Divide and Conquer

“Divide and rule, the politician cries; Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In Lebanon, Pan-Sectarian Protests Are Raging as Forest Fires Burn

I spent Saturday watching my team lose an annual rivalry game. I’d love to have beat that team – those people really need to lose!

This morning, I watched three young brothers sitting in front of me poking at one another behind their father’s back. As brothers do, have probably always done.

Today’s lesson in Sunday School was about a horrible family tragedy between King David and one of his sons. Absalom staged a military coup and almost took the throne – he had been plotting for several years. The whole thing started when Absalom’s older brother raped their sister. The armed conflict blew up after Absalom murdered his brother at dinner two years later. You thought your family had problems!

Have you yanked your TV out of the wall yet? It’s not just been a season of locked up and sealed off from others – with new rules and methods of interacting and places we aren’t visiting much anymore. All this is bad enough. But what about the constant skirmishes that are going on within our public discourse, on our streets, online, and even within extended families? It has been going for too long and has eaten away at our social connections. We’re afraid to even talk to each other anymore.

It’s impossible to solve collective problems when no one’s willing to talk.

I was texting with friends who live out of the country. Everyone was catching up and sharing about current events. It seemed to go on and off for most of the evening. I started to notice how often labels for people and groups were being used in these quick communications. For ourselves and for others. It’s an easy way to organize into “out” and “in” groups, us vs. them.

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

Do you really think the norm is that we are too different from each other to be able to converse, work and get things that need doing done? Has that been the history of mankind? The threat of external violence or physical survival having kept us clinging to one another just until the hurricane passes. Once we get most of the basic problems of living worked out, we’ve got time and energy to start hating others who aren’t in our camp du jour?

Is that really who we are?

Are there powerful forces at work in our society pulling and pushing us up against one another in order to create conflicts? Does social conflict keep certain people in power – people who promise salvation, cures and never ending provisions?

Just wondering?

I don’t believe we are the same as our primitive ancestors. I think we have self-control. Our society is an exceptional evolution of moral progress. We are being transformed by God. You and I don’t have to sit back and be divided into warring tribes. Instead we can all do the right thing right now.

  1. Watch what you say, text, email – be extra careful during these days
  2. Go out of your way to listen and work extra hard to keep your mouth shut – and your really valuable opinions to yourself
  3. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” – Jesus

Each one of us will have to go another mile and give up some of our will if we really want to keep the social order – our country desperately needs some examples in every neighborhood, place of work, restaurant and church.

“Society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keeping our society held together one more day is as simple as loving your neighbor as yourself.

Being an example of common sense isn’t really that hard. It means putting others ahead of yourself. It means treating people with respect, despite their opinions and actions that might disavow all attempts at respect. It means not being too self-absorbed that we try the impossible, to become the perfect example first before being just a good example right now.

“…for very strangely his officers looked upon Jack Aubrey as a moral figure, in spite of all proofs of the contrary…” ― Patrick O’Brian

If you outlive your mule, don't get another one – so funny! – Alabama  Pioneers

“Once, when I were a child, I were kicked by a small mule. Neither the mule nor I had any sense. I were trying to make the mule go one way, but the mule was trying to make me go another. I were for hitching the mule onto a plow. The mule were for nibbling grass. So, after that kicking, I learned right then and there to respect animals and peoples when they are not of the same mind as you are.” ― Langston Hughes

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?

 

Someone Out There Needs You

There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.   – G. K. Chesterton

This is a photo of an event that took place in 1989 that became known as The Baltic Way. Two million people, across three countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), joined hands to protest their subjugation to the Soviet Union.

It’s always amazing when we see people come together en masse to accomplish something great. I think it’s also incredible when we as individuals come alongside others every single day and keep someone’s head above the waves.  There is someone near you right now who needs you. Maybe it’s something as simple as a smile.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t you already know the people in your life who need you? A child, a spouse, a dear friend, a partner-in-crime?

There may be people out there who need you every now and then (and then they really do!).

What about people in your life who don’t realize (yet) their need for you (or anyone else)? You’re not one of these kind of people are you?

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ― John Bunyan

Of course you old folks out there are familiar with Barbara Streisand’s version of People Who Need People -but Shirley Bassey had a version too. Remember Bassey? The only singer to to three James Bond theme songs. Can you name all three?

The apostle Peter wrote to the emerging Christian church these words:

Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults.  (1 Peter 4:8, The Voice)

Do you see the important instructions here?

  1. He has shared a lot of wise counsel, but tells them, “most of all” to love each other. Can you think of anything better to do when you are living, working and sharing with others?
  2. Don’t love just on Valentine’s Day, do it steadily, because doing it that way keeps our relationships moving more securely and in staying in balance. Be someone who is a constant and consistent presence to others.
  3. Don’t look for anything in return – be unselfish in your giving of love, which means the giving of yourself, which means time, attention, resources. If you don’t take people seriously they can tell, they then get the message that you don’t really love them (only in word not in deed, 1 John 3:18)
  4. You’re going to make all kinds of mistakes if you live with people. I know I do, every single day! But if I just demonstrate love it tends to cover over all the failure. If you’ve ever baked a cake and part of it sticks to the pan, you know you can overcome those holes by using extra icing.

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” ― M. Scott Peck

What’s your advice about helping others? Post a reply. It will help me!

How Many Hairs Do You Have Left?

I had another blog idea driving in to work today, but I forgot it five minutes later, once I got to the computer. My friend called and I answered the phone. That in itself is a miracle. We came up with this as an alternative blog. It’s probably a much better idea!

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I watched a film the other evening about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. They had to trace back not just the definition of each word but the word’s origins. They began in 1858 and didn’t really finish until 1928! Have you ever used the word “fret”? It’s another way to describe worry. It’s origin is found in the words like devour. We sometimes say that “He was eaten up with worry.”

Your prayer isn’t supposed to be “take away all my problems!” That’s not going to happen. Welcome to planet earth. Welcome to the land of death and decay.

My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass. – Psalm 102:11

No, your prayer ought to be, take away my worries. I know who holds my hand. 

Jesus sending out his disciples ahead of him said:

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

  1. They may have been sitting at the Temple looking at the cages of animals for sale to be used for sacrifice. The cheapest animal to buy was a bird. Yet God knew all about their lives.
  2. God is so intimately acquainted with each of us, he’s even keeping up with our diminishing hair supply.
  3. What’s the big lesson here? Don’t be afraid. You are of great value to God.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles…by the ears, by the heels, or any  way you can manage it.” ― Mark Twain

These days, while putting my new life in order, I’m often going to bed at night with a full brain still running around with things to do and issues to resolve. Mostly about the basics of living. While giving his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed worry and the cares of life:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  – Matthew 6:31-33

I don’t think he means not to address and manage the issues of living. I think he means not to worry and let these consume your life, moment by moment. Not to let your thinking about living become worries that dominate. We all need to figure out the balance, keeping our mind on riding that bike while simultaneously pushing the fear of falling out the window.

So, I’ve been asking people who want to pray for me to for this very thing, ask God to help me not worry while I’m working hard at reordering my life. 

The big lesson is: take care of your business, do it in thoughtful ways, always put people ahead of yourself, but don’t worry – even about the most important and essential things. Put these in God’s hands and then go about the work he has left for you to do.

“It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains!” ― Alice Caldwell Rice