How can I help?

The following excerpt from Richard Beck’s blog post today http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/08/eccentric-christianity-part-6-eccentric.html is a real eye opener for me. He reveals a truth concerning our churches that I have sensed but have been unable to define. I am convicted.

Success in America is to need nothing. To never need help. Your job in America is to be fine. Autonomous and self-sufficient. To be anything less–to need the help of others–is to be a failure. A drag on society. A loser.

This shaming is killing our churches as it shuts down the economy of love, the ways in which we share and respond to the needs of others and how they respond to our needs. The theologian Arthur McGill calls this economy of love a community of neediness.

But the flow of this economy shuts down if everyone in the church is neurotically shamed into hiding their needs from others. We all would rather play the hero, we all want to be the helper, the one who serves. But we don’t ever want to be the one being rescued, or the one needing help, or the one who is being served. Standing in that location–being the needy one among us–is very, very uncomfortable.

Churches tend to hide their fear of loving each other by serving strangers outside the community of faith. The church gives food at the food pantry. The youth group builds a house for a poor family on a mission trip. We send money overseas to the Third World.

Those people are the needy people. We’ll help them. But me? I’m fine. I’m good. No, I don’t need anything. Can I help you?

It’s not that those people at the food pantry or in the Third World don’t need anything. It’s that the church is responding to these needs in a state of denial. The church is denying its own need, weakness and vulnerability. Thus, the church comes to see itself as a hero, riding in on a white horse to save others. Since we don’t need anything from the people we are helping there is no reciprocity, no economy, no relationship, no giving and sharing back and forth.

We show up, do our good deeds and then pack up and leave. Why? Because we don’t need anything from those people. They need us. We don’t need them.

But we do need them. And we need each other.

appreciating the Ordinary

I came across this quote from Brene Brown that I found helpful as I continue to wrestle with the question: “How does one find meaning and purpose in their old age?” 

Brene’ Brown calls to our attention this important facet of our ordinary days. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.

I think I learned the most about the value of ordinary from interviewing men and women who have experienced tremendous loss such as the loss of a child, violence, genocide, and trauma. The memories that they held most sacred were the ordinary, everyday moments.

When we fail to cherish the ordinary we begin to waste our lives. Attentive to our aging face, our over-weight, our range of influence, and perpetual need for money are at least four thieves; each screaming from sunrise to sunset about lack.

These and others succeed only because we give them permission to abuse us at will. The solution is to be attentive to the power of the grateful moment.

We are not to be bugged because so many calls come in. We are to be thrilled we can still hear the phone ring.

We are not to fret because the kids eat us out of house and home. Overjoy hits because our kids are growing o consider and normal.

We are not to be dismayed because prices rise. We are to be grateful we have abundant selection.

We are not to be frustrated by the discover of illness. We are to lavish in the truth that the medical field did not shut down exploration twenty years ago.

 We are not to be whining that there are not enough hours in the day. Rather, we are to praise God that we can drive the car all those places, pay the bills for all those in the family, and still find ourselves upright and energetic.

Decide. Decide to cherish the ordinary. Men, women, and children are suffering from a terrible (yet acceptable and unnoticed by the masses) disease called ingratitude for the simplest of gigantic blessings. Stop complaining, whining, and/or sighing. Treasure right now.

Arnold and Ruby Mae

2014 is proving to be a memorable year. Its historic, grueling winter and reluctant emergence of spring were, ironically, a reflection of my mother-in law and father-in-law’s end of life experience. After living 94 years and being married 74 years, Arnold and Ruby Mae Watson passed from this life. Despite all the truthful, comforting thoughts and words that accompany the passing of loved ones … death is hard. 

I am going to miss them a lot. 

No one can replace my mother-in-law’s (Mother) profuse, unrelenting, loving praise and appreciation of her undoubtedly favorite son-in-law (that would be me). Our separation by distance was bridged by a never ending, never delinquent arrival of birthday, holiday, anniversary and thank you cards and notes. Her praise for me was a gift of grace, undeserved for sure. I just hope that they were in some way self-fulfilling prophesies. 

Neither will there be anyone to replace my father-in-law’s (Dad) gracious appreciation for insignificant efforts on my part to do ordinary things. I no longer will I have anyone to embarrass me by speaking with great pride about my career accomplishments and personal achievements to everyone they introduced me to. His descriptions always were a bit overstated. He was proud of his family and I was always included.

They were not perfect people but they were the perfect mother-in-law and father-in-law for me. Absent their gracious and forgiving acceptance of me, I cannot imagine how my life and marriage could have been as good as it is. 

Thank You Mother and Dad

Word for 2014

At First Alliance Church there is a custom of choosing a “word” for each year. The intent, as I understand, is to provide a focus for prayers and thoughts as we go through the year. This year the word for FAC is POSSIBILITIES. Each person in the congregation is also encouraged to choose a word for themselves. I have participated in this exercise each year and this year is no exception. My word for 2014 is RECONCILIATION. Reconciliation has been on mind for a quite some time.

…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 corinthians 5

A Goal to Guide Blogging

Richard Beck, who I read regularily and have come to appreciate recenty wrote about blogging and expressed some very thoughtful observations and advice on blogging. I intend to adopt his goal “to use social media sacramentally. To be a sign, a sign of life and grace.”. The full post follows:

 

I can’t fix it or make it go away. I can’t change the world. I’m not the Messiah. But I can be a sacrament. I can be sign of love, a sign of life. I can be a friend. In a cruel and inhumane world I can be a location of kindness.

I wonder if something similar might be necessary for social media.

I don’t think I can change people’s minds. I really don’t. I don’t think people are all that persuadable. So trying to persuade people is sort of like trying to address world poverty with your own checking account. If the poor will always be with us so will dogmatists. Myself included.

So I’m wondering, as I’m learning with issues like poverty, if we might learn to Tweet and blog sacramentally. The goal isn’t to argue, debate, call out or “win.” Because that game, as best I can tell, isn’t winable. Minds don’t change on social media. I’ve never seen it.

The goal is to use social media sacramentally. To be a sign, a sign of life and grace.

Looking back, my blog has been at its best when it has been sacramental. I wrote a post that told a story about love and grace. I shared something that educated, shed some light, inspired thought or reflection.

True, sacramental isn’t all that viral. But maybe it could be. Slowly and quietly. A flicker here and a flicker there. Signs and sacraments. Eventually. Everywhere.

Maybe that’s the way the world changes.

Cold Front

Shortly after we arrived in Florida Ann and I drove to Casperian Beach near Venice to see what it was like. While we were there we witnessed a dramatic scene as a powerful cold front moved across the gulf. I took this sequence of photos within just a few minutes. This was the same cold front that was sweeping across the entire eastern US and created record low temperatures.

Florida in January

For the first time in four years we have returned to Florida for a respite from the winter weather in Kentucky. Although it has been relatively cold in Kentucky, it hasn’t been anywhere close to what many have/are experiencing. I am thankful for this time. We arrived in Venice on New Year’s Day and found the house we rented to be very nice. Ann and I spent some time yesterday riding around and visiting some of the areas we enjoyed for seven years prior to our four year hiatus. It seems that not much has changed. It is apparent that the economy has picked up as evidenced by construction activity. There are several friends we look forward to visiting with. Hopefully do some fishing, visit art shows, take in a few movies and read a lot.

We watched a shark being caught on the Venice Pier. Here is a video. Lots of fun.

I am looking forward to doing a bit more blogging during our stay.

Why Do the Elderly Struggle With Meaning and Purpose in Their Lives?

As an elderly person, I often think about and strive to find the meaning and purpose of a life that is increasingly useless (relative to my younger years). I hear people who are older bemoan their utter uselessness, even to the point of despair.

Tim Spivey recently pointed out: “If we don’t know why what is broken is broken, we won’t know how to fix it—or keep it from breaking again.” I do not have a solution to this problem but I am trying to understand why so that a solution might be achieved.

I believe the the quotation below from Richard Beck’s blog goes a long way in helping to understand why we elderly struggle with meaning and purpose in our lives.

Darren Fleet (Adbusters, Oct 2013):
Our present age is the final act of the modern obsession with the promise of more.

Within each of us there is also an insatiable thrist for increase and abundance. This is fueled by advertising, propoganda and, increasingly, self-delusion. This internalized graph of progress, one that points exponentially up, governs our relationships, our careers, our sex lives, our friendships, our families, our waist lines, our jobs, our purchasing, our houses, our cars, our travels…everything. According to this way of thinking, satisfaction is a sign of weakness. Poverty is a sign of laziness and ineptitude. Wealth is a sign of attraction and prowess. This new moral compass of modernity, the consciousness of our world today, is dependent on a single paradoxial truth: infinite growth.

More on this subject later.

Fear and Innovation

From Donald Miller’s blog:

Fear is an ally and an indicator of what you have to keep doing in life.

Steven Pressfield sums it up well in his groundbreaking work, The War of Art:

“Self doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself, “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The Counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

Fickles & Fannie

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My all time (at least since i’ve gotten older) favorite cartoon is Pickles. Earl and Opal’s resemblance to Ann and me is uncanny. Some years ago I initiated my Pickles equivalent called Fickles & Fannie (names have been changed to protect the guilty). Since I am not able to draw, I just relate conversations and/or events. The following is the latest Fickles and Fannie adventure.

Fickes and Fannie often sit together on the front porch in the mornings to read their devotionals, enjoy each other’s company and the pleasantness of the morning. A recent morning was particularly nice … cool temperature, gentle breeze, warm sun rays. In a word – perfect. The moment compelled Fickles to consider the beauty of the circumstances and how wonderful life is. Fannie’s presence made it all the more lovely. An opportune time for conversation and strengthening relationships.
Reluctant to intrude on the moment, Fickles silently waited for Fannie to join him in this special opportunity. After a brief period, Fannie broke the silence:
“The dishes in the dishwasher are clean”, she mused.