Monday, July 31, 2006

Thinking Ahead

There is a Dairy Farm an hour north of Las Vegas. I know what you are thinking, how can there be a dairy in the desert? But it is there in a Valley that has water for the alfalfa and to keep the cows drinking. This dairy has been there for many, many years and now the amazing growth from Las Vegas is causing people to seek “greener pastures” in the form of cheap land and bigger lots for their homes. People from Vegas are moving out into the Valley where this dairy farm is located. Huge plots of 160 acres are being divided up into 40, then 10, and then 2 ½ acres plots to be sold cheaply to Vegas cityfolk.

Now, there is nothing wrong with that, this is progress and some of those people in the Valley are making a lot of money subdividing their land for housing when all they had before was a chunk of dirt. My problem comes when those new Vegas cityfolk start to complain about things they never ran into in the city. Suddenly there are flies around – there are no flies in Las Vegas, too dry. Suddenly there is dust flying around on the dirt roads as farm equipment and trucks go down them, only 3 paved roads in the Valley. Suddenly there are smells of cows and manure being spread on alfalfa fields wafting into their back yards. Suddenly … now wait a minute, there is nothing sudden about this. This dairy farm has been there for decades. These people moved next to a dairy farm and now are filing complaints with the Town Board about the smells, flies and dust of the dairy farm. I am sorry but, if it is a dairy farm, it will have smells, flies and dust; that is the nature of dairy farming. Didn’t these people look up the street to see what they are moving next to before they bought this land and built a house on it? Do people think milk magically appears at the grocery store? Didn’t they think ahead?

It reminds me of a lot of the people I talk to who are having marital problems. After a few years, even months, they start to complain that the person they married is not the person they thought they were. Chances are if the guy drinks a lot, flirts with women, and sleeps until noon BEFORE he is married he will do the same thing AFTER. Chances are if the girl smokes, likes hanging in bars, and likes wearing revealing clothes BEFORE she is married she will do the same thing AFTER. If you move next to a smelly dairy farm the smell won’t magically disappear because of your close proximity. If your fiancĂ© is a smelly drunk they won’t change just because you move in with them.

Think ahead, take a look at your environment both physically and socially before you make a decision to marry yourself to it.

Organizing the Denominational Forest

Trees look alike to me. Unless there is a dramatic difference in the bark, or lack of, which I can make out, all trees look alike to me. If I spend the time to examine the leaves I can know the difference even though I cannot name the difference. I know a pine tree, but not what kind of pine. I know a weeping willow but not the difference between a maple and an oak, apple or peach, walnut or olive. I could, I’m sure, if I studied the differences … but I don’t. So when I am in the forest I can’t define the trees.

Many people feel the same way when they see religions, cults, denominations, churches, Protestants, Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, or Mormons. We see that there are individual trees in the forest but have no idea what they are called and what defines them as different from each other. What are the leaves or the fruit of the denominational forests? Let me try to define the forest for you a little.

Your religion is your system of belief. Your organized (sometimes very unorganized) system by which you look at the world. All of us have a religion. Many will say they don’t believe in God of any kind and call that not being religious but NON-belief in a God is a way to believe so therefore: a religion. We all have one. The major religions, or systems of belief in the world are: Christianity, Hindu, Jewish, Moslem (Islam), Shinto, and “no god” or Atheism. There are minor(meaning fewer people, not in importance) like: Taoism, Confucianism, Wicca, Satanism, Earth Worship, Moonies, and Scientology.

So when someone comes up to you and says that they aren’t religious that is similar to someone coming up and telling you that they can’t speak, while speaking. EVERYBODY has a system of belief and therefore everyone has a religion. Most will say that they are not religious because they don’t go to a church or mosque but that just means they are not that particular religion. So what is your system of belief? What is your definition of God or god or the reason you believe there is NO god? That is your religion.

My Life was Stolen

This past week my truck was stolen. I parked it at about 7:00 pm one evening and went outside the next morning to pick up my newspapers and I noticed something missing. Then I remembered that I had left everything in my truck. I had my hands full of stuff so I forgot my cell phone in the truck and simply dropped the keys on the floor and left the doors unlocked. I guess I was inviting someone to take it.

After a few calls to people who I thought might be pulling a practical joke on me, I called the police and took care of the filing needed for a stolen vehicle. I went through the first day with kind of a smile on my face like this was still some kind of practical joke. But as time went by it sunk in more and more. A lot of my life was in that truck, I put hours sitting there and driving all around Vegas each week. I listen to my books on CD, I make appointments, I hook up my laptop, I stash everything I might need in one of the storages spaces: maps, phone book, wet wipes, ibuprofen, and even a finger nail clipper. And now it was gone. I began to feel as if my life was stolen from me.

A friend of mine was going out of town so let me borrow his car while I worked out the details with the insurance. I filed a claim with my auto insurance and then picked up a copy of the police report. Their advice was to drive through apartment complex, high school, and mall parking lots because that is where they find most stolen vehicles when they are abandoned. My wife and I did drive through a few and with each small, white truck we saw my heart would leap for a second until I realized it was not mine.

I spent a lot of time on that truck, keeping it clean, shiny and well maintained. I wanted to keep it for a long time looking good. But now it was gone and I felt like a kid who lost his favorite toy and started moping around the house and whining about what I have to do next. It has taught me again, that sometimes we put too much of ourselves into our things. I didn’t lose my life, I just lost my transportation; how shallow of me to put so much of me into a THING! I look at my wife and my kids and I see where my life really is.

Oh, and by the way, they found my truck in perfect condition in a local apartment parking lot just missing a tank of gas. I guess God thought I learned the lesson he wanted me to.

Modern Memory

My wife and I were shopping in Wal-Mart the other day for a variety of things. I went to find my things and didn’t notice that she went to find her things. When I turned to ask her a question I could not find her. The rows and rows of clothes, the aisles and aisles of good reminded me of the corn fields I used to leave friends in to find their way home. On the farm in Indiana my parents would allow me to invite friends to stay overnight. One of our favorite gags was to take the friend into the corn fields, where the corn was taller than they were and see if they could find their way back out again. Every row looks alike and there is nothing to climb on to find your way. Kind of like our own Hoosier labyrinth. Now you know why my friends would only come over once.

I look down rows and rows and through all the people looking for my wife but I cannot find her and I knew what my friends went through. I can’t even remember what she is wearing. Not panicking I would usually go to the front of the store by the checkout lines that would stretch for a mile and wait for her there. If that didn’t work I would go to the lost children counter and have them announce a lost husband and I would wait with the other lost children for their significant other to pick them up while watching Looney Tunes.

Now-a-days though there is a modern convenience that is the salvation of us lost children: the cell phone. I pull out my cell phone and touch number 1 and the talk button. We talk each other back together again and continue shopping. My cell phone has not only replaced my need to “stay close” but it has eliminated my need for memorizing. If you would ask me what my wife’s number is … all I could tell you is that it is number one on my speed dial, my daughter number 2, and son number three. I used to be able to memorize phone numbers and recall them years afterwards but … no more. But I no longer get lost, no longer miss important calls, and can reach out and touch someone anywhere.

When you gain something, you lose something but the question is: What is the price? What is the loss? Is it worth it? As for me? I’ll be spending less time in the corn fields.

The Journey is the Thing

Many people have said, even I have said, that it is not the destination it is the journey that is the thing. It’s not the place it’s the act of getting there that is important. Obviously the people who said this have never traveled overseas. I just got back from an overseas trip to Europe and I loved the destination and hated the journey.

It all started simply enough with an airplane trip from Las Vegas to Denver. My wife and I trudged the bags for a 10 day trip worrying about weight limits and bag size restriction. We begged and pleaded for our emergency row seats for more leg room for my wide-body. It was a relatively easy 2-hour flight and we landed on time. My back was strained but not broken as I struggled to keep up with my wife’s “airport speed” racing from one terminal to another. After the typical hurry up and wait travel itinerary we boarded our plane for the next leg of our trip: Denver to Detroit. We pushed away from the dock and stopped, after a few minutes the captain came on the crackling over-head speakers with those dreaded words, “I’m sorry folks but …” The delay lasted for two and a half hours, then we finally took off. If the jet stream was in our favor we just might make our connecting flight in Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany. We watched the plane pull away from the gate as we ran, knocking down old ladies and babies, to get there. We missed our connecting flight, the only one of the day, the only one every 24 hours, by about 10 minutes and watched it take off with a small tear running down our cheek. Instead of the enjoying the ancient ruins of Greece we spent the time in a local Detroit hotel.

Airplanes cause me back problems, leg and shoulder cramps, and hours of unrest. After wedging my body into something akin to a kid’s metal car seat I have to sit with my shoulders folded in like wings under my chin so they don’t spread into the seat next to me. If I opened one wing into the aisle it was whacked by the serving cart going by. If I opened the other it would stretch half-way across the adjacent seat. After a few hours I end up at the tail of the plane standing by the restrooms annoying people and stewardesses trying to get by me. I hate the journey. I look at those lucky, skinny, short people resting, sleeping, laughing during the journey, enjoying their box lunch while I stand bruised and beaten in the back of the bus. While I fight down envy and anger at those sleeping peacefully during the journey I think about the destination, the purpose for going through this torture and, finally, I smile.

As I focused on the purpose and joy coming in the destination, the journey’s pain seems to ease a bit and that is the key to surviving the journey. Never will the pain go away but we can ease it with looking forward and focusing on the final destination. What are you focused on?

Bugs Happen

Our backyard is in great shape. The grass is green, the flowers are blooming and the pool is clear. My wife, son and I sit out on the patio in the bright sun shine talking about life. It was one of those intense conversations where opinions were expressed and countered and thoughts were laid out on the table, analyzed and sometimes rearranged. In the middle of an intense soliloquy my wife was intently looking at our son and I when, mid-sentence, a bug flew into her mouth and lodged in the back of her throat. So picture this. Intense conversation, a big point was being made, eyes were fixed and then … hacking, coughing, spitting and total complete laughter by my son and I. The afternoon was reduced to stories of mom hacking up bug luggies.

Dignified, I was dressed in my best suit and tie. I walked on the podium and to the lectern and offered my best introduction for the famous guest speaker. I waited at the lectern and shook his hand and then, just as dignified, walked off the stage. I sat at my place at the front table in anticipation of a great speech. As I sat down and proceeded to place my napkin, again, on my lap I noticed the entire front of my suit pants was wet from an earlier water spill which I thought I avoided. So picture this, a well planned introduction, with humor and deft insight into the 500 or so people assembled, and me looking like I had an accident. A large dark spot on my light gray suit; a lot of laughter that I thought was coming from my well-planned, spontaneous jokes. I don’t even remember the speech.

What do you do in times like these? I felt most of all like quietly slipping away, out of the room, slinking to my truck, driving home, and calling for my mom while in the fetal position. My wife was at first angry and wanted to finish her point but … she couldn’t because of the laughter.

Bug’s happen. Accidents happen. All you can do is … laugh. Join the laughter, understand that it really is funny, it really is! I have used that example in countless speeches I’ve made on laughter and it always gets a laugh. I had to go up again after the guest speaker to thank him and present him with a gift. I was still wet. I went up dignified and proudly, without standing behind the lectern and said, “You can tell he was a great speaker, this is how hard I laughed!” and pointed at my wet pants.

Minister Karma

I wedge my wide-body into the overly-narrow seat in the airplane and wonder, again, how I am going to handle the next four hours of uncomfortable back problems and knee cramping. The man next to me, also on his way to Las Vegas, excitedly looks out the window at the swiftly moving runway and together we feel the plunging guts as our plane steeply ascends into the azure sky. After the first hour we both find we cannot sleep and he turns to me for conversation. He is excited because he is heading to Vegas and he always has a great time there. He asks me if it is business or pleasure and I tell him both, since I live there. Even more excitedly he tells of his favorite casinos and shows, expecting me to agree with him. After a barrage of excited gibberish he finally takes a breath to ask me what I do for a living. I tell him I’m a pastor of a church. His talking stopped and you could almost hear the gears grinding in his mind before he said, “Well, I only go a couple times a year. And it is just for entertainment, you know? I spend only what others would spend hunting, nothing more.” He quickly backpedaled into his own seat and went back to looking out the window. He didn’t want to have any bad Minister Karma on his trip.

My drive was between a slice and a fade, so not too bad, as the golf ball landed in the rough to the right of the fairway about 200 yards out. My friend and his friend, whom I’d never met before, got into the cart and I followed behind to search for our balls. Three strokes later we are on the green joking about choking on a five foot putt. At about the 6th hole my friend’s friend, who was quickly becoming my friend, asked me what I did for a living. I tell him I’m a pastor of a church. Suddenly things change. The language is not so easy, the swearing is caught before it leaves the lips, and I hear whispered conversations between the two friends as they get back into their cart. He didn’t want to have any bad Minister Karma on this round.

In my move from the Business world to the “Minister” world this has been the hardest thing for me to handle. After 13 years of business networks and friends who are able to “be themselves,” suddenly people feel they cannot around me. There is some mystical “Minister Karma” that surrounds me. Like it is bad luck to swear, to gamble, to be angry, and to simply be honest around me. First, there is no added bad karma to swearing around me than at any other time. Second, there is no bad karma in simply being around me in real life situations where you might get angry or frustrated. So please show me, and all people, the REAL and not the fake. We will love you or we won’t, that is up to us, not the performance you put on to try to convince us. Please be real, if not, I just might use my Minister Karma and put a hex on you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Scientific Faith Again

I often find myself in the slippery slope to geekdom. This week I was fascinated by an article in Discover magazine about Newton, Einstein and a guy challenging the completeness of their theories named Milgrom. The problem, as my non-rocket-scientist mind understands it, is that Newton’s gravitational laws and Einstein’s speed of light calculations don’t explain what happens in the visible universe. According to Newton and Einstein any planet close to its sun should be rotating around that sun quicker based on the gravitational pull of the sun. We see that in our solar system as Mercury travels the “year” faster than the earth, which is faster than Jupiter, which is faster than Pluto and so on. Now physicists project this theory on the whole galaxy and universe and find some disturbing trends. Things that should be going fast are going slow and things that should be faster aren’t and so on and so on. How do they explain this? Modern day, scientific types have come up with a novel idea on solving this problem; they call it “dark matter.” Something you can’t see, but you know it is there based on their calculations. Some kind of thing that bends light and space but doesn’t emit or reflect any light or seem to take up any space: Dark Matter. Thousands of scientific papers have been written about this Dark Matter, measuring it, describing it, and analyzing its effects on the universe.

Milgrom comes into the picture by saying “Hey, maybe what we see is what actually happens and we need to tweak Newton and Einstein instead of inventing Dark Matter to explain this.” So he takes Newton’s very simple and popular formula F=ma and turned it into some convoluted mess that other physicists scoff at. Most would rather believe that there is some kind of unseen force called Dark Matter than mess with their precious calculations. Many think his theory is interesting but have faith that Dark Matter will win out in the end as we know more and more.

Now, I didn’t just find this article interesting because I am a geek, but I found it interesting because I have been following the leaps of faith made by our modern day scientists. Leaps of FAITH by scientists …. Seems almost oxymoronic doesn’t it? Some believe in a Dark Matter, something they cannot see but believe in. Some have faith that with more time to work out their equations they will be able to explain the universe. Some believe and some have faith.

Ockham’s Razor tells us the simplest solution is very often the best and the convoluted ones fail under time. Very soon, I believe, Ockham will point to a little phrase in an ancient manuscript even older than Newton which says, “In the beginning God…”

Upgrade or Reformat

Spyware has infected my computer. I run programs to catch it, I stop pop-ups from popping, and I Norton Update daily, but a persistent bug has infiltrated my system. This spyware Bug is nasty and self perpetuating within my hard drive and it seems nothing I do can get rid of it. It just keeps popping up over and over again, especially when I am in the middle of some important research or programming. The more time I spend and work on it; the slower my computer goes, until it takes forever just to open a new page.

I upgraded my defense system with new programs that promise the world. “We zap all infections!” “We target the enemy and eliminate it!” Some will tell you simply that spyware is inevitable and they will teach you how to minimalize it and live with it.

I try my best to stay away from sites that will potentially infect me even worse. But it seems that even the most innocent search finds sites with the obligatory bugs attached. They are attached to innocent pictures sent from my mom. They are attached to work files sent from co-workers. They are everywhere and impossible to avoid.

I thought maybe I would just shut the whole system down and go back to pen a paper and forget about it. But suddenly I lose valuable contact with the rest of the world and I find I have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

So upgrade, avoidance, and shut down didn’t work. What am I to do? A computer guru has told me there is only one thing left to do – reformat. But that is crazy I tell him! I will lose all my data and my programs are never the same! I cannot reformat; I have too much valuable information that I can never get back! I am way too attached to my system the way it is. I cannot stand to lose what I have. Maybe I can just live with it the way it is. Maybe I can just live with the slowness, the pop-ups, and the unwanted intrusions into my well-worn, comfortable system. Maybe.

As you go to your house of worship this week let me ask you a few questions. Are you going for an upgrade or a complete reformat of your life? Are you going to church because you just want your current system to be made a little better, a little faster, or a little less annoying; or are you going to completely change the way you do things and start over? Will the next “program” be the one you were waiting for to take care of all your problems? Can you live with a little, growing spyware demon or are you ready to start fresh and new, and reformatted?

Beauty is only …

My wife, Frankie and I took a drive through Death Valley in California this past week. Due to the amazing, record breaking, amount of rain the desert is blooming. Flowers that only appear once in a generation are there now, along with millions of other flowers. It is surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Death Valley is beautiful. Yellow, orange, and purple flowers dot the otherwise rough and rocky floor. The floor stretches into the foothills, still dotted with flowers and intermingled red-rock and craggy walls. These walls angle up to the mountains themselves, the gray-brown walls stretch higher and higher with their snow-topped peaks giving a sharp contrast to the deep blue sky. As we approach the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere in Badwater, CA we find a blue lake stretching for acres surrounded by white shores and reflecting the blues, whites, and grays of the surrounding mountains. You see a perfect mirror in the water so clear that you cannot tell where the real ends and the reflection begins. Beauty in this place.

I walked out on the white shore of the lake and bent down to touch the water. I dipped my finger into the crystal clear liquid and saw the ripples head out into the vast expanse. I brought my finger to my mouth and tasted the … worst, most retching, thing I have tasted in a long time. I like salt but that was way beyond salty – uber-salty, crazy-salty, mongo-salty. I was caught up in the beauty of the place forgetting that it was called DEATH Valley. No one could drink the water here and live. No one could survive the intense heat of the place for any period of time. Death Valley, Badwater, Furnace Creek; even the names tell you what kind of place this is. There are warnings not to walk out onto the salt flats in the summer time. There are warnings not to drink the water. There are warnings about how many miles before the next gas station or water stop. Warnings and Death in this place.

I have run into a lot of people like this. People who are absolutely beautiful on the outside but are dead on the inside; red warning flags seem to be flashing behind them. I have seen drugs, alcohol, gambling, and sex all promising beauty in ads with beautiful people showing beautiful packaging. The wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, talked about things that sparkle to the eye but bite like a snake, he talked about beauty being fleeting, and charm being deceptive. Beauty is only skin deep.

Tipping at Windmills

I will never understand. I will never understand why I don’t do what I want to do and why sometimes I do things that I don’t really want to. I saw a pile of bite sized cream puffs sitting on the table. I had just finished a good meal and they were just sitting there … but not for long. I was full, I had enough, and I knew that I didn’t need them but … they were just sitting there. I will never understand why my exercise bike collects dust. Why, for the first time in my life, do I not own a pair of tennis shoes? I just don’t understand.

I will never understand why there are not three times as many women’s restrooms as men’s in any large venue. I will never understand why Paris Hilton is popular.

I will never understand why someone who is beat and abused will continue to go back to the abuser. I will never understand why a child continues to love through bloodied pain. I will never understand why many cannot stop until they see the bottom of a bottle or the end of a 12-pack.

There is so much I don’t understand and so much that I should but I just don’t. I don’t even understand why I don’t understand. I think the people who think they do understand are the ones who know even less. Life is kind of strange that way but it could be that I just don’t understand it. My NOT understanding though, normally, doesn’t change my action. I will continue to quit eating so much even though I will probably not be successful. I will continue to get on that bike even though it spends more time in the corner. I will continue help the hurt even when they go back to the source. I will continue to save a child even when their love of their abuser causes them to hate me. I will encourage the habit weary even when they continue in their habits. Even though I don’t understand, I will continue to try. I will tip my lance at the windmill and charge. Again.

It Just Feels Wrong

Bank tellers are trained to “feel” counterfeit bills. They do that by handling so much real money that a simple touch of the fake will cause alarms to go off in their minds. Sometimes they won’t even know what is wrong with it but just “know” it is different.

There is a recent scandal at a very well know museum that bought a Greek statue. They did all the research they could possibly do before they spent the millions on it. They had attorneys research the “papers” with the history of ownership of the statue. They had chemists study the marble and even the aging on the marble; they took a core sample by drilling a small hole and testing it; many more tests were done to guarantee the age and composition of the sculpture. When it was done and the purchase was to be made an artist/historian who specializes in Greek sculptures told them not to buy it. He could not say why, but “it just feels wrong.” Going with their scientists and lawyers instead of the artists the museum bought it. More and more artists who saw it were repulsed by it but could not explain why. Finally it was sent to Greece to have it looked at by the experts there. It was determined to be a fake by every artist and historian who looked at it. The lawyers and scientists were wrong. While chemically it was authentic, artistically it was a fake; it just didn’t “feel” right.

Have you ever met a person who didn’t “feel” right; a person who gave you a creepy feeling? Have you ever met someone who you wanted to be around just because it “felt” right; a person who makes you feel good, appreciated, or comforted? We all have those curb feelers that warn us of impending danger or tell us we’re in safe territory. Scientists are looking at chemical reactions in your mind and nervous system. Psychologists are looking at prejudices and genetic predispositions. Eastern mystics would say you met them in a previous life. But all of that just “feels” wrong to me. It feels fake, forced and thin. What feels right is that we are more than our emotions, genes, and physiology; we are spiritual beings. We have that part in us, called God’s image, which separates us from all other creatures and makes us special and unique. We are all brothers and sisters, twins in fact, that hurt when others hurt, laugh when others laugh, and that just “feels” right.

A Modern Day Miracle!

This morning I gathered up all the stuff I don’t want or need anymore. I packed it all up into carefully enclosed containers so that it would not spill. After all, you don’t want the stuff you don’t want to spill all over the place. Once I went through my entire house, garage, and back yard to gather all the unwanted items I brought them out to my transporter pad and carefully placed them in the designated space. Sometimes it is hard to get them all together, like when I am doing a yard project or cleaning my garage but I get all those unwanted items carefully placed on my transporter pad, packaged, and ready to be beamed out of my life. It is a modern day miracle and I used to watch in fascination as all my garbage disappeared but now it is “old hat” and so common I just leave for work. When I come back the stuff is gone and all that remains is a few containers and some scraps that were not packaged or covered correctly.

I paused for just a few seconds this morning as I looked down my suburban street to see neatly packed garbage bags or garbage cans lining the curb. In the distance, on a clear morning I could even hear the garbage truck stopping and starting and even the “BEEP, BEEEP” of going in reverse. Did you ever consider what a modern miracle it is? Okay, so maybe not the equivalent of “beaming” from a transporter pad like in Star Trek, but still a miracle. Most of us have seen, and some of us have even been to, countries that don’t have this modern miracle. We see garbage flowing down the streets in dirty water gutters, or just piled up outside the homes making everything gray and bland.

Many will look at the garbage as evidence of our wasteful society but I have a different twist. I see our garbage as a blessing. I see wrapping paper and trees from Christmas celebrations, turkey bones and empty cranberry cans from a hearty Thanksgiving. I see food wrappers, pizza boxes, and grocery store bags as evidence of what we have that we really don’t deserve. One of the themes in all my writing and teaching is to “consider yourself in a constant state of indebtedness.” So next time you see the curb full of our waste, instead of thinking of it as garbage, think of it as the physical evidence of the blessed. Then say a quick prayer of thanks.

Do you Love Me?

Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match
Find me a find, catch me a catch
Matchmaker, Matchmaker look through your book
And make me a perfect match
For papa, make him a scholar, for mama, make him rich as a king
And me, well, I wouldn’t holler if he were as handsome as anything

Let me start out by saying: “I am not an anti-romantic cynic.” I have become a stark realist in my views of marriage and romance. I think it would be good to go back to the days of arranged marriages. In Las Vegas on Valentines Day there were probably 10,000 marriages. 10,000 couples said they love each other and want to spend the rest of their time together. Statistically 3,000 of those will be divorced within two years, 2,000 more of them will be divorced before their “lifetime” together expires. That is not just Vegas, it is everywhere.

With freedom comes responsibility. For a few hundred years we have been “free” to choose our own spouse. For a few decades we have been free to dump that spouse for any reason, without any fault, without any repercussions, without any responsibility. So what have we done with our freedom? We have become irresponsible with it and so we will lose it altogether. Marriage is under attack from outside forces like the gay community but that is minor to what we are doing to marriage from the inside. We want marriage without responsibility and divorce without fault and so we have a beautiful looking Cadillac that breaks down a majority of the time.

When we were assigned who to marry, we were told that you must LEARN to love that person because you don’t just FALL in love with a person. Love doesn’t just happen, it is a fine diamond that must be mined, chipped, sculpted, honed, and polished. We must WORK to love each other! That is why living together before marriage is, statistically, the surest way to make sure you are divorced later: benefits with no WORK! That is why most divorces happen in the first two years: you find out its WORK! So maybe not arranged marriages, but let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that non-arranged marriages are more likely to succeed. Let’s WORK at loving each other, the payoff is unbelievable.

Do you love me? Do I love you?
My father and my mother said we’d learn to love each other
And now I’m asking, Goldie, do you love me?
Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his … if that’s not love what is?
Then you love me! Yes, I suppose I do.
And I suppose I love you too (Fiddler on the Roof byJerry Bock)

Diamonds in the Garbage

I love movies, the advent of DVD’s has scratched an itch that is nigh unto habitual. Even TV shows are on DVD and now I can watch a group of episodes of my favorites without commercial interruption and with the ability to grab a soda from the fridge or hit the restroom without missing a single laugh line. My collection rises and falls upon different interests from scary to funny to … well, strange. Some movies grab my fancy simply by the action in them even though the storyline is non-existent. Some stories grab me and the special effects only enhance the characters. Some are just plain funny.

A new movie in the “action with lame story” genre came out recently and I bought it for the action, and due to the fact that it was a classic, scary, science fiction mode that grabs my imagination. In the middle of all the action there was a moment that snared me by the heart. The heroine was trying to convince a sick man to not go on this dangerous adventure and she used a story about her own father. She said her father was hurt while climbing a mountain and she wanted to turn around and take him back to base camp. He said that he could go on and against her better judgment she took him to the top. They opened a bottle of champagne at the top, drank a toast, and then headed back down again. On the way down his injury formed a blood clot and in extreme pain he died close to the base camp. She has never forgiven herself for putting her father through that extreme pain. The sick man smiled at her story and asked her, “Do you think your father remembered the pain as he died or was his last memory one of having champagne with his daughter on the top of a mountain?” It was a diamond of dialogue in a pile of action/adventure garbage.

I had lunch with a good friend today whose father had just passed. His focus was not on the things missed or on the pain, but his focus was on the joy and the good times they had with each other. He found the diamond in the garbage of sorrow.

NOW is the time to create those diamonds. NOW! Don’t hesitate to go to visit family, don’t forget that phone call or card. Don’t put off that visit any longer. Take a moment, suck in your pride and your insecurity, and tell the people you love that you love them. Those are the diamonds that you will find hidden in the garbage that sometimes tries to bury us. Those are the smiles that come to you when the sorrow is trying to overtake you. Don’t wait, do it NOW!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Flush it down

At the risk of sounding a little gross this week I present to you a column entitled “Flush it down.”

Our toilet broke last week. The valve on the inside would no longer shut off. It didn’t matter how high the float got it simply didn’t turn off the flow of water to the bowl. So it is not like it wouldn’t flush … it wouldn’t STOP flushing. I had to turn off the water at the valve at the wall.

So here I am trying to fit my big Indiana, corn-fed, farm boy, overweight body in between the toilet bowl and the bathtub so I can get at the plastic nuts under the tank and replace the column valve on the inside. As I am contorted like some Circ’ de Soule’ acrobat trying to get at it, my mind takes me down some rabbit trails:

“I wonder who invented this toilet thing? I am sure glad that we have this thing, I think dad used to have to use an outhouse most of his early years. I hope I don’t break the water lead going into the toilet I would hate to have to make another run to Home Depot. Boy it is dirty under here! Man, am I glad we got this thing just to flush away all the `stuff’ in life!”

Then it hit me. We do have a way to flush away all the “stuff” in life. Throughout our life we have a buildup of “stuff” in our lives. Stuff that comes from others like abuse, nasty words, and painful memories. Stuff that comes from our own actions like habits, pain we’ve caused others, and ruined relationships. All this “stuff” builds up and compacts into those areas of our minds that we keep trying to push back and hide and ignore. They cause pain, cramps and other physical and mental problems but we can flush them down. This chrome handle is called FORGIVENESS!

You can flush out all of that “stuff” by forgiving others who have hurt you in the past. They may not care, they may not know, but you will; if you forgive them you will feel the fresh water flow through your heart and mind as the “stuff” gets flushed away. Sometimes you need to forgive yourself, others have long forgotten and forgiven, but you hang onto it. Flush it down. Get rid of all that “stuff” that has built up in your life, flush it down, forgive and feel the freshness.

The Coming Gap

When I was in college all the social studies courses covered the gaps in society. You had the economic gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”. The theory was that the gap was widening in America between the rich and poor, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer and the middle class was disappearing. Then there was the education gap between those who are educated and those who aren’t. This battle seemed to be fought in the arena of literacy or those who could read and those who could not. We came out with Ebonics and phonetics as opposed to simple memorization of the spelling of words. We lost the joy of reading in favor of the placid watching and the gap is getting wider and wider.

Well I believe there is a coming gap in the cyber arena. I like to think that as a “cultural exegete” I have a pretty good grasp on technology. It is technology that is currently shaping our culture. At one end you have pilot-less planes flying in Iraq and controlled in the desert of Nevada. At the other you have wars being fought in the World of Warcraft with soldiers from 30 different countries at the same time joining together in one unit of level 60’s. Again, I say, I like to THINK that I have a pretty good grasp on technology, but in reality I have no idea what is happening inside my computer. I stare at the words I am typing and by some sort of voodoo my wireless keyboard translates my thoughts into words on my flat screen monitor. I see it, I know it happens, but it is all voodoo to me.

There are kids (I call anyone under 30 a kid) out there who can live inside the x’s and o’s of computer language and put them together in such a way that things happen and appear as they want. These modern day alchemists make gold appear out of straw and silicon. I just report, they do the abracadabra. I use programs and software specially designed for pagan illiterates like me so that when I want to type a letter I can turn on a twitch, click on an icon, open a picture that even looks like a file folder and a piece of paper and start writing. I can do all this without having ANY idea of the voodoo magic going on behind the screen.

THIS is a gap that is getting wider and wider. Forget the economic gap, drop the educational gap, the real issue is with the coming cyber gap. It won’t be long and the programmers and software engineers will become the new priests of modern day society. I already pray to them when my computer starts “acting up” I give my tithe to them with my monthly updates of spyware, firewalls, virus protection and paying the priests to allow me to send mail and get information from the temple of the internet. I don’t know how they do it, but I know it will stop without my month offering. It is starting to scare me ….

Stuck in the Mud

I walk through a construction site with mounds of fill dirt ready to be spread out and pounded down for a parking lot. Construction in Las Vegas has a large emphasis on dust control, it is a desert after all. I had good sandals along so I had enough sense to just kick them off so that they would not get dirty as I walked through the wetted down dirt piles. I was prepared for a little mud but not the depth of mud I encountered. Suddenly I sank up to my knees in the mud. I had some serious flashbacks to growing up on the farm in Indiana and getting in a similar predicament 35 years ago and not being able to get out without help. Panic flashed through my mind quickly after the initial surprise and I fought to keep it down.

I drove my little Ford Ranger through that same, under construction, parking lot to survey the progress. I stopped to snap a few pictures and then attempted to move on. As I pressed the accelerator the truck did a little motion forward but made most of its motion DOWN as the wheels sunk into the fresh dirt and my truck attempted to get itself stuck. Again the flashbacks to the many “stuck” times on the farm and the same panic that attempted to flash through my mind.

It took a while growing up on the farm to control the panic, to control the fear at what dad would say when you got his tractor stuck in the field, and, while fearing for your life was not a problem, fearing that you would sit there for hours and hours until someone came along was. I took a while to realize that when you were getting stuck, that moment your realized it, you would just STOP and don’t move. My tendency was to thrash around and quickly extricate myself but rarely did that work, in fact, it often made things worse. Stop and do things slowly and methodically and you will find yourself on solid ground again.

I carefully lifted one leg out of the mud and took a tentative step backward without sinking in my other leg further. I did the same a few times, slowly backtracking until I was on solid ground again. I took my foot off the accelerator and fought back the urge to “gun it.” I put it in reverse and rocked back, then forward, then back, and methodically, rhythmically I finally moved out of the hole I was in and didn’t stop again until solid ground.

Our tendency when stuck and in a rut is to thrash and fight, but I find in life, just as on the farm, they will only get you more stuck. Control the panic, slow everything down, analyze the situation, and then slowly and methodically work your way out of the mud. And if that doesn’t work I would call in the expert, dad, on the CB radio.

My Rear-view Mirror

I am sitting in my office in Las Vegas watching Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park Live. Not on TV, on a live webcam. I can hear it and see it. It is amazing, I have never been to Yellowstone and I am sure it is more awesome there and live, but this is pretty cool too. I can also watch the hot springs at Mammoth Cave. I read advertisements in the paper for daycare facilities that have webcams so you can check up on your kid (and the Daycare Center) during your working hours. Many Vegas Wedding Chapels have live webcams so your friends and family can view your wedding from a distance. Traffic systems will now supply the public with views of their webcams to you can drive to work avoiding accidents and bad traffic.

Do you know who pushed the whole live webcam idea? Do you know who the first innovators were in live viewing over the internet? It was the pornography industry. In fact the porn industry drove MOST of the innovations in the internet. After the colleges and the inventors came up with the internet ideas, the porn industry took them and made them moneymakers. Remember bulletin boards services? Porn brought pictures to them. Remember the first video clips? Porn again. How about links in emails and spam emails, and pictures in emails? Porn, porn, porn. Electronic check transfers over internet, credit card transfers, phone company transfers, all porn. Streaming video, live video, video on demand and even many of the download protocols were perfected and packaged by the porn industry. Now the porn industry is bringing us video to our cell phones and soon holographic, 3-D images to our living rooms. Why?

Why? Because billions of dollars are spent on porn every year and sin sells, sin is addictive, and this sin is packagable and private. Any search you do with the word “girl” or “picture” in the name will bring you some porn sights. Millions of them. Since the porn industry has perfected the internet for us we now have an amazing research and communication tool as world is made flat again and I can watch Old Faithful from Las Vegas. But I look into the rear view mirror and I see a lot of rubble and ruined lives left on the road behind us and I wonder if the cost was worth it. To quote Malcolm in Jurrasic Park “We spent so much time wondering if we could that we didn’t find out if we SHOULD.”

The largest piece of rubble I see in my rear view mirror is innocence and goodness. I believe they are in America’s past now only to be reminded of in brief fits of crisis and disaster but no longer a regular attraction on the road through the country. We are no better or worse than other countries but another quote comes to mind from Alexis d’Tocqueville, “America is great because America is good, when America ceases to be good it will cease to be great.” Be good to each other.

Diamonds in the Garbage

I love movies, the advent of DVD’s has scratched an itch that is nigh unto habitual. Even TV shows are on DVD and now I can watch a group of episodes of my favorites without commercial interruption and with the ability to grab a soda from the fridge or hit the restroom without missing a single laugh line. My collection rises and falls upon different interests from scary to funny to … well, strange. Some movies grab my fancy simply by the action in them even though the storyline is non-existent. Some stories grab me and the special effects only enhance the characters. Some are just plain funny.

A new movie in the “action with lame story” genre came out recently and I bought it for the action, and due to the fact that it was a classic, scary, science fiction mode that grabs my imagination. In the middle of all the action there was a moment that snared me by the heart. The heroine was trying to convince a sick man to not go on this dangerous adventure and she used a story about her own father. She said her father was hurt while climbing a mountain and she wanted to turn around and take him back to base camp. He said that he could go on and against her better judgment she took him to the top. They opened a bottle of champagne at the top, drank a toast, and then headed back down again. On the way down his injury formed a blood clot and in extreme pain he died close to the base camp. She has never forgiven herself for putting her father through that extreme pain. The sick man smiled at her story and asked her, “Do you think your father remembered the pain as he died or was his last memory one of having champagne with his daughter on the top of a mountain?” It was a diamond of dialogue in a pile of action/adventure garbage.

I had lunch with a good friend today whose father had just passed. His focus was not on the things missed or on the pain, but his focus was on the joy and the good times they had with each other. He found the diamond in the garbage of sorrow.

NOW is the time to create those diamonds. NOW! Don’t hesitate to go to visit family, don’t forget that phone call or card. Don’t put off that visit any longer. Take a moment, suck in your pride and your insecurity, and tell the people you love that you love them. Those are the diamonds that you will find hidden in the garbage that sometimes tries to bury us. Those are the smiles that come to you when the sorrow is trying to overtake you. Don’t wait, do it NOW!

Rebooting the Brain

It was early morning but it was light outside. My light-sleeping dream was interrupted by a growling outside. My dream state conjured up images of lions or bears disrupting my sleep but as I came closer to reality my cloudy brain processed into a lawnmower. My neighbor has a lawn service and early morning is when they perform. Gas mowers and weed-whackers sang their sputtering songs and dragged me out of sleep with their melody. I am not a good sleeper; I often spend a few hours watching DVD’s from my comfy chair until my back is ready to handle lying down again. So on these mornings I am especially ornery when my sleep is interrupted. This was a particularly bad night of restlessness and now a bad morning of these animals growling at my neighbor’s house.

I got out of bed and into the shower in a bad mood. Even the shower felt like it was pelting me into more anger. As I stepped out of the shower I slipped and further aggravated my back, my knee, and my temperament. Not a stitch of my clothes went on easy, my toes caught in my pants, the neck hole of my shirt was too small and when I was finally covered I saw I had smeared my deodorant down the sides of my black golf shirt. This was not a good morning.

I walked to the fridge to find someone had taken my last Diet Coke (the breakfast of champions) and stepped outside to pick up my papers from the driveway. The garage door opened and I stepped out of the darkness into the bright morning sunlight. As I stepped into the warmth of the morning sun I caught a whiff of the freshly mowed lawn and it stopped me in my tracks. The smell; the smell of a freshly mowed lawn rebooted my brain. I forgot the morning and was called back to springtime in Indiana, rolling in the grass with our dog Princess, playing baseball with my brothers, climbing trees, and just laying down with a blade in my teeth planning my busy child-like day. The smell reminded me of teaching my kids to roll down hills, of my daughter riding in a carrier on my back as I mowed the lawn and her giggling the whole time, and of my kids and I just lying down with a blade of grass in our teeth planning our busy child-like day. The smell rebooted by brain and I forgot the anger, interruptions and irritations of the morning and loaded in sunshine, summer days, green grass, and joy.

Is it time for you to reboot?


We hear so much lately about the spread of democracy throughout the world. It is the chance for people to vote for people who will represent them in the decisions that will impact their lives. Good, no? This really is a misnomer, however; the USA does not have a democracy: everybody votes; the USA is a Republic: a representative government. In other words, we vote for the people who vote for us. For us to have a democracy we would have to each get on our computer every morning and vote for all the issues impacting us in the government. Our “forefathers” didn’t want that for fear of mob rule where emotions dictate regulations. Although I do believe we should probably vote on April 16 rather than in November, I think we would vote differently.

Sometimes it seems we have a Plutocracy (no that doesn’t mean we are run by a bunch of cartoon characters) which is a government run by the wealthy. We could have a Monarchy run by a king or queen. Some believe we have an Oligarchy run by powerful families or a Corporatocracy run by corporations. We could have a Despotic Government run by a tyrant or a Kleptocracy run by the most powerful force who can take what they want.

Many people believe that God said in the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have a democracy.” Even though much of the Bible was during and after the Greek civilization who invented the word, if not the system; the Bible is silent on that form of government. So what form of government is the ONLY form sanctioned in the Bible? Theocracy: a government with God as the president, king, or prime minister. Sounds impossible? Actually, I believe it is the only way AND it is the only way these other forms would work because God rules our nations by ruling our hearts. If God is on the throne room of our hearts then it won’t matter what form of government you have. A democracy would have everybody voting with God’s plan for people in mind. A republic would represent the people’s best interests because of God’s heart in the representatives. A monarchy would be benevolent. A Plutocracy would be generous. Corporatocracy would be responsible and there would be no such thing as a Kleptocracy or Despotism.

We think too macro with our theocracy. It is time to think micro-theocracy and change our government one changed heart at a time – your heart, and mine.

I wonder, sometimes, about the life of my great-grandfather as I look into his face. I see the slightest hint of a smile along with his intense eyes and graying hair. His left arm is using the table as an arm rest and his left hand reminds me of my own father’s and mine with thick “farmer” fingers. What is most telling is his right hand which rests on his knee but it held lightly by his youngest daughter standing next to him. Dina looks about 9 or 10 years-old and is nestled into her father’s shoulder and is gently holding on to his forefinger with her small hand.

He died in 1904; my father was born in 1921 so he didn’t have a chance to know his grandfather. Yet, as I look into the picture I see my family. My young grandfather in the picture looks strikingly like one of my brothers at that age. I see the same V-shape in the foreheads of my nephews as their hair is close to shaved off. I see the image of my fathers passed from generation to generation, we are connected by blood and by spirit, and we are family.

That image is a powerful thing, but we all have it, we are all family in our Father’s image.

Our Levee

Who would shovel dirt into a bag for 20 hours strait, for 4 to 5 days in a row? Who would do this with no payment or wages of any kind? It is happening all over the Midwest right now with the flooding and I remember it happening on the farm in Indiana where I grew up. We lived along the Kankakee River and there were many streams and drainage ditches that fed into it on our farm. When we would have a lot of rain my father and brother would hook up a pump to the back of a tractor and pump the water over a dike or levee into the River trying to speed up what was supposed to happen naturally, but with a lot of rain didn’t happen fast enough to keep the water out of the fields. As the water would drain out of the fields one our favorite sports became possible. We would sharpen a metal spear and hunt for carp in the miniature ponds left in the fields from the receding water. Sometimes that levee would break and water would spill into our fields and into a trailer park that was built in low ground in the small Indiana town. We would fight along with the town’s people to stop the break from turning into a stream which would eat out more of the levee and become a raging river flooding everything in its path.

So we filled sand bags to keep the banks from eroding. We dropped small trees to slow the water down; I even remember throwing in a mattress to try to slow down the swift water so we could fill the gap without it being washed away. My brother brought in our farm’s bulldozer to push more and more dirt in an effort to stem the tide. Water was the enemy.

I live in Las Vegas now, a far cry from the farm in Indiana. It is a desert and water is a prized possession. You buy and sell water rights that are often more valuable than the land it flows under. Nevada buys water from Arizona, California pumps water from hundreds of miles away. We are given a schedule of when we can water our lawns and trees. We are encouraged to convert to more and more desert landscaping. Libraries and public buildings are converting fountains into cactus gardens. Water is precious.

Water is the enemy and water is precious. Water can provide a living to fishermen and coastal hotels or it can destroy life in tsunamis. Water feeds a thirsty farmland or allows it to turn into desert. We give god-like status to water and present offerings to Poseidon, Enki, Roan, Varuna, Llyre, Hopi, Ea and Neptune praying for a good year.

After my shower, I slip into my newly washed clothes, brush my teeth and grab a bottle of water as I enter our carefully constructed world and realize how tenuous our levee is.

My Hero

While at a conference recently I met a Plastic Surgeon. There are a lot of these in Las Vegas and it was interesting talking to him about his work. He told me he could take care of the bags under my eyes for a few thousand dollars. I asked him, “What was the age of the youngest patient he worked on?” He stated that his most satisfying work is for young kids. Surprised I asked him why? Most of the kids he works on are kids with cleft pallets, or who have been injured in an accident. His favorite is a young boy of 11 who has had 16 surgeries on his face. He was beaten beyond recognition by his step “father” and survived. The child’s mother was killed by the same man and he is in jail now. The boy has no one and is in the hospital alone. He started with a gruesome face, dead mother, absent father and no relatives that would claim him yet he has the best sense of humor and attitude of any child he has ever seen. Before a surgery the boy asked this doctor if he could make sure he would not cover up both eyes with gauze so that he could continue to beat the nurses in X box. The doctor said he couldn’t promise but he would try; to which the boy replied, “Don’t worry about it, I could probably beat them blindfolded anyway.”

After further probing he related the story of the worst patient he had. A 14-year-old girl who came with her stripper mother who had a lot of work done previously and proceeded to complain about everything. She complained about every part of her body and wanted to change everything. Her mother stood by in silent agreement, giving her consent on the paperwork. The doctor asked, “Why, at 14, do you want all this work done?” She replied, “I don’t want to wait, I want a new body NOW, so do your job, you &%#)!” This one he said “no” to but he confessed that he had worked on plenty of young girls and even a few teenage guys. He said that it was hard because they would just go to the surgeon down the street if he didn’t work on them; plus, the money earned from overcharging them allows him to work on more of the donation cases he loves doing.

What is the difference between these two kids? The boy came from a physically abusive environment and had no one who cared for him yet he stood like a rock against it. The girl came from another kind of abusive environment but she, at this young age, began to flow with the current of her environment. What is the difference? I don’t know, but I do know who my hero is and who I’m going to hang out with. Who would you hang out with or, maybe more important, which of these would describe you?

Life in a Fishbowl

I moved my fishtank from one side of the room to the other. The fish in the tank were shaken and stirred. The stones moved and the plants were uprooted; it was a disaster. When I finally had the tank settled in place I could stop and look at the damage. All the rubble was beginning to settle and the water began to clear again. The next day I found some of the fish could not handle the crisis and were now floating on top. I sat down and watched the ensuing activity in the fishbowl.

The leaders of all the fish countries assessed the damage and began to send fish crisis workers to the damaged areas. The food and water was polluted so many concerned fish donated some of their clean water and food to those who didn’t have any in their part of the tank. The fish countries with more resources sent equipment to put back in place the rocks and replant the plants, at the same time they set up temporary fish shelters to house the homeless. The fish governments got together at the UFN (United Fish Nations) to discuss how they could prevent this kind of damage or at least prepare for this kind of damage in the future. Millions of Sand Dollars were spent on the relief and rebuilding.

Okay … so that really isn’t what happened. What happed was the fish didn’t even know there were others hurting. The fish could not grasp the concept of a world where there was a disaster. Only I knew the tank was a mess. The dead fish weren’t buried by their comrades and mourned over; they ate them.

When disaster hits like the earthquake and tsunami I am heartened to see that we KNOW about it, that we are CONCERNED about it, and that we DO something about it. That is not a response of a species that is more evolved than fish; it is the response of a being that has had something injected into its very nature. We are infected with love and concern from our Creator. No matter how hard we try to hide this infection it shows itself again and again when other people are hurting. Pray we find no vaccine.

Little Nicky

The first cloned kitten was recently sold for $50,000 called Little Nicky after the original 17-year-old cat that died called Nicky. Little Nicky was said by the owner to have many of the same mannerisms and markings of Nicky. A cat that loved being in the bathtub is rare but the clone loves it as much as the original. The company that did the cloning for this owner exhibits a sense of humor in calling themselves Genetic Savings and Clone. Genetic Savings and Clone has “orders” for 5 other mourned-for cats currently in “production;” whatever that means. They still don’t turn a profit yet but they claim they will very soon, once the technique is “perfected” and then comes dogs and farm animals. The ultimate prize for cloning right now is a monkey, since human cloning is still too taboo to do.

As we enter the New Year my thoughts don’t go to the ethics of cloning as much as it wanders down the rabbit path of exploration and discovery. I loved High School, I was kind of weird that way, but I loved the friendships, the activities, and the buzz of High School. When I graduated I felt kind of lost; I felt uncertain of what was ahead at college and work. When I got to college I became comfortable with new friends and new activities and didn’t want to leave the college environment. My first job, changed into my second and third. My first church brought me new friends and activities that fell away as I went to the second and third church. Are you starting to see the patterns of our lives? We leave the old and comfortable for the new, scary and uncertain.

I can’t help but think that this owner of Little Nicky wanted to go back to the comfortable and known. She could have taken that $50,000 and spent a fraction of it on saving hundreds of kittens from destruction, picked any of them, and gained a whole new perspective and joy she never had before. Instead she wanted her dead cat back. As we enter this New Year I want you to ask yourself if you are ready for the adventures, scares, surprises, uneasiness, and joy that a new year can bring. Or do you want your dead cat back?

Did you know?

Did you know that there is no reason to believe that there were Three Wise Men at the nativity?

Did you know that the Wise Men didn’t get to Bethlehem until years after the birth so they really don’t belong in the nativity?

Did you know that there were probably no “cattle lowing” or sheep at the nativity?

Did you know that the birth probably didn’t happen during the Christmas time of year?

Where did we get these ideas? From songs, poems, traditions handed down through generations and they were simply made up. Some are obvious like “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Alfie the Christmas Tree” but many are not and have slipped into our collective minds as facts of Christmas. This is dangerous in two ways. It is dangerous to start to believe things that aren’t true as being true. It is dangerous because it cast ALL of Christmas in a suspicious light since we don’t know fact from fiction.

After just completing another political season we can see the same thing happening there. Fact and fiction are mixed, shaken and stirred and then served to us in sound bites and video clips. We don’t know which are true and which are not so ALL is suspect and NOTHING is believed.

When you lie you join the problem. You jump into the subjective mix of fact and fiction and create a sense of relativity and disbelief, making all truth subjective. Now I am not saying that celebrating Christmas with this traditions and songs is going to destroy our country but I am saying that truth and reality is important. Don’t lose truth and the important things in the wrapping paper of Christmas. Remember the real gift that is in the form of a baby, born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger filled with cloth, and of whom the angels sang: “Glory to God in the heights, and peace to all mankind.”

Solid Rock

I was getting tired, dog tired but I was still a long ways from shore. The undertow was pulling me farther and farther out and it seemed the real estate my mom and dad had staked out on the beach was getting smaller all the time. I was a strong swimmer because we had a pool at our farm growing up and I knew how to float and rest but the more I rested, the farther I drifted. The waves were not big, maybe a foot or so with swells that would lift and drop me like some automatic teeter-totter.

My parents would take all eight kids on a road trip from Indiana to Florida to visit relatives many years when I was growing up. That was an extremely brave thing for them to do. Picture eight kids born within the span of 10 years surviving a 20 plus hour trip in a station wagon. All without killing each other. I remember frozen sandwiches, playing catch in rest stops, Stuckey’s diners, 2:00 am gas stops, and hours and hours of car games and songs. But I remember most the beaches with the unbelievably blue-green ocean spreading out in front of us. We would throw a football or a Frisbee and laughingly dive into the water to make a spectacular catch. The salt cleaned your sinuses and got in your eyes but we went running back in anyway.

I had my fun but now it was getting serious. My parents had warned me not to go out too far but I was too strong and confident to listen. I started out again swimming against the tide and undertow. I could feel my strength being lapped out of me with each wave, I swam until I could no longer lift my arms and pull. As I rolled over onto my back to float I made one last kick and my toes kicked into something. I had found a hidden sand bar where I could stand. Relief swelled over me as I stood solidly against the drift, the tide and all the waves.

In our POST-postmodern culture we find our world tired and drowning. Our world is searching for something to stand on; something solid to help withstand the drifts, tides and waves of our culture. A solid rock in the midst of a relativistic ocean. Something to cling to, something to hang on to. Something like … a baby born in a manger on Christmas day who was solid enough to split time in half.