The nation’s answer

Change comes from the inside out

Where are You, Lord?

It’s hard to see You sometimes. We just had a weekend with two – count ’em, two – mass shootings. As usual, emotions flared on both sides. Control guns. Improve mental health.

Where are You, Lord?

When we focus on our own issues and point words at each other, we miss You. We scream and yell. We blame. We get angry.

We despair, because we’ve seen it before.

Yet mass shootings are like plane crashes, aren’t they, Lord? They are few and far between, but they are dramatic and deadly, so they get the headlines.

Vehicle crashes happen far more often. People commit suicide far more often. People even kill each other, one-on-one, far more often.

Those situations may get a mention in the media, or they may not. They often are not front-page news.

Yet vehicle crashes and suicide affect far more people than mass shootings do.

I personally knew two people who committed suicide, one a few years ago and one about three decades ago. What if I had said something … if I only knew … perhaps …

Are You there, Lord?

You are.

People have reasons for doing things, good and evil.

Taking away the gun may prevent the mass shooting, but would it save the man’s soul? Would it change the trajectory of his life?

Are You there, Lord?

Is there a bigger picture here?

Can we change what we have become?

We can’t legislate that, can we, Lord? That’s what we want to do. Gun control. Improve access to mental health treatment. Let someone else fix it. Create a program that people can avail themselves of to improve their lives.

That will solve the problem, right?

Many mass shooters are loners, quiet people with few friends who stay in the background of life, exploding at the worst possible moment. I saw a report that 26 of the last 27 mass shooters were fatherless.

Is that the trigger, Lord?

We’re all about personal rights now, individuality, non-conformity, breaking the rules, love (my way) … we don’t hold each other accountable anymore.

Not even in our families.

Our broken families.

Or our churches, many of which are no different than society at large.

Where are You, Lord?

If following You doesn’t change us, what’s the point?

If I can believe whatever I want, then why believe anything?

Is there no right and wrong, Lord?

If mass murder is wrong, then what else is wrong?

Who decides?

That’s why we can’t agree on anything, Lord. We have no foundation in our lives anymore. No good vs. evil. That’s all fairy tales.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Cinderella and the Evil Stepsisters. Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Fairy tales.

No respect for authority. No respect for people of a color or ethnicity different than us. No respect for people not born here.

We’re all just visitors on Planet Earth, aren’t we, Lord? We’re not as different as we think we are.

We say hi to our neighbors but we don’t take time to know them.  Some of us move around more than others, so we have to work harder to meet people.

We’d rather do our own thing.

And then we wonder why we can’t get along with each other.

Even if we follow You, Lord, that doesn’t guarantee that we will get it right.

Reading the book of Acts, the early church had just as many issues as the church in America does today. They had to call their leaders together to hash out some very divisive issues.

But they did it, Lord.

And the church grew because they followed You and Your Scriptures. They rejected the belief that “they have to do it our way.”

Why can’t we get this right, Lord?

In Your last prayer on Earth, You prayed for unity among the believers. You knew how crucial that was, and still is.

We blew it, Lord. Again.

Both sides think they have the right answer, but neither does.

Only You do.

Unconditional love is a phrase we don’t hear very often. Not love (my way). Unconditional love.

What You want.

What the other person wants.

Not my will be done …

Who prays that anymore? Truly prays that?

I’ve been involved with a Tuesday morning prayer group for a year now. (See photo above, taken by Jason Russ. Used by permission.) Not that I’m a “prayer warrior” or anything. But we cry out to You.

Imperfectly, because we are imperfect human beings. But we pray.

We ask forgiveness.

We have our wants and needs, and we pray for those, too.

We pray for healing. Our own healing. Our city’s healing. Our nation’s healing.

Again, we pray imperfectly.

But we pray.

Prayer changes not only our city and nation; it also changes us.

One person at a time.

Where are You, Lord?

That’s where You are.

You are just waiting for us, that’s all.

Waiting for us to pray to You.

To seek Your will.

Not my will, but Thy will be done.

On Earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, how we need You now, Lord.

We are lost as a nation. We can’t save ourselves.

We don’t need You as a policymaker, Lord.

We need Your unconditional love.

We know You love each of us that way.

Help us to love each other that way too, to follow Your example.

Nothing else works. We’ve tried.

Oh, how we’ve tried.

I can’t go to Dayton or El Paso and make everything right.

But I can do something right here, right now, right where I live.

Show me, Lord.

Lead me.

What my neighbor does is up to him (or her).

This isn’t rocket science, Lord, but it is radical.

Unconditional love.

Only You, Lord, know what that truly looks like.

Show us, Lord.

Because that’s the only answer than will work in the long run.

‘That is the whole duty of everyone’

The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

So says the wisest person who ever lived, king Solomon. He tried everything: wine, women and song; working hard; seeking pleasure and riches. Nothing satisfied him.

At the end of his days, after he experienced all that life has to offer, he drew the conclusion in this quote.

We still don’t get it, do we?

Solomon doesn’t say that fearing God is the whole duty of the religious, or of a certain nationality or group. No. Every one of us, no matter who we are, must fear God and keep his commandments.

We will be judged. Not by the U.S. Supreme Court, by a fractured Congress or by the court of public opinion. We can argue with our political opponents until we’re all blue in the face, and it means nothing.

Really.

Fear God, and keep his commandments.

That’s it.

That’s what life is all about.

Of course, fleshing that out isn’t as simple as it sounds.

So, how do we do that?

Only one person, in fact, has figured that out.

Since Solomon didn’t get it until it was (almost) too late, let’s look at the life of the one person who understood it right from the start.

One life at a time

That would be Jesus, the sinless one.

His life is explained in the four “gospels” at the beginning of the New Testament. Here’s an overview of Jesus’ adult life as recorded by Matthew, one of his original 12 disciples.

Jesus’ first act was to begin calling future disciples to follow him. He preached to the masses, yes, but he specifically trained a group of only 12 people. Those dozen later changed the world.

As his disciples watched, Jesus preached his most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount, to a big crowd. For example:

 

  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
  • “… everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
  • “… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”
  • “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
  • “… store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
  • “For with the judgment you make you will be judged …”
  • “Beware of false prophets … you will know them by their fruits.”

 

Jesus stepped up our game. Murder is wrong, of course, but so is anger. Adultery is wrong, but so is lust. Stuff like that. Jesus knows our motives, what we think about. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

Next, Jesus proved his authenticity by healing people – a man with leprosy, two demon-possessed men, a paralyzed man, and others.

He spent time with Matthew and his friends. This was a big deal, because Matthew was a hated tax collector. Imagine inviting over your favorite IRS agent who not only collected your taxes but bribed you, taking more than you owe.

Jesus spent more time training his 12 disciples, then sent them out to do cool stuff themselves. He also warned them that they will face persecution because some powerful, influential people will not appreciate them elevating the poor and sick.

If Jesus walked across the United States in the flesh today, he’d give us a similar message, would he not?

A new command I give you …

Then, Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, rest for the soul and the meaning of Sunday (the Sabbath, actually).

Now, Jesus had crossed a line. When he taught that Sabbath is not about following a host of man-made rules, “the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (Mat. 12:14).

Next come a few parables, stories that Jesus told with a moral. He talked about different types of soil, weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a pearl and a fishing net. He used these illustrations to describe the kingdom of heaven and its value.

Then Jesus did a series of miracles – he fed 5,000 men, besides women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish, then walked on water, then healed many people of their illnesses.

Soon after that, three disciples – Peter, James and John – saw Jesus “transfigured” on a mountain, with his glowing heavenly body next to the heavenly bodies of Moses and Elijah. Jesus was a man, yes, but we can’t forget his divinity as well.

In keeping with his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus then taught about several other subjects:

 

  • Marrying a divorced woman is adultery, except for unchastity. (The point: No one is perfect, including a spouse. Understand what that means.)
  • “Let the little children come to me …”
  • “If you are rich, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor; then come, follow me.” (The riches themselves aren’t sin, unless they supersede God, which they did in this particular exchange.)
  • “… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

 

The world doesn’t think like this, much less live like this. Christians are to live differently than the world does.

Why follow Jesus?

Next came Palm Sunday, when Jesus orchestrated his own parade and entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He taught lessons for a few more days, then was arrested, crucified, buried and resurrected.

Why death and resurrection?

Because Jesus knew we couldn’t keep his commandments, as Solomon discovered. Jesus said so in his Sermon on the Mount, too: “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Only when we follow Jesus can our hearts be changed to “fear God and keep his commandments.”

This is a daily struggle, as those of us who follow Jesus know.

That’s what forgiveness is all about. As God forgives us each day, we learn how to forgive each other.

We need to learn what Solomon learned.

But let’s not wait until the end of our lives to figure this out. A changed life equals a changed heart equals a changed society. We need that, certainly.

We need that today.

 

The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

Naming the lie I’ve lived with all my life

I’m not good enough.

Like a broken branch hanging from a tree, I don’t fit in. I’m not connected.

I’ve lived this lie all my life, without even knowing it. I knew something wasn’t right in my heart, but I couldn’t name it.

Until this month.

Let me explain.

The wound is given

I grew up in a Leave-It-To-Beaver home, father-mother-son-daughter. From the outside we were an all-American family. Living in the suburbs. Dad had a good job most of the time (my sister and I were shielded from the tough times – we always were provided for). Good public schools, and a college education.

We made a couple of out-of-state moves, in the middle of my second-grade year and just before ninth grade. Those were hard, moving to a new place where we didn’t know anyone, but that allowed me to keep my façade intact.

I was a loner. No close friends. I was bullied a little bit in junior high because I’m small physically and quiet. I was an easy target and wouldn’t complain. We moved after eighth grade, and that ended.

I knew my parents had my back, but my sister and I received no affection growing up. No encouragement or praise. Little advice. We didn’t take risks, try new things, step out of comfort zones, have people over for dinner, none of that.

My whole life I thought loneliness was my wound, the bleeding in my heart that I could not stop. Satan allowed me to think that, to identify the wrong wound. That way, I’d never heal.

In October I spent two days with Mom and Dad. Just the three of us.

Dad

Dad is 85 and doesn’t expect to live too much longer. His death is not imminent, but he knows the end is coming. Mom turns 82 this week and is very healthy.

“If Mom dies before I do, I’m in trouble,” Dad told me last month.

He’s right. She provides for his every need. As she has every day of their 59-year marriage.

I’ve never heard Mom express an original thought or opinion. When she speaks, it’s often softly so no one will hear her or respond. She stays in the background.

Personality-wise, I am my mom’s son. I rarely will tell you what’s on my mind. (It’s much easier for me to communicate by writing than by speaking. Just sayin’ …)

There are reasons for this. Looking at the upbringing of my parents – ie, my grandparents, on both sides – I see where their personalities come from.

The point: Mom and Dad are who they are. They raised me. They did the best they could. They did a good job.

The wound continues

But this wound …

I told myself I’d break the cycle when I had children. I won’t pass the wound on to them. I knew I had a wound as a child and young adult, even though I couldn’t name it correctly.

But since I had mis-identified the wound and I didn’t have a support system to fight it, I did pass it on to our sons. I see that now. It manifests itself differently in each of them, but it’s there.

Satan tailors our wounds to our weaknesses. My sons may have different wounds than I do. I should ask them about that. I began a conversation about this the other day with my youngest son, and we’ll see where that goes.

My wound affects my marriage, too. We’ve been married 34 years – from the outside, we’ve got a great marriage. And it is great in many ways. But I have not been the husband and father that my family needed – and still need.

Facing my shadow

The week before I visited Mom and Dad, a good friend and I attended a three-day conference in Chicago on inner-city ministry, since the church we attend is starting a campus in an inner-city area of Lorain, Ohio. One of the keynote speakers discussed emotional health. I also attended a workshop he led on the topic.

Then, I bought his book. I’ve started reading it, because I am not an emotionally healthy leader.

Not even close.

The speaker and author, Peter Scazerro, talked about “facing your shadow.” Scazerro put it this way:

 

Everyone has a shadow. So what is it?

Your shadow is the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.

The Emotionally Healthy Leader, page 55

 

Largely unconscious. Yes. Damaged and mostly hidden. Satan wants it that way.

Don’t tell me Satan doesn’t exist. We either give Satan too much credit, or none at all. The spiritual world is very real. You and I both know it, too.

Yes, you do. Even if you won’t acknowledge it out loud, you know that there is a bigger story out there.

We must understand this. Our very lives depend on it.

I’m not exaggerating.

John Eldredge, in his book “Wild at Heart,” has a different name for the “shadow.” He calls it a “wound,” and says most of us get that wound from our fathers.

Naming the wound

The week after I visited Mom and Dad, I attended a four-day retreat based on Eldredge’s book with about 100 men. Eldredge and a couple of his staff led video sessions, followed by personal experiences from a number of leaders of the retreat. That was followed by quiet times across the 80-plus-acre campsite where we could wrestle with God on the topic just discussed.

During one of those quiet times, God named my wound.

I see it in my growing-up years.

I also see it in a couple of jobs I’ve had. I worked for 24 years at The Saginaw (Mich.) News; most of that time I was a copy editor. I loved it there. We were a fantastic team. I was part of a bigger story, helping produce a top-notch daily newspaper that was the talk of the town, literally.

But something happened. The Internet came along, and newspaper management didn’t handle it well. Overnight, we were micromanaged. I’d done the same job for two decades, and I was no longer good enough.

I stopped trying. I gave minimum effort and put in no extra time. My passion disappeared. I survived this way for two years before we were downsized.

I did not handle that period of my life well at all. My wife, especially, suffered severely. We only recently began talking about issues related to that, and I was downsized nine years ago.

traffic 4

My most recent job, as a driver for a day program for adults with developmental disabilities, ended in August. During my exit interview, I discovered a side issue that I didn’t know about. I had been blacklisted as a driver from picking up individuals at two houses around town. At each house, I did something that someone inside the house didn’t like. Instead of giving me the chance to work it out and get it right, I was not allowed to ever return to those homes. The company has a zero tolerance policy for some very minor issues.

When I discovered that, I got angry. I hadn’t felt anger in a long time, and it surprised me that anger came over this issue.

Why?

Because I wasn’t good enough to do my job. I was not allowed to do my job to the best of my ability.

I’m not good enough.

The wrong question

Jesus Himself said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Even Jesus says I’m not good enough, right?

But the story doesn’t end there.

Indeed, that’s the wrong question.

Whether I’m good enough or not is irrelevant. God loves me anyway.

The summer after ninth grade, I attended a church camp in western Pennsylvania. The counselors and other campers – my peers – noticed me and cared about me just because I was there. I didn’t have to do anything to earn their love and respect.

It wasn’t a sermon that won me over, or a good book. It certainly wasn’t a church service. What changed my life? People cared about me, and made it clear that Jesus cared about them – and me – like that too. I wanted what they had. Jesus was it.

I asked Jesus to “save” me from my sins, and He did.

Deception

Immediately, Satan took me out. He kept me focused on my faults and shortcomings, kept me fuzzy about my wound or shadow.

My salvation was not the issue; my effectiveness as a Christian was.

chapel

This battle took place in my heart, in the spiritual realm. This is real life, as real as it gets.

It’s still taking place there.

But naming my wound and allowing God to defeat it gives me the courage to live life the way God wants me to live it. I’ve buried my true feelings for far too long.

God doesn’t care whether I’m good enough or not. He loves me anyway.

He loves you like that, too.

As a journalist, I like to ask questions. Asking the right question yields the best answer.

If you could ask God one question about your own life, what would it be?

Be careful. He just might answer it.

Finding passion in the midst of constant change

Nothing lasts on Earth. Nothing at all.

Is that a good thing?

Depends on your outlook.

If you are adventurous, you like doing new things all the time. You create change. Things that last probably bore you.

If you prefer security, commitment and long-term involvement, then change gets in the way. You might even fear it.

What if change comes, and you wish it wouldn’t?

I’m finding it hard to remain committed to much of anything these days. Maybe I have some secret anger, a restlessness, an insecurity, an impatience with something that keeps me from things that last.

Perhaps it’s none of those things. Perhaps this is just the way life is.

Short-term volunteering

For example, I enjoy mentoring elementary-age students through local schools. Many children these days need a good male role model. If I can help, I enjoy doing that.

Our church in Saginaw, Mich., partnered with the elementary school across the street, and that’s where I first got involved. I showed up at lunchtime and played games with the student, ate lunch with him, and gave him encouragement. Sometimes I helped him with homework that he didn’t finish in the morning.

That lasted a couple of years, until we moved to Rockford, Ill. A month or two after we moved there, I found a reading program through Rockford Public Schools. That winter/spring and the following fall, I spent an hour in a classroom, reading with four students whom the teacher sent to me in 15-minute segments. I assisted them with words they had trouble pronouncing, and I helped with their comprehension – do you understand what you are reading?

We moved away after a year to Elyria, Ohio. I found a lunchtime mentoring program at Midview Schools in nearby Grafton. After a year, that program disappeared and I never heard from the school district again.

So I connected with Greater Cleveland Volunteers, which introduced me to My Mentor My Friend, a lunchtime mentoring program at four elementaries in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  I picked the school on the west side of Cleveland (the other three schools all were on the east side), and mentored three students there in a little more than a year.

Trying to make a difference

My first student there moved away in the summer. My second student, probably a loner like me, seemed uncomfortable with the one-on-one attention and dropped out of the program. My third student also moved away this summer.

That’s the lifestyle of the typical low-income inner-city student. Many live with one parent, or in the case of one of my students, with Grandpa. The parent often rents and moves across town frequently. My last student told me his dad got a job in Arizona, and he was planning to move out there to be with him. Dad said Cleveland was too violent. The student had anger management issues and it wasn’t unusual for him to be on suspension when I showed up to mentor.

Did I make a difference? Only God knows. I will never see the long-term results of any student I have mentored thus far, in any district in any state.

That’s just the way it is.

And now, My Mentor My Friend lost its United Way funding and has ended.

The Cleveland school district might keep the mentoring program going on its own. We’ll see. I’m also looking into another mentoring program in Lorain, which is nearer to my home. Either way, it’s another new start.

Elyria City Schools doesn’t have a mentoring program, a teacher there told me recently, because of the work involved to set up and administer such a program. I get that. When a man wants to work with children, red flags go up, don’t they?

At each school district, I had to pass a background check. In Cleveland, I also faced two interviews, fingerprinting and had to provide references – as intensive as any job interview I’ve had.

A year and a half later, is it all for naught?

Where’s the passion?

I’ve had trouble keeping jobs long-term as well. I had one job that lasted eight weeks. The job in Rockford lasted 14 months. My first job here in Elyria lasted 13 months. My next job lasted 2.5 years, but I got burned out. Without going into details, that job is over too.

I enjoy volunteering in the community. Mentoring, yes, but doing other things as well.

It’s me and God now. I no longer answer to a supervisor.

Will I find work again? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Financially, we are doing well.

And, as I said, I’m burned out. Impatient. Perhaps angry.

I have no home on Earth. I’ve felt that way for a long time.

The Rev. Doug Mater, who is the current pastor of a former church where we worshipped and served, wrote the following in a church newsletter earlier this year:

 

How often do we let our God-given strengths go to waste? We spend so much time trying to overcome our limitations by doing things we are not equipped to do. On the contrary, we should consider our special talents for ministry and focus on doing these things better, asking ourselves if we are trying to do something that we are not equipped to do, just for the sake of thinking I need to be different. …

We must continue to be the best we can at these talents so that others will see us as Christians who care about others and want them to share in the joy that we have in Jesus Christ. So, I ask you to look at your talents and keep practicing them. … Let us excel for God with the talents He has given us for his glory.

 

That’s a great message. Often we focus on our weaknesses and try to get better. Or take a job, any job, just to meet the budget.

Instead, we should emphasize our strengths and do them with passion.

What am I “equipped to do?” Do I have any “special talents?” How can I “excel for God?”

As I face yet another transition in my life, this is a good time to ponder such questions.

The journey continues.

Making enemies inevitable

‘Linda never had one enemy’.

That headline awhile ago in our local paper jumped out at me. Linda was a homicide victim in a robbery gone bad.

The headline (and the story) indicated that she was a friend to everyone she met.

That got me thinking: Is that a goal worth striving for?

I don’t want to antagonize anyone. I’m sure most people don’t. Many of us want to get along with everyone we meet.

Getting the job done

Work is a good place to practice that. The boss hires a variety of people in the same office to do the same or related jobs. We have no choice but to work together. Whether we become best buddies outside of work is irrelevant, really. We depend on each other to get the job done.

Certainly, we shouldn’t make enemies at work. That destroys morale, and makes working together nearly impossible. There are ways to solve disagreements.

Not knowing the full story

We say or do things for a reason. I may not know why you said or did that. Even if I’m upset or angry with you, I don’t know your full story. Perhaps you have a very good reason for your reaction. (Perhaps not. I don’t know.)

But does that mean right and wrong don’t exist? Is there ever a time when making an enemy or two is acceptable?

I never met Linda, so I don’t know her story at all. But if she never made an enemy, I wonder whether she got involved in anything in the community. If she did anything meaningful. Or if she just slid through life being nice, never causing a ripple, never standing up for herself.

Say something, do something

Because if she did share an opinion or take a stand – about nearly anything – she’d make an enemy somewhere along the line.

Common courtesy says don’t discuss politics or religion in public. There’s a reason for that. Many people have strong opinions on either or both of those subjects, and rarely change their minds.

enemies 2

Did Linda have any type of faith, or did she have political views? If so, she must have kept them to herself.

Otherwise, she would have had an enemy or two.

While I try to get along with everyone I meet, I don’t always succeed. I have de-friended a few people on Facebook, and I have been de-friended more than once as well. I de-friend or un-follow people when their politics turns to hatred. A few of you on the very far left or the very far right cross that line.

Do my politics or faith create enemies?

Possibly.

Social issues and faith

My blog page is titled “the liberal conservative.” How’s that for being offensive? I get involved in certain social issues, which is my liberal side. My faith tells me the Bible is the inspired word of God and every word in it is true (not always literal, but true). That’s my conservative side.

They go together.

Jesus was very involved in social issues. He healed people and talked about justice. He gave women more respect than any other man in His time period did.

Jesus also challenged the religious leaders of His day, calling them blind guides and hypocrites for the ways they imposed their own rules, not God’s rules, on their congregations.

Because of that criticism, Jesus made enemies of a few very powerful people. He didn’t intentionally make enemies, but He didn’t back down when confronted with tough issues either. Those powerful people eventually killed Him.

We Christians often forget that. We want a calm, peaceful, placid faith that gets along with everyone.

Hell is a real place. Jesus talked about it.

Mercy requires a decision

Jesus was very much misunderstood, then and today. Everyone faces judgment. Jesus offers mercy to all. Not all of us accept God’s mercy, but it’s available to anyone who is willing to receive it. That was, and still is, His message.

But accepting Jesus’ mercy means we follow His way of life – which is the best life we can possibly have. That means we will have to change our allegiance from the other things we worship.

Many people aren’t willing to do that, and get angry when Jesus and His followers say things like: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

You either believe that or you don’t. There’s no nice guys third option.

No wonder Jesus had enemies. No wonder Christians are being persecuted and killed across the world in record numbers today.

https://www.newsweek.com/christian-persecution-genocide-worse-ever-770462

Do I have enemies? None that want me dead, at least to my knowledge, here in the United States where I live.

But when I say I follow Jesus, I’m also saying that I don’t follow any other religion’s leaders. I’m also supporting a certain lifestyle, instead of other lifestyles. Christianity is true, and other religions aren’t. There’s no middle ground. (Other religions don’t leave room for Christianity either if you truly follow one of them, so it works both ways.)

Take a stand

When the headline says ‘Linda never had one enemy’, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. That tells me she never took a stand for anything meaningful.

If we stand up for something – anything – we will make enemies. Do you support the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo? Other people don’t. Do you support spanking children? Many people oppose you. Do you support how your local government spends its budget? Not everyone does.

We must pick our battles. Some people fight too many battles – they oppose every issue that comes up, it seems. I ignore them, for the most part. They aren’t credible.

Think through an issue before you take a stand. Tell me why you oppose it. Or support it.

If I disagree, at least I will respect you for your thoughtfulness and thoroughness. And you will force me to think the issue through to defend my stance.

If we engage with life at all, we will have enemies. That’s pretty much a given.

Don’t let that discourage you.

Stand up for what you believe in.

But again, pick your battles. Don’t fight all your enemies. Many of them aren’t worth the effort.

Daydreams, aggression and creativity: They are linked

I daydream a lot. Always have.

Most of the time, I play the hero in my dreams. When baseball season starts, I’m the star pitcher or the batter who gets the big hit to win the World Series. I’m the defensive back who busts up a wide-open play by the offense. I’m a war hero in a battle for the Middle East. I’m the dad in a big multi-cultural family who helps rescue kids from horrible environments.

I’m just a big kid, aren’t I?

I don’t know any other adults who dream like that. Of course, I’ve never had an “adult” conversation about daydreams with anyone.

I’ve never asked. Probably because it seems so silly.

Maybe that’s the point.

We take ourselves far too seriously.

Never happy

Look at all the troubles that fill the 6 o’clock news and the front page of the local newspaper. School shootings. Tariffs penalizing people trying to make a living (in other countries, true). Scandals in sports. Scandals in politics. Abortion. Sex everywhere, of all types, including harassment. Road rage.

We’re not happy with our jobs. Our spouses. Our roads. Our neighbors. Ourselves.

And on and on.

We’re always angry and never satisfied.

Will we ever be?

Perhaps we need to take a deep breath, look up, and realize that the world isn’t as bad as we make it out to be.

Or, perhaps it is. Because we make it that way.

Children know

Can we dream of something better? Instead of playing the hero, like I often do, can we dream of a better society?

Are such daydreams real?

Here’s where children can lead us – as long as they haven’t grown up yet.

I began mentoring a 9-year-old boy in Cleveland this week, who said his dad wants to move the family to Arizona because the inner city is too violent.

Wow. I’m sure this 9-year-old has seen things that I can’t fathom.

How is he supposed to dream?

I’ve been involved with an after-school creative problem-solving organization called Destination Imagination (DI) for more than a decade. I’ve been a regional “challenge master” for the Fine Arts challenge for two years now. It’s wonderful to see how creative elementary, middle school and secondary school students can get when solving problems placed before them.

This year, the students had to create a two-act musical that features a “spectacle” – combining two production techniques from a list that includes dance, pantomime, illusion and parody, among others – and design a set change into the 8-minute skit. They had other tasks to perform as well during their presentation.

The challenges – DI offers eight of them, with Fine Arts being only one – were announced last summer. Teams formed last fall, and students worked on their solutions for months.

The students dreamed up all kinds of solutions. They worked as a team to come up with the best skit they could.

Our regional tournament was last weekend, with the most creative teams earning the right to compete at the state level in three weeks. The national, actually global, finals are in Knoxville, Tenn., in late May.

No two solutions were the same. I didn’t get to watch most of the performances, because as the head honcho, I was dealing with logistics, problem-solving (there was very little of this; the event ran smoothly) and handing out scores to the participants.

The props and costumes I saw were awesome. I’m sure the story lines were as well. (I couldn’t share details even if I knew them because other regional tournaments are still being held, and we can’t give away secrets.)

Solutions must be creative

Wouldn’t it be cool if our corporate leaders and politicians could work together like that?

Yelling, screaming and pointing fingers are not options at DI events. Ever. That’s not how you solve problems. Our young people know that.

How did we adults forget?

Where did our creativity go?

The Destination Imagination Facebook page posted this story awhile ago, on helping older children develop a sense of imagination.

https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/50429/how-to-help-older-kids-develop-a-sense-of-imagination

It offers suggestions like tell collaborative stories, try improv (also one of Destination Imagination’s challenges) and lighten up.

Play. Get outside. Dream. Think outside the box. Get creative. Work together.

Releasing aggression

I’ve become too serious myself recently. A thought hit me the other day that might help explain that.

For more than 20 years as an adult, I played slow-pitch softball. For nearly 10 years, I also played Ultimate Frisbee – not in a league or anything, just for fun.

I haven’t done either for five or six years.

I try to walk/jog once or twice a week (with no headphones; I let my mind wander where it wants to go), so I’m still getting some exercise. So, what’s my issue?

I’m a guy. By definition, the male species has aggression. It’s the way we are wired, including extreme introverts like me.

With softball and Ultimate, I threw things. Literally. That’s how I released my emotions.

As an outfielder, I threw that softball as hard as I could into the infield. Sometimes I gave a loud “aaach.” My teammates sometimes asked, “Are you OK?” They though I hurt myself. No, I’m fine. I’m just letting out my aggression on that softball.

Or, I threw a flying disc (Frisbee is a trade name). Sometimes, I threw that disc as hard as I could.

Why do guys play with guns, race cars, take advantage of girls, hack computers and do all sorts of other inappropriate things?

We aren’t allowed to show aggression at all in today’s society. We have to play nice.

But we have to let it out somehow.

Seriously.

A better world

But if we could dream of a better world, a place where we had positive outlets for our aggression, seek creative solutions for problems …

We are all on the same team, really. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

If only we could respect each other, live with each other, work together, celebrate (not criticize) our differences …

That’s a dream worth pursuing.

The future of our country, and our very lives, may be at stake.

And our children just might hold the right keys.

Paddock’s possible motive: loneliness

Stephen Paddock was married previously and currently had a girlfriend. He bought 33 guns in the past year, USA Today says. He was a real estate developer, but his full-time job was gambling. He was wealthy.

Paddock had no apparent ties to any terrorist groups, no political animosity or religious zealotry that might set him off.

So, what made him kill 59 people and injure more than 500 others in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history?

Understanding why

There’s one nugget in there that many people have overlooked, but that may provide an important clue.

As a gambler, according to The Associated Press, “his game of choice was video poker, a relatively solitary pursuit with no dealer and no humans to play against. And while neighbors described Paddock as friendly, he wasn’t close to them.”

Police still have no answers to Paddock’s motive. Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sheriff who has become the face of the investigation, questioned whether anyone would ever truly understand why the shooter did what he did, Yahoo reported.

Even his girlfriend apparently saw no warning signs of the mass shooting.

Perhaps that’s the way Paddock wanted it.

No clues. No warning. No history of hatred or violence.

The sheriff is likely correct. We never will fully understand why.

Loneliness

But it began in his head. His heart left him long ago.

He was a loner.

Even though he had relationships, he kept secrets.

Las Vegas Shooting

Many men keep secrets. We’re good at that. Especially those of us who struggle mightily to share our thoughts and feelings with someone else, even a spouse or close friend. Some of us never figure that out.

I understand loneliness very well.

It’s hard to describe or explain. Loners by definition do not share their deepest thoughts, desires or fears with anyone. When we feel injured or wronged, we internalize our feelings, twisting the pain over and over in our brains, most likely increasing the hurt and convincing ourselves that the person who wronged us had motives that he or she most likely didn’t.

In other words, we make the problem bigger than it really is. But that becomes our reality.

Crossing the line

What pain did Paddock suffer that affected his brain and/or damaged his heart so severely that he buried it?

It may not have been one thing. Perhaps little things just added up over the years, until he crossed a line.

Most loners don’t kill people. We react to internal pain differently than that. I’m sure we hurt the people closest to us by not opening up to them, not sharing our feelings and seeking help or at least a different perspective.

Paddock apparently had anger issues. I saw reports that he berated his girlfriend in public numerous times. Perhaps he was a control freak.

Perhaps he just didn’t know how to relate to a woman.

I wonder how prevalent that is in American society. Probably more so than any of us would care to admit.

Paddock didn’t care about people. He didn’t understand the human soul. If he did, he wouldn’t have destroyed so many.

The answer

How do we overcome loneliness? Can we discover that it’s enjoyable to be around other people?

Many of you won’t understand that question. You do enjoy the company of others. Affection and joy come naturally to you.

I envy you.

Some of us prefer to be alone. Even if we are in a long-term relationship, alone time is valuable to us. That’s not a slight against our significant others; it’s not their fault. Even though that hurts them. Deeply.

So, what’s the answer?

Communication.

Talking about our feelings, wishes and desires.

I know that.

But that doesn’t mean I do it.

It’s not natural. I daresay more men, especially, than we think understand this.

No precedent

I’m 57 years old. I’ve never in my life had an “accountability partner,” someone I can share my deepest secrets with.

Opening my deep heart with a man I trust would cross a line.

This line is worth crossing. Indeed, it’s necessary for inner peace and healing.

I should intentionally step out in faith and do it.

Trust does not come easy, however, when we’ve never done it.

So we continue to hurt ourselves, and we hurt those closest to us.

What was Paddock’s dark secret? Was it the gambling? If so, why did it turn lethal?

Or was it something else, something he never told anyone?

Did he keep a journal? I’m sure the authorities will find it if he did. That’s a place to write our deepest thoughts, yet keep them hidden.

We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings forever. I think we all know that.

Motive

manalay bay

We rent a hotel room, as Paddock did, for a myriad of reasons. Motive isn’t always as obvious as it seems.

My wife and I rented a room in Glendale, Colo., recently. The motel clerk did not know why, nor did she care – as long as we gave her our credit card to pay for it. We were there to visit our son who lives there, certainly a legitimate reason to rent a motel room.

Paddock spent thousands of dollars a day at the casino tied to the hotel where he rented a room last weekend. Over the years he gambled so much at that casino, they gave him the room for free. He was there to gamble, the hotel staff thought, I’m sure. Or, perhaps to see the country music festival, since he requested a room overlooking the venue.

We now know he had a different motive. Even his girlfriend was unaware.

Motive.

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we think the thoughts we think?

We cannot hide

Some of us prefer to keep those answers to ourselves.

But we will get found out.

Even if I hide my thoughts from you, the living God knows everything about me. I cannot hide from Him. That’s why you cannot judge me, but He can. You don’t know my motives. God does.

We may never know Paddock’s true motive. But God does.

Justice will come.

For you and me as well.

Ultimately, we cannot hide. We will get exposed.

Sooner or later.

Sooner is better. Let’s talk.

Disappearing colors: What if?

Imagine discovering that a color has vanished! How would it change a life, a town or a world?

Youthful Destination Imagination participants in the Fine Arts challenge this spring had to answer that question and create an eight-minute skit about it. DI, as it’s called, requires other elements in the skit as well.

It’s awesome to see what elementary, middle school and high school students do with a question like that. As the Region 16 (Cleveland area) challenge master in Ohio for that challenge, I saw some creative solutions. I saw more creativity at the statewide event several weeks later.

Without pilfering any ideas from teams of young people that I saw, I decided to come up with my own answers. What do colors represent? What would life be like if a certain color disappeared?

As with all Destination Imagination challenges, there is no one correct answer. Red, for example, has many “meanings” – danger, anger, blood, courage, sacrifice, a sunset, autumn, lips, heart, passion and energy, to name a few. What does “red” conjure up in your mind and soul?

What might happen if a color vanished, and could we get it back? Here’s a few ideas to stoke the creativity in all of us:

Black

black

Black represents justice, as portrayed in the robes of a judge or clergy.

With no justice, it’s every man and woman for themselves. No laws or morality exist to reign in abusive behavior. There are no such things as right and wrong, because there’s no one to define them, and no respect for anyone who would try to determine them.

To find black, we’d have to discover – before we killed ourselves off – that setting standards higher than ourselves is essential to our survival. There has to be a higher purpose than self-centered idealism. A judge somewhere will have to enforce laws that all of us must follow, whether we agree with them or not, or we will perish as a human race.

Blue

blue

Blue means cold. No cold means no snow. No ice, outside or inside. No cold drinks, only lukewarm sodas or milk.

No refrigerators, since cold doesn’t exist. Meat and dairy have to be eaten as soon as they are processed. They won’t last long enough to buy at the grocery store.

Antarctica disappears. We have one less continent on Earth. And all of the oceans and seas are warm enough to swim in, year-round (even Lake Superior, for my up-north Michigan friends).

No coats needed, or long pants. Every day is warm or hot. Sunburn proliferates, since we can’t put ice on it. No icing a muscle cramp either.

How do we find blue? We discover that the ocean is deep, and it’s cold down there. We’ll draw up that deep water and spread it around Earth, re-creating cold.

Brown

brown

Brown is soil. With no soil, nothing in nature grows. No grass. No flowers. (No weeds.) No trees.

With no plants, we’d have no strawberries, no blueberries, no other colorful fruits and vegetables. Animals would have to eat other animals almost exclusively. They couldn’t hide in the shade of those non-existent trees.

As with blue, we’d have to dig deep to find brown. A deep layer inside Earth would harbor soil, which is dirt down there. When exposed to sunlight and water, dirt would gain the nutrients it needs to become life-giving soil.

Gray

gray

Gray signifies old age. With perpetual youthfulness, we lose everything old age represents – wisdom, experience, long life, discernment, silence at times, patience, perseverance, deep knowledge about any subject.

We would have to learn by our mistakes, over and over, with no wisdom to teach or guide us.

If we survived long enough to see this, we’d discover, for example, that two vehicles colliding head-on frequently causes a fatal crash. So, we’re not going to drive like that, which increases our life span – and our experience and wisdom.

Gold

gold.png

Gold reveals wealth. If no one had wealth, then everyone would have the same standard of living. Wealth is a relative term, which needs poverty to define it. No wealth means no poverty. We all have the same bank accounts.

Which can’t last long, because a creative mind or two will find a way to increase wealth and productivity. Is money a finite resource that can’t expand when someone gains wealth? If so, wealth comes at the expense of people who then become poor.

Green

green

Green represents new growth, especially in springtime, or youth. With no green, we lose all that youth represents: inquisitiveness, energy, enthusiasm, willingness and ability to learn, a body and mind that are still developing.

We would be born “old,” like Adam, which means our values are set and difficult to change, also like Adam. We are already developed, never growing. We can’t handle a second career or move to a new town, because youth teaches us to be pliable, and that ability is gone.

We become experts in our field but can’t learn a new skill, since that requires growth. And we can’t handle change.

To find green, we discover we have ears. We can listen to what others say. By listening, we hear ideas we hadn’t heard before. That’s how we learn a new skill.

And that’s how we become young.

Orange

orange

Orange exudes warmth and happiness. Take those away, and we’re left with indifference and sorrow.

With no happiness, what is there to live for? Life expectancy will plummet. We find no pleasure in anything, only drudgery. Pleasurable things don’t even cross our mind.

To find happiness, we’d have to do something unintentionally that sparks enjoyment in us. A hug, perhaps. A high bowling score. A beautiful painting. A delicious meal.

Pink

pink

Pink reveals femininity. Imagine if there were nothing or no one feminine among us. We’d lose sensitivity to anything, deep feelings, romance, attention to detail, family life, beauty, knowledge of upcoming trials and possible trouble, inner strength, calm in the storm … love. So many things.

Please, God, bring back pink. Help us to see the beautiful strong soft side of life all around us.

Purple

purple

Purple shows off royalty – power, inheritance, lineage, wealth and status. With no royalty, there’s no inherited leadership. Our leaders would have to fight for prominence, since there’s no line of succession. We don’t elect power and status; we forcibly take them. At least, we think we do.

Those of us who are subjects can take them away. Perhaps we just won’t give power and status to a leader we don’t want to follow, and instead follow someone else.

Would we be better off without purple?

Red

red

Red means anger. Wouldn’t a life without anger be wonderful? No screaming at politicians, no teachers’ strikes, no sibling rivalries, no boss-employee charades … we would all get along with each other just fine.

For example, Democrats and Republicans would actually respect each other. They’d listen to each other and, surprise, solve problems.

We could treat each other honestly and respect the outcome, whatever it was.

A world without red, in this scenario, is a good thing.

White

white

White reveals honesty. With no honesty, we wouldn’t trust each other in our families, as drivers on the highway, in the classroom, in our politics or in our friendships. We’d break rules, then lie about it. Why not? Everyone is doing it.

To discover honesty, we’d have to realize that when we lie, we’re hurting ourselves as much as we are others. If I’m not honest with my wife, I can assume she’s not honest with me, if honesty doesn’t exist. What kind of a marriage is that? Either we trust each other or the marriage dies.

Honesty must win.

Yellow

yellow

Yellow represents brightness, sunshine. With no sun, only night remains. All is dark. We can’t see anything, as though we lived in a coal mine; our eyes are useless.

We depend on electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When the electricity goes out – as it surely will on occasion – we can’t see our fingers in front of our faces. We must remain in place until someone fixes the electricity. Hopefully someone has a flashlight that works.

We’d better develop batteries that last a long time.

With no daytime, we’d be tempted to sleep in a lot later than we do now. Our productivity would fall. Our energy level would drop.

To find yellow, we’d have to find a way to let the sunshine penetrate the darkness enveloping Earth. We could invent a huge light that connects the ground with the atmosphere and beyond, providing a way for the sun’s light to connect with our light and make it permanent.