The messenger matters more than the message

“Life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. Not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime. We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.”

Faith takes time

I claim a strong Christian faith, but I’m not one to beat you over the head with it. I’ll probe here and there, make a comment, give you a look, write one or two sentences, engage in a respectful conversation if you’d like, and let it go at that.

My faith is a lifestyle, not just a list of rules and regulations to follow or not follow. So, it (hopefully) permeates most of what I write and how I talk and act, even if I’m not explicitly mentioning God by name.

Planting seeds, Christians like to say. Or, maybe watering seeds that someone else has planted.

God gives the growth. God changes hearts. I do not.

I will not change your mind about anything. I know this.

If I want to plant seeds of change, I must learn how to listen first. Because that’s all I can do: Plant seeds.

The fruit belongs to the living God.

The fruit of mentoring is …

When I connect with a young person through school or church, I’m giving my time, and not much more. In formal mentoring programs, I’ve eaten lunch with a youth for up to a year, perhaps played a game or two that he enjoys. We talk about his life.

I’m not allowed to discuss my faith, unless he brings it up first. That’s OK. I’ll listen to his story, because his story matters – whether I can relate to it or not.

Is that planting seeds of change? I’ll never know, actually. One year with the student, then he’s gone. Or, I’m gone. Or, the program is gone.

I’ve experienced all three scenarios.

One student moved to Arizona after the school year ended to be with his dad. Another time, I accepted a job out of state and had to leave a wonderful situation where I was reading one-on-one with students during class. Twice, the mentoring program itself ended – one with no notice at all, the other with a formal letter.

Did any of those young men gain anything through the time we spent together? Only God knows.

If no one else watered the seeds, or if I didn’t plant deep enough or water enough, perhaps not. But that is in the living God’s hands, not mine.

I donate blood regularly. I never learn who receives my blood; it’s done anonymously. They tell me the process saves lives; I take their word for it. That’s in God’s hands too.

That’s enough for me.

What seeds are you planting?

Societal change

During this time of COVID-19, we are seeing many changes. The virus is a silent killer, pervasive and unseen. It attacks certain people more readily than others, but not uniformly – so it’s impossible to predict who will get sick (and potentially die) and who will escape its effects.

Changes happened literally overnight because of the coronavirus. Schools closed. Businesses were shut down. Nursing homes became de-facto prisons – no one in, no one out. Social distancing became the norm. We wear masks and, in certain situations, gloves.

These changes did not happen slowly. Perhaps that’s why we’ve fought them so much.

Proportionally, the vast majority of us will not die from COVID-19. Or even get sick. But because it’s very contagious, we might be carriers without knowing it.

This is all old news.

We are gradually opening up our country again. It’s not fast enough for some, but we don’t want the virus to spike. Mass gatherings still won’t happen anytime soon.

The next town over just announced their very popular pool won’t open at all this summer. There’s no way to enforce social distancing and keep the pool and surrounding areas clean and sanitized, city leaders said.

The return to normal will take time. We must be patient. Americans have trouble with this. We are a fast-paced, immediate gratification society. We drive fast. We work long hours. We’re all about production and measurable results. We eat on the run, and pay for it with obesity and other health issues. We love our concerts and ballgames.

COVID-19 feeds on all of that.

We are forced to slow down. To be patient. To cook at home. To think of the health of others before ourselves.

I hope we don’t lose these lessons as we ramp up this summer and beyond.

We are seeing the best of our society during these days, and the worst of society too.

We deliver groceries for neighbors. Make and deliver masks. Call, text and/or Zoom with people we can’t visit right now, some of whom we haven’t contacted in quite awhile.

Since this also is a presidential election year, we’ve retreated to our social media platforms and dug in. I have friends on both sides of the political aisle, and I’ve had to un-follow several of them because of the vitriol they keep posting.

Political patience

Progress and change happen slowly. In the political arena, are they happening at all?

I think so, yes.

Extremists run both political parties now. But most Americans live somewhere in the middle. Most of us, I’d say, lean one way or the other, but we’re providing for our families, working and living life in our communities, not basing our day-to-day decisions on the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling or tweet from the President or bill passed by the state Legislature.

Our governments should serve the people, not the other way around. Government, especially at the federal level, these days seems to be about selectively restricting who it serves – keeping immigrants out and reducing welfare programs, while allowing abortion clinics and gun shops to remain open.

Are there seeds of change we can plant politically? Can we learn to get along with each other, despite our differences?

Well, let’s see. I haven’t told you yet who said the quote I began this blog with. Actually, I read it in a book. I didn’t want to tell you right away, because a certain segment of you would dismiss it and not read this blog just because of who wrote it.

The messenger matters more than the message.

That’s how judgmental we’ve become.

Planting seeds of change means listening even to people we think we don’t like. No one on earth is the Devil personified. Truly. There’s good (and evil) in each one of us. You and I included.

I wish we not only understood this, but lived like we understood it.

That quote about progress, change and patience was written by Michelle Obama in her book, “Becoming.” Page 370. If anyone understands those concepts, it’s the former First Lady. She’s lived them, and continues to live them.

Are we listening?

 

Photo: Max Wolf spikes plants in a greenhouse of the August-Heyn gardening school on March 17. Berlin’s oldest gardening school has existed for 100 years. Every year it brings nature closer to about 30,000 children. (The Associated Press)

Majoring in minor issues

My outlook on life is changing a little bit these days.

I’m much more detached when reading or watching the news. Politics, especially at the national level, doesn’t interest me much anymore.

I’d rather deal in real life.

Politics

For those of you who live and die by what the Democrats and/or Republicans do, I’m sure you won’t understand.

As a newspaper journalist for about three decades, I followed politics closely, because it sold papers.

Does it still?

Perhaps that’s one reason why what newspapers print isn’t the talk of the town anymore. Their editorial pages, as they have always done, focus on politics and not much else.

Not even government. Politics.

There’s a difference.

I rarely read any editorial page columns. They are so predictable. They say the same thing every day, using the issue of the day to promote their agenda.

Most of them these days slam President Trump. I get that.

But how many times do you have to say it?

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seemed to have an actual discourse leading to a summit, where they would talk about nuclear weapons, among other things.

The summit apparently fell through.

That was interesting, though.

But decades of mistrust can’t end in a few short weeks.

Maybe someday.

For the most part, the national discourse majors in minor issues.

Is kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games really an issue worth dividing the country over?

Are school shootings really about gun control, or is something deeper at work there?

Do thoughts and prayers actually work? Do they change our outlook on life?

Sex

What’s the point of the #metoo movement, actually? Is it women’s rights, or is there something bigger at work there as well?

We are a sex-crazed society. We are massively messed up, and we all know it.

Exhibit A: #metoo.

Exhibit B: The divorce rate.

Exhibit C: Sex outside of marriage, including among teens, is not only normal, it is expected.

Exhibit D: Pornography is out of control in this country.

Exhibit E: Rape, sexual bondage, date rape …

Exhibit F: Clothing choices. How much cleavage is too much? Only for women, of course.

Exhibit G: Gender identity. Just the fact that we’re talking about this means we don’t know who we are anymore.

I don’t even have to quote statistics. You understand all of this because you experience it, or you know people who do.

But we won’t talk about it.

Not in a way that actually solves anything.

How do we expect to resolve the #metoo movement without talking about the role of sex in society? If sex outside of marriage is normal, why are we surprised when many men (and women) push the limits?

Nearly every song on the radio is about sex, some more blatantly than others. That’s been true for decades. I frequently listen to an oldies’ station that plays songs from my teen years. Talk about politically incorrect …

And yet we still play them. And listen.

Escape

Why are video games so popular? And illegal drugs? And porn?

Those are escapes from real life.

Real life is full of anxiety and stress. We don’t know how to solve real issues. Relationships. School. Jobs.

I’ve done the whole job search thing, and it’s not designed to bring out the best in anyone. It’s not even designed to connect passions with talent with careers. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.

Some people say there’s no jobs out there. I see “now hiring” and “drivers wanted” and “positions available, all shifts” signs all over the place.

On the other end of the spectrum, highly technical jobs go unfilled because not enough of us are trained for them.

Most of us would prefer a job/career somewhere in the middle, something more than minimum wage and something that doesn’t require an advanced degree that we don’t have time for or can’t afford to get.

Are most of us left behind?

Dreams

I mentored a fourth-grade student in inner-city Cleveland this spring. He has no concept of a long-term future. All he thinks about is getting dissed by a classmate, for which he gets in trouble. He lives with his grandfather. His mother and two older sisters also are in Cleveland, but he doesn’t see them often. His dad is in Arizona, and my student hopes to move out there with him this summer. Cleveland is too violent, he says.

People are people wherever you go, I told him.

If he leaves Cleveland, will his life magically get better?

I doubt it.

How does arguing about President Trump’s tweets solve my fourth-grader’s lack of focus and maturity? How can he learn not to respond in anger when things don’t go his way?
His family is broken. His school is trying, but isn’t reaching him. His teacher can do only so much.

He got suspended recently for cussing out the school principal. Seriously.

Seriously?

A good friend of mine is a Big Brother to a teenager in another nearby city. That teen also lives in a broken home. Some days, he doesn’t feel like going to school, so he doesn’t.

Is there no big picture in this life?

No goals to aspire to?

No dreams?

Respect

In the mentoring program I’m involved in, we’re not allowed to talk about politics or religion. Too divisive. Yes, they are.

But is that how we solve problems, by saying that certain subjects are off-limits?

I thought democracy meant all issues are on the table. By discussing, even debating, issues, we understand what’s too radical and what actually works.

We don’t know how to talk issues without talking personality. How can we talk about sex without condemning those who practice sex differently than we do? Can we disagree and still respect each other?

That’s what we’ve lost in this country. Respect.

For teachers. For parents. For the boss. For the mayor. For the police.

For ourselves.

I’m right. You’re wrong. The world revolves around me. I can set whatever rules for my life that I want.

And we wonder why we’re so messed up.

A motorcyclist passed me the other day in a right-turn lane. Another vehicle and I were stopped, waiting for traffic to clear before proceeding on to state Route 57, a 45 mph highway at that point. The motorcyclist passed us in the turn lane and roared onto Route 57 before the other driver and I could move.

So much for “look out for motorcycles.” It goes both ways, you know.

Or, I wish you knew.

Faith

So, what is the big picture? How is my outlook changing?

While I can’t talk about my faith in school (unless my student brings it up first, of course), that’s where the answer lies. Not in your perception of faith, or mine, but in real faith.

In a God who wrote the big picture. Who wants the best for us.

Discipline is good, sometimes. My student doesn’t understand that. Most adults don’t either.

Good parents do understand that. Children need boundaries. If you’ve had children, you know this.

So, why do we think that we don’t need boundaries as adults?

Political boundaries change all the time. You and I think differently, so the boundaries I set may not work for you, and vice versa.

If we don’t like them, we can change them.

Why will we not look up? Put the video games down, look away from the porn, turn off the music. LeBron James and Steven Spielberg make far more money than you and I will ever see, but are they the best role models? Do they have all the answers?

When I talk about faith, I don’t even mean in a pastor or the Pope. Their interpretations of faith aren’t always right, either.

The best role model? Jesus Himself. And we killed Him.

If Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh today, we’d kill Him again. I’m sure of it.

We still don’t get it.

We’re searching for love in all the wrong places.

Haven’t heard that song in awhile.

Pledge a way to revive civility

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

 

Remember that? Many of us “old-timers” recited the Pledge of Allegiance to start our school day.

Students at the Lorain County Joint Vocational School in Oberlin, Ohio, recently began reciting the pledge after not doing so for generations.

The effort is student-led and voluntary. It was a student’s idea to recite the pledge, and that student leads his peers in the recitation each morning.

“Students have been very respectful,” Principal Jill Petitti said in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram of Elyria, Ohio. “For the most part they’ve been participating. I’ve heard multiple people say that they love to start their day this way.”

The student, John Owen, offered this explanation:

“With so much going on in the nation, in news, and even in the NFL, I think the pledge will instill in students that it’s OK to be a patriotic person.”

http://www.chroniclet.com/Local-News/2018/01/25/Pledge-of-Allegiance-starts-morning-at-Lorain-County-JVS.html

What a refreshing story.

Our young people offer a wonderful hope for America’s future.

We adults often focus on the negative:

  • Reciting the pledge must be voluntary so no one gets offended.
  • The words “under God,” added in 1954, violate separation of church and state in the eyes of many.

Students, however, focus on patriotism.

The themes of the pledge are worth pursuing.

Are we indivisible? Do we offer liberty and justice for all?

Indivisible

The ongoing debate in Congress to even pass a budget questions our ability to be indivisible at the moment. Our president is divisive in his tweets – even his own party gets blindsided by his words on occasion.

But it’s not only our political leaders who can’t get along. Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, explains it this way in the current issue of the AARP Bulletin:

 

… the divisions in this country are exacerbated by the fact that so many people get their news from only one source – and sources that have differing viewpoints often don’t even share a common set of facts – which makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion and debate.

 

In that light, are we still one nation? Are we indivisible?

Indivisible means not divisible; not separable into parts; incapable of being divided:

one nation indivisible.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/indivisible

Are we incapable of being divided?

That’s a strong word.

Democrats and Republicans still vote in the same room. Men and women still live and work together. People of differing races and ethnicities work, play and socialize together, to varying degrees.

Despite our differences.

Yes, we are indivisible. We survived a Civil War. We will survive the current divisiveness. And we will be a better country for it.

Liberty

“Liberty,” according to my hard-cover Webster’s dictionary, offers this definition:

  1. The quality or state of being free; (a) the power to do as one pleases (b) freedom from physical restraint (c) freedom from arbitrary or despotic control (d) the positive enjoyment of various social, political or economic rights and privileges (e) the power of choice

“The power to do as one pleases” is not unlimited. Taken to the extreme, that might mean I’ll show up for work whenever I want to. The boss wouldn’t appreciate that because my job wouldn’t get done.

Having said that, we are free to choose our relationships, careers, where we live, how we worship, what we do in our spare time, etc. Much of this we take for granted, even though people in many other countries don’t have these liberties.

We also are free from physical restraints and from arbitrary or despotic control – which is why we are shocked when these liberties are taken away. The couple who tortured their 13 children in California come to mind. Larry Nassar also does. Sickening. These adults violated everything our nation stands for.

And we have the freedom to get involved in whatever social, political or economic causes we choose, or not.

Justice

My dictionary defines “justice” this way:

  1. (a) the maintenance or administration of what is just esp. by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or judgments (b) judge (c) the administration of law esp. the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
  2. (a) the quality of being just, impartial or fair

Google offers this definition:

Just behavior or treatment. A concern for justice, peace and genuine respect for people.

Dictionary.com talks about moral rightness and lawfulness as well.

We debate morals all the time and we can add or delete laws, but “genuine respect for people” should be the guiding principle for how we decide them. We can’t be just, impartial or fair if we do not respect all people.

In public arenas, I don’t see much “genuine respect for people.”

Civility

Jenkins, the AARP CEO, sums it up:

 

Restoring civility to public discourse begins with each of us individually: how we talk to and relate to one another, taking the extra step to understand why a person believes differently than we do, and being able to disagree with one another while still respecting the other person.

 

Are we indivisible, offering liberty and justice to all?

Perhaps we should revive the Pledge of Allegiance, not just in schools, but post it on a wall in workplaces and public spots as well.

It offers a message worth adhering to.