Monday, January 31, 2011

On The Playing Field

Why would anyone go to the Super Bowl? It's wildly expensive, crowded, and will be nearly impossible to get in and out of the parking lot. How much easier to watch it on the ever-present HDTV, with expert camera angles, immediate replays, ability to see the best play in slow motion, and, even better, a way to pause the game for a dash to the bathroom or kitchen!

So why go? Because attending a live event adds power to the experience. Cheering and moaning are tons more fun in a packed crowd.  Also, the very hardship and the expense of the game make it an memory to be savored.

More than just the shared excitement in the Super Bowl, the game also marks the high point in the life of the professional football player. 

Only the best make it here. These players have dedicated themselves to the sport, honed their bodies, polished their skills and learned to work as a team, each one at peak performance, but doing so in connection with the entire team. The Super Bowl displays the pinnacle of sports, utilizing strategic creativity while staying within rules that make it a civilized match.

Most who cheer from the stands, screaming themselves hoarse, high-fiving or sharing anguish with friends, will not or never did actually play football. Even so, fans become important participants in the event. While the game would go on without them, their presence adds vital energy to the match. The invisible connection between the fans and the players weaves them together into a fascinating whole.

The live experience gives life. I wish I were going. I'm not vested in either team and both have my best wishes, but would love to feel the energy and be a part of this. However, I will take the HDTV route, more comfortable to be sure, but still removed.

That's the challenge of comfort, of course. The more comfortable we become, the less we experience much of the rawness of life--and we definitely prefer it this way most of the time. 

Again, think about the game. The most wealthy and influential will arrive in chauffeured limousines, so will not have to fight for a place to park or have to walk long distances in possibly inclement weather. They'll be ushered in, protected from being uncomfortably touched or shoved by strangers and then will watch the game in private suites, their food and drink brought to them, their own bathrooms available. Not for them long lines at over-priced concession stands and longer lines for toilet seats already used by many others. Nor, of course, do they actually play the game and get dirty, sweaty, bruised and beaten up.

The search for comfort provides the motivation for most of modern living. Once one level is reached, contentment does not set in, but immediately demands yet a higher level. Sod houses with open fires and little ventilation led to log cabins with fireplaces which led to insulated housing with furnaces, breezeways and porches which led to living spaces so perfectly controlled that there is no longer need of winter or summer clothing for indoor use. Now, in some houses we can adjust the temperature from our phones so it will be precisely to our comfort upon arrival.

When it is ever enough? Never. That's human nature. We are never satisfied . . . unless we make a radical decision to open ourselves to the Spirit of God and say, "Take me where You will, be it poverty or riches, be it comfort or discomfort, as I give myself to live fully devoted to You and to offering Your goodness to the world." Those words put us on the playing field, perhaps not with the fame of the Super Bowl players, but with equal satisfaction of putting our best out there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Manor Revisited

I am just now, after some months away, spending an extended time at The Manor, which is the term my brother, sister and I use to refer to the house my mother designed and my parents lived in for the last 25 years.

I came here to savor the quiet, to hear my mother’s voice again, and to write with some extended times to concentrate.

The Manor is much neater now without those endless piles of folders, notebooks, and newspapers that my mother generated, saved, stacked, sorted and resorted, and which gave structure, in their own chaotic way, to her life.

Everything else sits where it did before, with the exception of one table. I moved it to a window where I sit and write and think. My dad’s chair had owned this spot before. After his death. Mother claimed it as her own. For now, it is mine. It is the best spot in the house.

Yes, it is cleaner, but most definitely not empty of her presence. I see her mind everywhere, her habits showing up in the accoutrements of living. 

She was truly an awful cook, and I’m not far behind. But since I was planning to be here for a while, I needed to make the kitchen workable for me. My mother worked with minimal equipment. Not one single decent knife in the house. The only frying pan looks like one I bought in the early 1970’s with the original non-stick surface now so badly pitted I suspect it would poison anyone who cooked with it. The only reason a microwave gets to live here is that I bought one when I lived upstairs for a while and used it for my own meager meals prepared up there. Mother was sure that microwaves caused cancer and she would not have one of those contraptions in her kitchen.

I opened a cabinet where, in my kitchen logic, serving bowls should reside. There, once again, I found myself confronted with notebooks and papers, all stuck in Hefty Bags. I thought I had seen the last of them. I was wrong.

As I sat down to go through them, one notebook opened on my lap. My mother’s familiar scribbles, always hastily written, brought again that wave of sadness, of missing her. 

Before me was another account of her many struggles with my dad, another plan to make herself over so he would not be so unhappy. I grieved over the fruitlessness of her task. She could not make him happy. That’s an internal choice, and he had made his. The two of them danced to this music all their lives—each blaming the other for miseries brought upon themselves. 

I chose not to keep this notebook nor read further and sent these notes, along with multiple others, including yet one more of her hundreds of schemes to organize her life, into the recycle bag. Friday, it will leave for the facility where it be separated, sorted, and perhaps rebirthed on someone else’s notebook. Perhaps the purchaser of that notebook will also try to make sense of his or her life, scribbling notes and making plans for self-improvement.

Yet that person, too, will eventually reach the end. That person, too, will leave pieces of herself or himself behind for others to examine when death overtakes the known life. Some other child, or junkman, or estate-sale specialist, or special friend will sort through the leavings and wonder, “Why did she keep this? What made that so important to him?”

What will I leave behind? How will I plan for and face those last days, assuming my own ordinary death: a leisurely decline with the eventual rapid avalanche of multiple system failures? 

If I do this as well as my mother, then I will have indeed done well. I will leave messes behind, of course, but I will also have faced reality squarely and said, “This is what I want done. These decisions are mine, not left carelessly or thoughtlessly to others.” 

There are ways to do this and we need to implement them. For ordinary people, which most of us are, none of this is terribly complicated. We each need to appoint someone to hold our Medical Power of Attorney. We each need to think carefully about what we want to happen when it becomes clear that our bodies are reaching that tipping point from which no return is possible. We each need to make sure that others know well of our plans since it is likely many of us will be unable to articulate our own well at that point. In other words, we need prepare for our deaths with the same joy and anticipation we prepare for births so we can welcome it with open arms when it comes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Crash and The Recovery

My hard drive crashed last night.

I have been on a writing retreat for over a week now. Productive, powerful time. I pulled together the hundreds of articles I've written over the years and realized that I've written four good books from them.

I also spent several days revising and rewriting what is my Magnum Opus, a book called, "An Ordinary Death," an account of my mother's decline and death and all I learned from this, both about myself and about this mess of the dying process most of us engage in these days in the US.

Yesterday afternoon, after several intense hours of editing and rewriting, I suddenly knew: I was finished. A sense of immense satisfaction overtook me. I was done. 

I've been working at my mother's house, known now to her children as "The Manor." There is no computer here, so I had brought my aging MacBook. I was so proud of myself last week, having figured out how to solve a software compatibility issue I'd been facing by the relatively inexpensive purchase of Office for Mac.

My oldest son bought this computer for me about three and 1/2 years ago when my dad was dying, and he knew I needed a laptop to be able to work during the long hours I spent with him in the rehab/skilled nursing facilities where he spent his last months. I never really became familiar with the inner workings of this machine, but was aware that I have never had one moment's problem with it.

Why should that change?

My work computer is backed up daily by a very reliable online service. Not this machine. I generally use it only to do email or to create articles on Google Docs, so everything was saved on remote servers anyway.

But in the last week, I had pulled together much of what I have written since 2006, sorted it into collections, edited it, discarded large portions of it, and, as I've already stated, spent hours and hours on "An Ordinary Death." All stored on the hard drive of this computer.

So, late yesterday afternoon, after that moment of intense satisfaction, I realized that I was out of ink for the printer here and also needed some good quality stationary upon which to print what I hoped would be an irresistible query letter to a potential agent.

I thought about sending this final copy to a friend who has promised to read and give comment on the manuscript, but decided to wait.

I left, joyfully ran errands and purchased paper, ink, and padded envelopes for mailing.

When I returned home, I went to check email and noted that my computer was frozen. Never happened on this machine before.

I turned it off, restarted it, and looked for my documents. Microsoft Word would not open--I got a screen indicated I needed to reinstall Office for Mac. 

Fighting panic, I turned off the machine again.

Two more times, I tried to start it. It hung, stuck.

I gave up, and sat down, trying to gather my thoughts and stay calm.

I knew there was nothing I could actually do last night, and, again trying to fight panic, started reading a good book, and eventually went to bed, hoping for a simple fix.

This morning, I checked on my IPhone for anyplace that worked on Mac Computers. The person who answered the phone at the first place I called rudely told me that they didn't work on Mac's and told me to go find an Apple store. Second place I tried said, "Yes, we do fix them." He said he could look at it today and gave me directions to his office, thankfully only about three miles from here, and I took off.

I walked into an small office in an obscure office park, seeing no one in the tiny reception area.  A second later, Andrew appeared. Andrew, that kind voice on the phone, appeared and listened to my frantic explanation. "It sounds like your hard drive has completely failed, but I think I can retrieve your documents for you. How much of a hurry are you in?"

I explained to him what I was potentially about to lose and he said, "This is my priority for the day."

An hour later, Andrew phoned with the good news and the bad news. Good news: he was pretty confident he could indeed retrieve the documents. Bad news: hard drive completely gone. Rebuilding this computer would be expensive, but still less than purchasing a new machine and once he was done, I'd essentially have a new one, good for another three to four years.

I gave him the go-ahead and made alternate plans for the day.

At 2:00 p.m., I began to panic. Andrew had begun working on the computer at 9:30 a.m. No word. At 3:45, I phoned a friend who had been offering significant help with the project and told her what had happened. Horrified silence followed my words.

At 3:50, Susan, Andrews's partner, called and said, "It's all fixed, dearie. We've retrieved all your documents. Come and get it."

At 4:05, I sat in their office, and wept with relief when I saw all that hard work springing to life again on my screen. Andrew and Susan nearly wept with me. Then they sent me out with the admonition: don't go home until you have purchased an external back-up device. I followed their advice.

Grace visited me today at a place called, "mactracks" ( Good people, wonderful service, incredible empathy. Call them if you need help with your Mac. Perhaps you, too, will experience the best of the kingdom of heaven in their capable hands.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Right and Left

Much of the world is geared for right-handers, who make up 85-90% of human population. Many tools—table saws, scissors, manual can openers, for example—are nearly impossible for left handers to use properly. Don’t believe me? All you right-handers out there: pick up a pair of scissors with your left hand and try to make them work. Just try it.

The words “right and left” also have interesting linguistic implications. In Latin, the word “sinistra,”from which we get “sinister,” originally meant left. The Latin word for right-handedness is “dexter,” as in dexterous and skillful. Many other languages have positive correlations for the concept of “right” and negative correlations for the concept of “left.”

I, of course, am profoundly left handed. I cope with this dominant right handed world by routinely bumping into things, frustrating people who have to share a computer with me because I immediately put the mouse on the left of the keyboard, and staying away from power tools and kitchen implements. 

Not all is bad for left-handers. Four of the last six US Presidents have been left handed. Left-handed baseball players have advantages. My own left-handedness helped when I was learning biblical Hebrew. Reading and writing right to left instead of left to right was a piece of cake.

We lefthanders have an advantage with the typical QWERTY keyboard. With that arrangement, 56% of the letters typed are done by the left hand. Take that, you righties! We lefthanders can win speed contests there!

Even so, being in a minority like this, and one that really does affect almost everything I do every day, colors my view of the world. For me, it is not friendly world mechanically speaking. Work spaces are arranged uncomfortably for me. I engage in energy-draining mental gymnastics to smooth out this awkwardness. 

No one on the dominant side, that is, the right-handed designers of all those work spaces and tools, set out intentionally to make life more complicated for us left-handers. It’s just not thought about at all. With the vast majority of people being right-handed, it makes sense that most implements and spaces will cater to that dominance.

And that, the unthinking catering to the dominant, is what finally brings me to my point today. 

Left-handers have made significant contributions to the world. Here are just a few whose left-handed lives have made indelible impressions: Leonardo Da Vinci; Michelangelo; Pablo Picasso; Julius Caesar; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Ludwig Van Beethoven; Winston Churchill; Alexander the Great; Joan of Arc; Marie Curie, Albert Einstein. 

I suspect it is the fact that the world really didn’t work well for them that helped push their creative impulses. They were out of step. They didn’t do things normally. 

The dominant world enriches itself endlessly when it makes room for the less-dominant to have a voice. Those on the margins: left-handed, minority, poor, mentally and physically challenged—anything that is different from the dominant, mainstream culture—have voices that must be heard and embraced. 

We impoverish ourselves politically, socially, and spiritually with a stance that there is no room for the other, for the ones who see life and events and shapes and sounds and music and art differently than we do. We impoverish ourselves when we insist that there is only one right way to see or think or believe or sing or worship. We deny the creative energies of God when we tell others to be uncreative in their thinking.

For all of you “dominants” out there (and all of us are in one way or another), keep your ears open to the different and the offbeat. Often there, in that unexpected and often awkward movement, we hear the voice of God, saying, “Pay attention. The Kingdom of Heaven has just shown up. Don’t miss it.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

They Will Know We Are Christians

“They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” I sang that song frequently in my early discovery of the life-changing transformation of Christian faith. Simple but profound lyrics remind us of Christian unity, the joy of walking and working side by side. A song full of hope. Sadly, hope rarely realized in the larger Christian world, the one place above all where it should be seen. 

The world pounds us with nastiness. Public and private horrors confront us at every turn. Obviously public horrors include genocides, murderers, and tyrants with no accountability for their mistreatment of fellow human beings. Less obvious public horrors are financial decisions that profit a few and leave hordes in soul-destroying debt; power plays in home and work intended to benefit the one at the expense of the many, the repeating of gossip and spreading untrue rumors, and actions motivated by envy rather than a spirit of charity. 

Then there are the private horrors: destructive addictions, child and spousal abuse, out-of-control tempers, homes filled with tension and anger, all hidden by masks of niceness, comfort and often expensive exteriors. 

Oh yes, this is a difficult and broken world. Into this, Jesus comes, offers a different way, and says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

This is the way of Jesus, a way only a few Christians have taken to heart. It is not necessarily a way of right belief—Jesus seemed extraordinarily uninterested in such things and had particularly harsh words for those of his day who insisted on right belief. Instead, it is a way of right action motivated for the right reasons. What are the right reasons? That God’s forgiving grace has been extended to all and everyone who receives it has an obligation to pass it onto others. What are the right actions? Simply, treating all those around us as special and very much loved children of God. 

Yet in the Christian world, much more seems to hang on right belief rather than right action. This insistence in right belief—whoever gets to define it—turns Christians into some of the most hateful people around. No longer, “they will know us by our love,” but “they will know us by our interminable arguments about who is really saved and who is not, who gets grace and who is denied it.” Such words hide the beauty and rhythm not only of the song but also the Gospel itself. 

I spent much of my Christian life in the world that says, “Believe correctly or else.” There were also promises set out: “Believe this way and your life will turn out OK.” I was told that as a woman, I had no place in Christian leadership. The call that I knew I was hearing from God must be a lie because God could not possibly call a woman to pastoral leadership. 

Then I discovered Jesus. Jesus: the way and the truth and the life. Jesus shows the way to die for one’s enemies, to embrace total betrayal of one’s friends and then offer them forgiveness, to lay down one’s life for those who really don’t deserve it and then to find the resurrection on the other side of that death. Jesus shows us the way to lose our lives so that we may indeed gain them. Jesus shows us the way to find graceful truth that gives life, rather than ungraceful truth that says, “believe as I tell you or you will perish forever.” 

At the very lowest point of my life, when I too had experienced spectacular betrayal by those who call themselves Christian, one of my sons asked me, “Mom, how can you stay being a Christian after this?” My answer: “I’m not a Christian because of those who call themselves Christian but must destroy those who disagree with them. I’m a Christian because of Jesus.” 

Oh, that they would indeed know us by our love.

This Present Moment

As I awoke this morning and looked out, I saw a hard frost covering the expansive view outside the upstairs windows of my mother’s house. Cold, hard, glittering, beautiful. The early light from the sunrise enhanced the silver tones of frost, producing an intriguing monotone effect.

A touch on the thermostat almost immediately sent warm air into the chilly room, and I retreated to the covers a bit longer to savor the experience and prepare mentally for the day.

I’ve spent the week doing major revisions on the book I accidentally began last fall when I wrote extensively of my experiences during my mother’s decline, entrance into Hospice care, her death, and my flattening grief and eventual recovery from that grief afterward. I came here to write because I know that the present also encompasses the past, and here in this place, I could most thoroughly bring the past into the present and learn from both.

This journey into death, how we die, our national inability to deal particularly well with this inevitability, has also been a journey of self-discovery. When I choose to be still long enough, I can almost feel the cells in my body changing, some dying, some being reborn. As I age, the balance changes: more dying than being reborn, until someday, I too, will leave this part of existence behind.

All this brings me to this one moment, the only moment I can live at any given time. Just this one, just this present time. All of my past is here, and so is all of my future. I enjoy the companionship of a cup of hot tea, think of friends, pray for the suffering, plan the tasks for the day, and all of this is surrounded by thankfulness for this moment of life. 

When gratefulness will not inform my day, I lose my soul. I find it easy today, for I am warm and comforted. Some days I find it nearly impossible, but when I chose to push past the impossible and still say, “Thank You,” the present again emerges with its joy and power and I find strength.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Children: Disposable Commodities

The news hit the cyber world last week. A new memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” by Yale Law School Professor, Amy Chua upstaged all of us wimpy American parents. One commentator noted that Chua “didn’t let her own girls go out on play dates or sleepovers. She didn’t let them watch TV or play video games or take part in garbage activities like crafts. Once, one of her daughters came in second to a Korean kid in a math competition, so Chua made the girl do 2,000 math problems a night until she regained her supremacy. Once, her daughters gave her birthday cards of insufficient quality. Chua rejected them and demanded new cards. Once, she threatened to burn all of one of her daughter’s stuffed animals unless she played a piece of music perfectly. As a result, Chua’s daughters get straight As and have won a series of musical competitions.”

Another piece of news crossed my desk: the increasing growth market for designer babies who are conceived by artificial reproductive techniques, often with eggs from tall slender blondes and sperm from various genius sperm banks. The embryos are implanted into “gestational delivery devices,” primarily women in India. After their birth, the babies are placed in the hands of their well-to-do adoptive parents, often Westerners with fertility problems.

I’m not surprised at such news. Being human and having creative energies means we push boundaries, from conception technologies to child rearing practices. The refusal to say, “we will go no further in our exploration” has led to fabulous developments in science, medicine, art, travel and physical comfort. It also makes us seriously dangerous on occasion. 

Wisdom says, “Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something.” I don’t think children should be reared with that kind of pressure and I am very concerned about this designer baby development. Both practices make children into assured commodities, not adventurous blessings. Both practices, I think, will lead to the idea that children are disposable when confronted with less than perfect outcomes. That crosses a moral line for me.

However even as I write this, I wonder how many things I take for granted as good seemed so wrong when they were first introduced. Then I wonder even further, “How many things do I assume are good are really not good, but I don’t want to eliminate them because they bring me comfort?”

I write at my computer. I particularly like both the spell-check and the auto-correct features built into many word processing programs. Two things have happened as a result. First, my poor typing habits have become far worse. I discover this when I work on a machine that has not already figured out my bad habits. Second, I who used to be quite a good speller, no longer take the time to figure out how to spell a word I might not use routinely. I simply type an approximation of the word and know the handy spell-checker will generally offer an accurate suggestion.

Does more good come from this than bad? I suppose. Most of my documents emerge reasonably correct. But I sense a loss of discipline, a carelessness that may wander over to other parts of my life. A loss of soul.

Our technologies seem designed to distance us from our souls. When we lose our souls, or can’t find them in the midst of this quest for the perfect child, the perfect paper, the perfect anything, we lose touch with the moral essence of us called conscience, provided by a Holy God to guide us, instruct us, correct us, and remind us of grace and forgiveness.

That loss of soul will eventually bring us down. Without an awareness of a Holy God who seeks to bring us to holiness, technology and techniques are going to destroy us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Single Spaced Document

I was really tickled this morning reading this article about whether there should be two spaces or one after a period and before starting the next sentence.

The author rants about the awfulness of the still prevailing practice of putting two spaces after a period and insists that only one belongs there. Those who learned to type on a manual typewriter (and there are so few of us left) learned from the earliest training that two spaces are required in order to make the only type face available (monotype Courier: all the characters take up the same amount of space) more readable. That habit of double spacing has so ingrained itself into my muscle memory that making the switch to single spaces poses quite a retraining challenge for me.

The many comments in response to this article also reminds me how the tiniest things can divide people into irreconcilable camps. Nice to know such divisiveness occurs outside the church as well as inside the church. 

So why do we do this? Why can't the church maintain a stance of holding a wide umbrella that covers as many as possible? What are the absolute non-negotiables of Christianity? The longer that list, the fewer included. 

I come from a world with a 17 page doctrinal statement, a long list of things that indicate the right way to think on just about any theological subject. One mis-step, one disagreement, and I'm pushed out, the entry door now firmly barred against me until I change my mind.

Is this the kingdom of heaven that Jesus spoke of so frequently? I'd surely be interested in hearing the thoughts of others on this one. Comments, emails, postings, all welcome.

PS: this document is carefully single-spaced after each period!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Dark Side

I have a dark side.  Anyone who knows me very well has to be highly aware of that.  My moods, my thoughts, my soul can periodically enter that deep darkness and wade in the sadness and sorrow to be found there.  Recently, it was suggested to me that I might be better off to eliminate that part of my experience.

I suppose with enough chemicals I might be able to do that.  Just “anti-” myself up enough to go through life with ever-ready cheer and drug supported happiness.  However, as I listened to that suggestion, a sense of horror filled me.  I responded, “It would be like cutting off a leg or an arm. This is an essential part of who I am.  It is in that darkness, that place where God doesn’t seem to exist, that I actually find God.”

However, I suspect I’d be easier to live with and work for  if I did just lop that portion of my life off.

So, I’m asking:  for those of you who know me, or for those of you who have your own dark side, or for those of you who don’t even know what a dark side is, what do you say to this? Emails or posted comments welcome.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Guns Within 1000 Feet

In response and reaction to the horror of this past week's shooting rampage, some are suggesting that new laws be enacted that prohibit guns from being with 1000 feet of a Member of Congress. Great idea. But I also don’t want guns to be within 1000 feet of me, or my loved ones, or any of my friends, or even any of my enemies. So why don’t I get the same protection? Am I just not worth what a Member of Congress is worth?

Of course not. I’m not famous. I’m not important. No one wants to shoot an obscure pastor who serves a small church in a small community in Texas. That’s a relief to know that. But still--I really would like not to have guns anywhere near me, just in case.

I believe it is the “just in case” that is going to completely shut us down as a people. We are losing our courage and think we can legislate our way to a safe and secure society. From naked body scanners to numbers tattooed on foreheads, society has been trying to years to build complete safety into our world. But we can’t legislate away mental illness and violent thoughts.  

However, I think I have the solution. We should just go ahead and just put everyone in prison prophylactically. That should solve the problem. No more guessing. No more uncertainly. Just keep everyone behind bars.

What do I mean, you say? Think of it this way: it is just like birth control: do something on the front end to prevent the pregnancy, so there is no worry later about an unwanted event. 

Perfect safely means that everyone needs to be locked up all the time. Of course, a few privileged people get to be the jailers and the ruling elite. But if they will keep everyone else tightly behind bars, letting us out only for assigned breeding periods and to do the work necessary to keep the elite comfortable and safe, all problems are solved.

Voila, the utopia has arrived!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Costs of Leadership

This past week has been a horrific one for the nation. Democratic Representative to the US Congress from Arizona, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head. 

According to news reports, Ms. Giffords had taken strong stands on certain positions, particularly health care and immigration laws, that many disagreed with.  And one person disagreed with her to such a degree that he decided to murder her.  He did not succeed as of the time of the writing.  But a a federal judge and five other people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl, Christina Green; 12 others were wounded.

I'm sure the suspect--who will now in the careful words of the law become the "alleged" offender, although he was wrestled to the ground while trying to reload his automatic weapon--will be discovered to be insane or some other such thing which will excuse his inexcusable actions. I say:  he may be found to be insane or with diminished capacities, but he was only acting out the ever-present human desire to murder in one way or another those who step up to leadership roles and who especially will not compromise their essential principles in their work.

We pretty systematically kill those who will not compromise, although it is not always by physical murder.  Those non-compromising ones tend to stand out from the crowd, making easy targets for those in deep disagreement with them.  Those in opposition often feel powerless, afraid, unable to make their voices heard.  Someone who stands out from the crowd by standing firm upon their principles tends to expose the moral ambiguities of their opponents.  Instead of looking hard at our own inconsistencies, it is much easier just to kill the leader, convincing ourselves that this is a gift to all humanity.

It is much, much easier to go along to get along.  That is how many hold onto their leadership positions.  They find out whole holds the real but often hidden power, shave away at their own moral and ethical foundations in order to seduce and keep happy the ones who have money, who have influence, and who pull lots of strings.  The seduction of power encourages many to hold onto their positions by keeping their heads down and everyone else happy.  Those who do that also lose their souls in the process, but that loss tends to stay hidden until the stench of those rotting souls becomes too much to bear, and the decay begins to pour out.

This pattern is seen on every level of leadership, from grade school class elections to the highest reaches of power, be it political, religious, athletic, artistic, or any other venue.  Any of us who step up to any leadership position will face the issue:  stand firm with what we know to be true and risk being shot down, or crucified as the case may be, or compromise the essentials of the soul, and die a slow, lingering death.  

I ache for anyone who is willing to lay him or herself on the line for any leadership post of any kind.  Such ones will be meticulously examined, exposed, critiqued, chastised, hounded, tempted, buffeted, and wounded.  Those with already corrupt souls will find great breeding ground to nurture that corruption.  Those who stand on unpopular but well-reasoned beliefs, especially when they are different from the masses, will most likely find themselves facing a gun to their heads at some time.  

May we find some meaning in our mourning, and some hope of grace in this tragedy.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Holy Freedom

In a recent conversation with my sister, as we were commiserating with each other over our live challenges, we both said, "If I had known what the future would hold, would I have had the courage to face it?"  

There's no way to answer that question, because we never, ever know what the future will hold.

Most of us have heard of some of these famous predictions:
  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."- Thomas Watson, IBM, 1943
  • "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."- Ken Olsen, Digital Equipment Corp, 1977
  • "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered asa means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."- Western Union Memo, 1876
  • "The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys."- Sir William Preece, British Post Office, 1876
  • "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" - David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio, 1920s

I was somewhat amused at the outrage in Europe the week before Christmas over the disablement of several major European and British airports because of heavy snows. "Something must be done to fix this so it never happens again!" snorted governmental leaders.  Fix what? Stop the snow? Control the weather? Sure, the airports may need to invest in more snow removal equipment, but we can never control what the weather brings even in the next second. As for weather predictions, any forecasts more than three days out are likely to be less accurate than a simple guess.

We can't know the future.  We can only know the now. We can deal accurately and competently only with what is right in front of us, not what we think or fear is going to be there later today or tomorrow or next year or at the ends of our lives.

That means this moment's tasks, this moment's delights, this moment's pleasures or troubles, sunshine or rain, health or illness, riches or poverty, success or failure, good habit or bad habit.  Most importantly, we can only face this moment's choice to live in slavery or to live in freedom.

I'm preparing a message series on the book called "Exodus," the second book in the Bible.  This fascinating story chronicles the move of God's people from enslavement to freedom, the mixture of joy and unhappiness with the one who rose up to lead them to freedom, and their recurring desire to return to slavery.

The story gives a fascinating peek into human nature. Among other things, as much as we say we want and need those who would act as saviors, we're rarely overly happy with them. Furthermore, freedom carries gigantic costs, and I'm convinced most people would prefer not to pay those costs. Chains, metaphorical and real, let us blame others for circumstances. Courageous and holy freedom means we take responsibility for our own life choices.  

No one can take away our ultimate freedom to live with godly integrity unless we give them that power.  When we give away that power, we lose what it means to be human, the acknowledgement that we are made in the image of God.

Personally, I continually need to discern where I relinquish being fully God's woman because of fear, laziness, and my insistence that I know now what I will have to face later.  This discernment process is a lifelong journey, ending only when I face God fully. 

I invite you to join me in that ongoing journey.