruts that keep you from moving forward or being able to think outside your quarantine box.

 “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” ― Samuel Johnson

I’m a firm believer in routines. They enable us to get so much accomplished. When we lean on our automatic thinking, our brain is free to think, imagine and solve in other areas. Routines allow us to liberate our daily living so that we can still accomplish what’s essential without having to sacrifice the dreaming. People who are able to use both conscious and unconscious (automatic) thinking are typically more satisfied with choices they make. We even make BETTER decisions when we use our unconscious thinking!

What about your morning routine? All that you are free to think about that’s coming in your day because you don’t have to be conscious of brushing your teeth or pulling on your socks.

Routines allow you to think about things that are important and urgent

Before the plague hit, I’d been going through a tremendous amount of routine changing. What I used to be able to take for granted I had to pay more attention to, almost daily. This took up too much brain power. I ended up forgetting, remembering wrong and getting facts out of order.

What about you? Has the new normal thrown all your routines out the window?

  • Think about the children in your life. They are even more dependent upon routine to normalize and organize their emerging selves.
  • You’re aware that the future will return our routines to us – but most are telling us that we will not go back to where we left but will instead have to create a new normal.
  • There will be no better time in your life to address your routines (and those of your children).

Have you been making any lists about you’d like to do different in the new normal?

What about the bigger routines, not the mundane chores like brushing your teeth or loading the dishwasher. What about your lifestyle habits? Some routine thinking can cause problems by preventing attention to what matters and/or moving forward with real living (stuck in a rut).

  • Do you remember coming home from work and falling into the same tired habits?
  • Any new people come into your circle in the past decade?
  • Are you reading more/new during the quarantine and would you like to make it a new normal for you?

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” ― Samuel Smiles

While routines are good for us, there is always the danger that they can hold us back from growth and self-awareness

“A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit.” ― Erasmus

Why not consciously think about starting some new routines in your life and take control of the your new normal?

What about…

  • New ways to do meals (do the cooking on the weekends) so you have more time during the weekday. Cooking together instead of dividing and conquering.
  • Writing down at the end of the day a big list (you decide what needs to go on it) so you’re not spending time before bed worrying.
  • Downsizing your closet so there’s less energy wasted on deciding what to wear (sorting through all that stuff that doesn’t even fit!)
  • Block out “phone free” times in your day/evening (put it out of reach) and use that time for real people in the room – or reading a book/magazine.
  • What do you think would happen if the TV remote were lost for a whole day?
  • Are you taking walks through your neighborhood, enjoying a new route each week or so?
  • Did you pay more attention to people while confined? Wasn’t that worth making a habit out of – a new normal for you?

What did the quarantine teach you? What did you decide was important that you want to keep in your life? Who do you want your new normal to help you become?

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” ― Hermann Hesse

 

 

Feeling Left Behind?

I

“The greatest joy is not finding something that we’ve been looking for. The greatest joy is when we’d given up on ever finding it and then it found us.”― Craig D. Lounsbrough

In these weeks after Easter I remain two weeks ago in that resurrection weekend. Our church, like all the rest, is meeting remotely. We hear sermons and worship from afar and then connect with each other in smaller groups using social media. We are “doing” what has historically been called Eastertide – continuing to celebrate the miracle for 50 days until Pentecost (the arrival of the Holy Spirit).

At HBU, our faculty in my School of Humanities, have been sharing a devotional twice a week. These have also focused our attention on events after Easter. Today’s devotion was about the Apostle Thomas – who we all identify with and call  Doubting Thomas.

I noticed something today that I had missed before.

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”   (John 20:24-29)

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to a great number of his followers – to confirm his resurrection. But what I noticed today was this particular special trip that Jesus made. Remember, eight days earlier he had appeared to the disciples as they were hiding out behind a locked door. He gave them a mission to go and share the Good News. Thomas was absent from this gathering.

Jesus returns, eight days later, to find his followers still cowering in fear behind locked doors. They were not following orders. But isn’t it remarkable that Jesus comes back to find Thomas, the follower who was so vocal about all his doubts.

  • The others gathered in the room had seen the risen Jesus, yet they remained hiding in fear
  • Thomas doesn’t have to first prove himself or show his faith – Jesus comes looking for him where he is
  • Remember the parable about the lost sheep? The shepherd leaves his 99 to go in search of the one that is lost
  • I had missed this my whole life – Jesus comes looking for the big mouth who was full of doubts, who spoke up against the rest of the eyewitnesses, the man that offended his friends by almost calling them liars

What kind of lesson is this for me and you? What do we do about our constant need to prove ourselves, to earn our way, to keep God happy with us?

I looked at this passage in The Message, when Jesus came for this second time he focused his attention on Thomas. That’s what hit me between the eyes. The greatest movement in the history of humanity is about to be launched and Jesus returns to see about Thomas. Church history tells us that Thomas was the disciple who took the Good News further than any other – he went all the way to India. That meeting changed him forever.

What would a meeting with God do to you?

“And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?” ― Mary Oliver

We remember the one-to-one meeting that Jesus had with Peter (John 21:15-17) – who was carrying the guilt of denial heavy in his soul. Paul writes that Jesus also spent time with his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7) – who at first tried to talk his older brother out of his controversial mission but would later become the leader his church in Jerusalem. What did they talk about after the resurrection?

  • Easter isn’t about straightening out my life so that God will like me
  • It isn’t a route to achieving problem-free living
  • It’s not even about joining an extra wholesome new group

Today I realized that one crucial message and meaning of Easter was that God is willing to search for me, like Thomas. As many doubts as I have and express with my words and actions, these are not going to stand in the way (like those locked doors) of him finding me.

What a wonderful message in the story of Thomas – I’m going to stop calling him by that old nickname. Instead he now reminds me that no one is immune to God’s love and search.

We love each other because he loved us first.  – I John 4:19