Friday, December 30, 2011

Namaste: Acknowledge the Beauty Around You in 2012

~Please watch this video, it will brighten your day~


I would like to thank Michael Schwalm for sharing this beautiful video with me. We are about to journey into a new year, a year that will bring beauty to those who seek it. To those who choose to squander all or some of those 365 days, they will miss beauty. I know there is a great deal to be concerned or frightened about. The economy is still broken, as I write, the Iranian Navy and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet are sparing in the Strait of Hormuz. According to the Mayan Calender, 2012 will be the last year we will be around. I don't believe that to be true, but imagine if it was. How would you live your last year, month or day?  Would your end times be filled with fear or beauty, wonder and gratitude?

We all seem to try and make resolutions for the new year. I have a suggestion--look for beauty. Look for beauty in the faces you see, the clouds above us, the touch of a loved one. Beyond that look for love. At the beginning of one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, (Yes, I know it is a chick flick), it starts at the arrival gate at Heathrow Airport in London. In many ways Hugh Grant says what I am attempting to communicate:

2012 gives each of us a choice on how to move forward. I would suggest that we live 2012 as if it is going to be our last year. Relationships need to be mended, children need more hugs - as do we all and maybe make yourself a "2012 Bucket List". Who do you wish you could apologize to? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to love? All of us have an intrinsic need to love and be loved. If this was your last time around the Sun, what would be on your "2012 Bucket List"? http://www.amazon.com/Bucket-List-Jack-Nicholson/dp/B000YAF4MA/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1325459357&sr=1-1

Lynn Anderson, who has done so much to shape my view of the world, posted his list on Facebook:
"Lord, 2012 is almost here. I have no idea what it will bring.
But it is in your gracious hands, so I am willing...
- To receive what you give
- To lack what you withhold
- To relinquish what you take
- To suffer what you inflict
- To be what you require"

I believe what God requires is that we start to see the world and the people we come in contact as He does. We need to strive to find beauty and love. Embrace it with unencumbered gratitude. Then share that beauty and love. Paul put it this way:
"Finally, brothers, 
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable 
--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy
--think about such things"
Philippians 4:8 - (NIV)

So, as we face 2012 together, let us face it looking for beauty and love.

Peace
~Al





Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peace on Earth

~You Might Want to Listen to this Song as You Read~

As Luke records the appearance of a great company of the heavenly hosts along with the angel announcing the birth of Jesus, he writes:

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men 
on whom his favor rests"
Luke 2:14 - (NIV)

Above all else the message of Christmas is simply peace. Peace with God and with one another. As with most things in the Bible, this has been distorted into a carnival. Scholars have no idea of the exact date of Jesus' birth. In fact, there was no "Christmas" until the Fourth Century. It, like many other holidays was assimilated into the "Christian" calendar. Most likely, it was a substitute for the Winter Solstice celebrations that were celebrated by many pagans in Northern Europe. The early church was very adept in this assimilation process, as it made conversion a less dramatic change to the people's culture.




Now with that being said, what about Christmas? As I mentioned earlier, Christmas has become a carnival. Americans are projected to spend $450 billion dollars on Christmas. It is all about colored lights, Santa Claus, presents, parties and above all STRESS. People all over the world are attempting to have the "perfect" Christmas. We have all seen the movies, television programs and Norman Rockwell paintings depicting this "perfect" Christmas. HERE IS A NEWS FLASH! There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas! By adding all of this stress to your already busy life, you are setting yourself up for a tough time.

If you are willing to listen I have some advice for Christmas:
  • This is a time to be with friends, family and loved ones.
  • Hugs should take priority over the perfect gift.
  • This is NOT the time to "Work Out" issues you may have with a relative. (Unless it is unconditional forgiveness)
  • Know this up front - there will be glitches, some things you cook will not turn out well and you may not get what you wanted for Christmas.
  • Alcohol is NOT your friend. It makes you think you are wise, a good dancer, a great singer, God's gift to the opposite sex -- It only makes you STUPID or MEAN.
  • Invited guests will be late or uncomfortably early.
  • Dressing up your pet pit-bull in a Santa suit may be cute, but it could turn out badly.
Let's go back to what I was saying at the beginning. The real meaning of Christmas is peace. It is not a carnival, it is peace. It is a time to thank God for giving His Son and if the world would just accept his teachings, (Maybe start with the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5-7) - there would be peace. 

So for this Christmas, I wish you a Merry Peace-Filled Christmas.
~Al


Sunday, December 11, 2011

BITS AND PIECES


There is a poem that often comes to mind - Bits and Pieces. When I look back on my life, I can see the bits and pieces that have combined to make me who I am.


"Bits and pieces, bits and pieces.
People. 
People important to you, 
People unimportant to you cross your life, 
touch it with love and move on.
There are people who leave you and you breathe a sigh of relief
and wonder why you ever came in contact with them.
There are people who leave you, and you breathe a sigh of remorse
and wonder why they had to go and leave such a gaping hole.
Children leave parents,
Friends leave friends.
Acquaintances move on.
People change homes.
People grow apart.
Enemies hate and move on.
Friends love and move on.
You think of the many people who have moved in and out of your hazy memory.
You look at those present and wonder.
I believe in God's master plan in lives.
He moves people in and out of each other's lives,
and each leaves a mark on the other.
You find that you are made up of bits and pieces of all who
have ever touched your life.
You are more because of them, and would be less 
if they had not touched you.
Pray that you accept the bits and pieces in humility and wonder,
and never question and never regret.
Bits and pieces,
Bits and pieces"
~ God is No Fool
Lou Cheney


Along with people who have made me who I am, there are also the gifts and wounds that have shaped me. In many ways our lives are all unique. We have all had various bits and pieces that have made us who we are today. This process will continue throughout our lives. I am now 59, I am nothing like I was at 19, 29, 39 or even 49, as so many more bits and pieces have been added to the mosaic of my life. I am the composite of all the bits and pieces that have touched my life. While at Abilene Christian University, in the early 1970's, I would sit every Wednesday night with nearly a thousand people listening to Landon Saunders. Landon seemed to have his finger firmly planted on the pulse of what people, in general, were feeling. He is still around today and I would recommend you explore his website, http://www.heartbeat.org and get to know him. He and Mike Cope may be helpful to some of you.


So, where do we go from here? I would say we should embrace and reflect on our gifts, wounds, failures, successes and all the people who have touched our lives -- All of those combined made you who you are today. I could look back and wish I had been born into a wealthy family, outside of the inner-city, with ideal parents, a wonderful education and not made all of the screw-ups at which I excelled, BUT - I wouldn't be who I am today. I am thankful I grew up in Richmond, California. I am thankful I had to read more to catch up with those kids in the suburbs. I am even thankful for the failures in my life. If I had been raised in a wealthy family, etc... I wouldn't be able to empathize with people who are truly in pain. I have known pain and I have come out of it stronger than before. I have seen the bottom of what my life has shown me, (so far), and I know the exhilaration and joy of crawling out of that hole.

These are tough times and they call for tough people.

J.K. Rowling spoke at the Harvard Commencement in 2008. She spoke as a successful author of the Harry Potter series and the richest woman in Great Britain, (Even richer than the Queen). Yet, when she started writing about Harry, she was on welfare. Below are some excerpts followed by part of her address (Video at the bottom):

"You might never fail on the scale I did, but sometimes failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

'Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

'The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won and it has been worth more than any qualification I have ever earned."

So, I leave you with bits and pieces. The bits and pieces that have made up your life. Embrace who you are and look deep within to find the uniqueness that sets you apart. Take the things you have learned in your successes and failures and move forward. It time time for you to seize the day! 

Peace,
~Al















Sunday, December 4, 2011

JOY

~Please Take a Break and Listen to this Video~


Joy is one of those words that we think we know the definition, but we often do not. It reminds me of when the Supreme Court was discussing the question of pornography. One Justice said, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." For you more conservative readers out there - I am not writing on the joy of pornography; but rather that joy is difficult to define. Joy is far deeper than happiness. Joy persists through times of pain and hurt. Happiness is fleeting and is often replaced with sadness - joy is within us and is tied to our view of life. I picked a picture of joy carved in stone to reinforce the stability of joy.

For Christians, joy is tied to our view of Heaven and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ - the parousia:

"For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown of boasting before the Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy." 
1 Thessalonians 2:19- 20 - (ESV)

It was this joy that allowed early Christians to endure terrible suffering, torture and even martyrdom. Their view of life was that even though everything in and including their lives was being torn away, they were still loved and by faith would see God in the next life.

Additionally, while writing the Letter to the Philippians, Paul was in a Roman prison awaiting his trial and eventual execution. Yet he speaks of joy throughout this letter. His reason is found in:


" What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes by faith. 
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship in sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attain to the resurrection from the dead
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, 
but I press on to take hold of that 
for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."   
Philippians 3:8-12 - (NIV)

The idea of having a fellowship, (koinonia - commonality), with Jesus' suffering in addition to the hope of eternity with God; allowed early Christians to see past the present struggles to a bright future. Now before a skeptic decides I am advocating some sort of masochistic ascetic lifestyle - I am not. 

What I am saying is that whatever your view of life, it has to see hope on the horizon. Joy is an inner contentment that survives all of the garbage this world throws at us. We are currently on the verge of a serious monetary meltdown. People have lost jobs, homes and families. The Tea Party people and the 99% have one thing in common - they are angry. This too will pass. In the midst of pain, from unemployment, divorce, death of a loved one, foreclosure, bankruptcy or the general global unrest - you need joy to sustain you.


Joy allows you to get up each day and put one foot in front of the other because there is somewhere you are headed. In that, you are content. Hurt, pain and struggles will always be with us. However, so will sunsets, children laughing, love, faithful dogs, grandchildren,  and something in your life that makes it worth living. Even if you are at the bottom of the darkest hole in your life, pull yourself up to the edge and look to the horizon - I hope you see joy.

Peace & Joy
~Al

P.S. Shortly after the Berlin Wall was torn down a combined choir made up of those from East and West Germany sang Beethoven's, Ode to Joy. It was conducted by a Jewish conductor. Now admittedly, this is not that version, but I thought I might bring a smile to your face.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

FORGIVENESS

~PLEASE READ THE WORDS IN THIS SHORT VIDEO BEFORE READING BELOW~


Forgiveness is a tricky thing. For me, when a person has gone to all the trouble to hurt me, I have a pretty thick skin, I can be pretty cut and dried on dealing with that person in the future. The defense mechanism that has developed within my 59 dysfunctional years has taught me to "Shut a Door" in my mind. As far as I am concerned, that person no longer exists. I have locked away any feelings, good or bad, I have had for this person - I guess in the digital age, I hit the delete key. From a spiritual and psychological perspective this is the worst thing I could do. I would assume many of you have been hurt or have hurt someone. Whether it is asking for forgiveness and actually forgiving someone, we often let our pride get in the way. In many ways we are hurting ourselves at a far deeper level than we could imagine. Holding those feelings and memories within just festers like a dirty wound. Hurt turns into bitterness, bitterness is followed by hatred, and as Yoda would say - "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to the Dark Side".

My best recollection of experiencing the healing affects of forgiveness was when my ex-wife, Angela, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). We had a horrific divorce. We said things about each other and generally took every opportunity to hurt each other. I can honestly say I hated her. When I heard the diagnosis, I called her. I really didn't know what to say and I blurted out, "I am sorry for all of the things I have done to hurt you and I would like to have this behind us." She expressed the same to me. We decided the past was in the past and that we needed to forgive each other; so, we did just that. What I can't get over was how I felt after that phone call with Angela. It was as if a physical weight had been taken off of my shoulders. I cried all of the way home.I joined her husband Curtis, our daughter Sarah and son Nathan to be there for Angela. It was a tough time for all of us as she slowly disintegrated in front of us. In May of this year I had the privilege to be sitting on one one side of her bed holding her hand as Curtis sat on the other doing the same as she passed away. 

What I couldn't realize at the time was that I had been spending so much time feeding that hatred, that I was destroying myself. That deep seated hatred begins to feed off of itself and you become addicted to thinking how you could hurt this person.

Jesus made a few comments that hit this issue dead on:

"Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors."
Matthew 6:12 - (NIV)
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
Matthew 6:14-15 - (NIV)
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your bother; then come and offer your gift."
Matthew 5:23-24 - (NIV)
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over."
Matthew 18:15 - (NIV)

Did you notice Jesus nailed both sides of this equation? To the person who has been hurt - go to the one who hurt you. The the offending person - go and be reconciled. This theme is carried throughout the New Testament. If we really do believe that we have been saved by the grace of God through faith, and know that all of our wrong-doing has been forgiven; how can we not forgive those who have hurt us?

In all seriousness - look at your life and try to see who you may have hurt or who has hurt you. Reach out and see if forgiveness can take place. In 12 Step programs they talk about:
  • Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Make a list of all the persons we have harmed, and become prepared to make amends to them all.
  • Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong admit it.
Now AA takes it from the side of the offender, but Jesus asks us to take it to the next step. He knew if you just sat around waiting for this person to come on their knees asking forgiveness - that may never happen. During that time you continue to fester. Please reach out and find peace in your life. You will be happy you did.

Peace
~Al
P.S. At the request of Josephine, here is another Johnny Cash song that fits this blog




Saturday, November 19, 2011

GIVING THANKS

~PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS SHORT VIDEO BEFORE READING~

In 1863 our country was at its most divided point in our history. Americans were locked in a Civil War that would see the deaths of over 150,000 Americans. Yet, in the midst of that horrible conflict, President Abraham Lincoln gave this proclamation to ask all Americans to pause and think about the things for which we are thankful.

Currently in 2011, we see the lines of division rising among our people. We still have our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and other loved ones in harm's way from Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas of military deployment. We are seeing class warfare being used to rekindle old hatreds. Many have lost their jobs and homes and we see this economic malaise has gone far beyond our borders. Many are afraid for the future and some almost to the point of taking up arms once again.

I would say that in November of 2011 just as in 1863, we need to pause the rhetoric, division and hatred. We need to step back and think of what we have to be thankful for. I remember a number of Thanksgivings in which I was sitting with a TV Tray in front of me having a Swanson TV Dinner, while my Dad was away at sea and my "Mom", Babe, was passed out in a wine stupor. I didn't know any different and for me it was a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. Being thankful is not resentment for the things you do not have, it is giving thanks for what you do have.


This week I am going to list some things I am thankful for and invite you to do the same. If you have a list, post it in response to this blog. Let's share this blog and this list with those who can add to it. Maybe, decide not to listen, read or watch the news this Thursday - Sunday. Spend that time taking a break from all that noise that drowns out that still small voice within - be thankful.

I am thankful for:
  • A wonderful daughter and son who I see blossoming into adulthood with strong critical minds and wonderful gifts of music and artistic expression.
  • I am thankful I love my wife, daughter and son.
  • I am thankful for my wife who keeps me young. The zeal for her each endeavors amazes me. Her compassion knows no limits.
  • I am thankful that I am in a congregation of believers that, as a family, loves seeking truth and doesn't require adherence to some ancient dogma.
  • I am thankful that my daughter and son are in stable relationships where they can give and receive love. 
  • I am thankful that I live in a country, that even in the midst of recession and division that our family has a home and food on the table.
  • I am thankful for the peace God has brought back into my life.
  • I am thankful for friends and loved ones.
  • I am thankful I have a job and that I enjoy my work and the people I work with.
  • I am thankful in spite of all the death we have seen in our family, in 2011, those who are still here have healed a great deal.
I think you have the idea. Start looking around your life - start to see the things you have that you can be thankful for. I think we spend far too much of our energies fighting the things we have no control over - like world events and other people in general. Life is full of beauty, we just have to take the time to see it.

Peace
~Al
P.S. Just for Josephine I thought I would add Johnny Cash

Sunday, November 13, 2011

FAITH


~PLEASE LISTEN TO THE WORDS OF THIS SONG BEFORE READING~

I knew I would eventually come to the concept of faith. Now before anyone tunes this out as some "preachy" diatribe, give me a chance and read on.


"Skepticism is the beginning of faith" 
Oscar Wilde (Irish Poet, Novelist and Critic - 1854-1900) 
"Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible"
William James (American Philosopher and Psychologist, leader of the Philosophical Movement of Pragmatism - 1842-1910)
"Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods"
C.S. Lewis (British Scholar and Novelist - 1898-1963)
"To Follow by faith alone is to follow blindly"
Benjamin Franklin (American Statesman, Philosopher, Scientist, Printer and Inventor - 1706-1790)
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase"
Martin Luther King Jr. (American Baptist Minister and Civil-Rights Leader - 1929-1968)
"Faith must be enforced by reason...When faith becomes blind it dies"
Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Philosopher, Renowned for non-violent protests - 1869-1948)  


Faith is a word that is often misunderstood. Many people profess faith and it is used as a way to comfort their fears. It is a belief in a mansion in the sky in the sweet bye and bye. They were raised in a church and never left, more importantly, never questioned. It answers questions, mundane and complex with - "it is God's will". Sadly for many it never goes any deeper. To be honest, faith has never been easy for me. I have a very skeptical and critical mind and have far more questions than I have answers. That may be why when I when to college I focused on Greek and Textual Criticism. I wanted to see if there was historistic
support for the New Testament and for the historical fact of Jesus Christ. In graduate school I pursued Biblical Hermeneutics - which contains studies in Greek and Hebrew, Textual Criticism-(looking at variants in manuscripts),and a study of the times in which the passage was written. This methodology of looking at passages in their original context sheds a great deal of light on interpretation of the Bible, yet the most famous verse in the Bible "defining" faith is not as simple as many believe:


"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen"
Hebrews 11:1 - English Standard Version


A few of words translated from Greek may help here:

  1. hypostasis - nature, confidence, assurance - translated here "assurance".
  2. elpizomenon - hope for, expect - translated here - "hoped for".
  3. elenchos - conviction, "argument of disproof or refutation; cross-examining, testing, scrutiny esp. for purposes of refutation" is the central technique of the Socratic method. The Latin form elenchus (plural elenchi) is used in English as a technical philosophical term. - translated here - "conviction".
  4. blepomenon - see look at, observe, shown concern, caution - translated here - "seen".
What I see in this passage, which is followed by an extensive list of people of faith, is that faith is not "magic". The faith of the first century church was seen as an extension of God at work within His creation. The writer of Hebrews follows this list with the line - "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let also lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1-2a - ESV). In the first century, and especially in the Jewish community, this was relatively simple. They had an entire history and the people in that list were familiar. To us in the 21st Century the writer could have listed Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White or Winnie the Pooh.

This where those words above come into play; we are not expected to blindly accept the Jesus of the New Testament like a young child believes in Santa Claus. Rather, faith is built by putting together the evidence and weighing that evidence against evidence to the contrary. Faith is far more than belief. People all over believe or do not believe in God based on, really, nothing more than sentimentality. They have never grappled with trying to find out what is true. Add to that the superstitions, meaningless rituals and at times senseless bloodshed in the name of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that people say they do not believe in God? Today the airwaves and the Internet are filled supposed faith healers that more resemble snake oil salesmen, hypocrisy in the church, stories of infidelity and child abuse among church leaders and confusion of Jesus Christ that has morphed into something that doesn't even resemble the historical Jesus Christ. Churches have become religious bureaucratic behemoths that resemble Fortune 100 companies rather than the group of followers attempting to be like Jesus.

THIS IS TRAGIC!  

As a person of faith, I can say from the core of my being, this breaks the heart of God. I know that a large number of people who read this blog do not profess any kind of faith in Jesus Christ. If after careful study, you have come to that point in your life, I understand. I would recommend you take a serious look at the work that Dr. Gary Cage and Dr. Bob Hemenway assembled for our small congregation - http://www.foothillschurchofchrist.com/christianevidences/christianevidences.pdf.  If you have rejected faith because of some of the things listed above, I am sorry churches have failed people and you in particular. Carrying that pain will only lead you further down that pit. There may be a time you will look at the unblemished Jesus Christ of the New Testament.

In my previous blogs I have spoken about the difficulties, failures and hitting the bottom of life. I believe with all of my heart that my faith, even when I thought I lost it, was my North Star. The difference between belief and faith is that faith causes action. When you have faith, you are drawn to something way beyond yourself. You see people as they can be, you see yourself as you can be - life becomes truly meaningful. Life with faith is not lived on "Easy Street", you will still have ups and downs, people and maybe God will disappoint you - but there will always be a North Star to steer the rudder of your life home. For me, faith is the thing that causes me to get up each morning and put one foot in front of the other and to coin Winston Churchill, to "NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!"



I hope I have at least caused you to think about what drives my life. I know there are numerous situations that cause people not to look at God. However, I can say, in my life my faith is what allows me to face each day knowing that I have placed my faith in someone who is worthy.

Peace,
~Al

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Coming Home

PLEASE LISTEN TO THE WORDS OF THIS SONG BEFORE READING

There are a plethora of reasons we walk away. Sometimes it is words spoken in anger that can't be pulled back. Sometimes it's too much drama. Then again there is always a felt sense of betrayal or maybe just boredom.


When people leave the church or in some cases, God, walking away takes on a whole new significance. 


Churches are made up of people and that is their biggest downfall. People from all sorts of backgrounds and each with their very own baggage. The Catholic Church is currently being damaged by its apparent lack of accountability and even hiding pedophiles among their clergy. Evangelical churches seem to go from one fad to the next, trying to fill their pews and coffers. "Seeker Sensitive" was one of the buzz words floating around. You would get the best band and the most gifted motivational speaker/preacher. The up-tempo service would have wonderful stories and great drama - people would get goosebumps; but in the end it was just empty. People found out they could get just as fired up by going to a sporting event, concert or movie. Then there are those who feel the entire exercise is irrelevant to their lives.


Some, myself included, due to a sin or mistake they made in their life were viewed as a pariah. It doesn't take a great deal of time for that message to sink in. Some stop coming and no one ever asks them if they are alright or if they need help, they are just ignored. There are people all over this planet, who for one reason or not - walked away. The church did not seek them out or even, in some cases, realize they were gone. This is hardly in keeping with the words of Jesus when he talked about a shepherd with 100 sheep. He counted and there were only 99, so leaving the 99 in the field, went out in search of that one lost sheep.


Leaving God is a much more difficult thing to face. I was raised in an atheist home and came to faith at around 18. For me the idea of a Father who could love me for me was amazing. Never really having a positive father figure in my life probably made me attracted to this concept. Going on to study Theology at a Christian college and then on to a graduate degree in Theology from a respected seminary, I was caught off guard by the response to my failure. For me, it wasn't the church that let me down it was God. I knew the church had politics, flaws and agendas, but I had always taught love, acceptance and forgiveness. So when I was, in my mind, betrayed - I walked away.


Others have prayed for a relative who was severely ill and God didn't appear to be around or even care - and they walked away.


Others have lost a son or a daughter, even asking God to take them instead to only see death. (In our vocabulary we have the words "widow or widower" for someone who loses a spouse. We have "Orphan" for someone who has lost their parents. But we have no word for a parent losing a child, except excruciating pain) - They walked away


In my near six decades I have seen people who walk away from God mainly because of a sense of abandonment and aloneness or at a critical juncture in their lives.


Don't worry, I am not going to throw out some glib and stupid cliche. That would be insulting and far too typical. I know there is a great deal of pain we all face; some of us more than we deserve. I can only speak  from my own heart. I had for over a decade a gaping emptiness within me, it was as if there was a black hole sucking the joy out of my life. I crawled deeper into my cave and at times contemplated my very existence. I then decided to give God another try and over a period of a few years I had a number of false starts. I am now home. I preached to the Foothills Church of Christ in Reno, NV this morning and I was scared to death, I honestly do not remember the last time I actually preached a sermon. 


I can say now the emptiness is gone and it took a great deal of baby steps. It was difficult to allow my heart to be placed again in a position of vulnerability.


For anyone reading this who has walked away, spend some time thinking about where you are right now. Are you at peace? If so great. If not, you might try a few things:

  • Start by trying to be thankful for what you have. (You have more than you think.)
  • Try and make contact with people you trust.
  • Reach out to people from your past, I used Facebook and it was good.
  • If you lost a child, if you still have any children - lavish your love on them.
  • If you have family try and reconcile with those who have hurt you and love  the rest.
  • If you have left the church, find a small congregation or group, talk to the minister or leader and tell him/her your fears, doubts and reluctance.
  • If you have left God, find something greater than yourself, as AA would say, "Your Higher Power".
  • Above all, start the journey home.
This world is too tough and unforgiving to go-it-alone. Yes, there are people out there who will love you for you, you just need to find them. Let go of anger and resentment and seek healing - even the toughest people get hurt. Letting go of anger and resentment is not an easy thing to do. You might refer to my earlier blogs: "Fallen" and "Wastelands", in which spoke freely and candidly from my heart, about how hard it was to let go of these feelings.

I don't have all the answers, you should have caught me in my 20's for that :), but I do listen and would be happy to dialogue with you.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, may his countenance be upon you and give you peace.

~Al 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Failure?

PLEASE WATCH THIS SHORT VIDEO BEFORE READING


  • Failure? Hardly a word anyone would associate with Michael Jordan. Yet, when he lists his failures, they are eclipsed by his extraordinary success. 
  • Reggie Jackson, a.k.a. Mr. October, struck out 2,597 times - the all time leader in major league baseball strike outs. 
  • Henry Ford failed in business five times before he succeeded with the Ford Motor Company. 
  • Bill Gates, Harvard drop out, and Paul Allen started with Traf-O-Data which crashed and burned before Microsoft. 
  • Einstein did not speak until he was four and could not read until he was seven, causing his parents and teachers to think he was mentally disabled, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and denied admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.


This list above could go on and on and fill pages with people who have failed in their lives. What separates these people from others is that they got up, dusted themselves off and got back into the fight. They didn't see the deck stacked against them. They didn't decide to become victims. They didn't wallow in self pity. They overcame the obstacles that were placed in their way and REFUSED to give up. They didn't blame others and took responsibility for their lives and decisions.

Now this will probably elicit some hate mail, but I've had it before. Currently there are demonstrations around the country claiming to be the 99%. Occupy Wall Street, Oakland, Denver, Washington, D.C. etc... Here is my take on this situation. These are made up of numerous groups of people, but I want to look at the group my generation created. My generation made the "Everyone Gets a Trophy Generation". As our kids played soccer and T-Ball - everyone got a trophy. In fact, I remember my daughter crying after a soccer game which had ended in a tie, because God forbid we destroy a child's self-esteem by having a team lose. I asked her why she was crying and she said, "We never win!'

Here is a news flash! Life is not fair! There will be rich people, there will be poor people and a bunch in the middle. In California they wanted to get rid of grades, just in case some kid might be damaged with an "F". These Trophy Kids were then thrust into the competitive world of earning a living. Face it, if you are doing "F" work you will not have a job. We live in a cut-throat and highly competitive economy. Having your boss tell you to gather up you things and get out is not a trophy.

Now that we live in a global community the American education system is ranked "average"; America is ranked 14th out of 34 countries in reading, 17th for science and below average 25% for math. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/07/us-falls-in-world-education-rankings_n_793185.html
We haven't done our kids a favor. The competition is now global. A large number of our kids are entering a marketplace that is looking for skill-sets in reading, science and math - not how well you can do on Halo on an X-Box.

I have failed in business, marriage and more things than I would care to admit, however,  I take responsibility for my failures. I am not a victim, I just get up each day and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I am not speaking from some positive thinking rah rah place. I know what failure feels like. I know what it is like to try and get to sleep, knowing that I really screwed up. I know we need to have time for our own private "pity-party", but I also know that one has to always get up and keep going. If you have read my previous blogs, you know I did not come from some Lilly white upper class suburb. I have fought for everything I have and will continue to do so as long as I have breath. Does that make me superior? No! The people listed at the top of this page are people who experienced failure and kept moving forward.

I believe my faith in God, the support of loved ones and belief in myself have allowed me to persevere. These are tough times for everyone and now is the worst time to blame the government, the banks or the people in the black helicopters. You have it within yourself to get up and start doing. If you have lost your job, take one that is "below" you. A generation in the 1930's faced tough times and made it through! We have all been spoiled thinking we are owed something that we have to earn. 

Our failures define us. How do you respond? Success is easy and it often blinds us to how tough this world is. Stand up and say - THIS FAR NO FURTHER! Decide what you will do to keep moving and do it. If you are a believer, remember these words:

"We rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has  been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us"
(Romans 5:3-5 -- ESV) 

Notice it doesn't start with hope, it starts with suffering. Hope in the New Testament is dynamic, active, directive and life sustaining. Today we can easily substitute "wish" for hope - I hope I get a new bike. Biblical hope is action based on faith and is brewed out of a life of suffering, endurance and character.

Pray that the God of peace can strengthen you to have hope.

Peace 
~Al