Wisdom from Spiritual Directors

It seems that, most of my adult life I have either been in therapy or had a monthly visit with a spiritual director. They all have been good listeners and on occasion offered good advice and/or bits of wisdom.

 

One of my long running challenges was my relationship with my mother. Marie Johnson in Rochester posed this wise question.  “Geoff, when are you going to love your mother for who she is and not who you want her to be?” That was back in the lates ‘70s. Sadly it seems I am only making progress years later after Mom has died.

 

Fr. Burt Aires was an Episcopal priest. A recovering Alcoholic and support person for others in addiction. I am not an Alcoholic. However, like many others I’m a very compulsive person with addictive tendencies, be it over working or over eating etc. Fr. Burt was an avid sports fan. The best thing he ever said to me was, “Life is not a run up the middle. It’s an end run around the edges.” One other thing has stuck with me. I asked him why people were always walking all over me. And he said, “If you lie down and open your mouth they will shovel in the sh—t.”

 

Marge was a lay woman in Tucson. She was my guide through Ignatian Spiritual exercises. She helped me with my codependency issues and gave me the word “resources” that I might be reminded that everything was not just up to me alone!

 

Pat, also in Tucson, had been a Roman Catholic Nun. She helped me come to face the truth that part of me wished my chronically ill wife would just die and get the struggle over. Of course, that was only a small part but of me. Yet an unacknowledged negative will unconsciously act out in uncontrolled ways. Whereas, once acknowledged can be understood and its power neutralized.

 

In later years my spiritual director/therapist Paul, gave me a new framework to understand my struggle in my relationship with my mother. I came to accept that I am an adult child of a narcissist. Within this framework I was able to set new boundaries with my mother and relate to her more as Marie had suggested.

 

Gary lasted the longest of any counselor. This was true mostly because I didn’t move out of town. He had two main ideas that were repeated many times. The first direction is to make the next right decision with love. The second is to forgive yourself and others for decisions that weren’t so good. Then move back to step one again making as best as one can the next right decision with love.

 

Gary’s Second mantra was to always point to a triangle diagram on his whiteboard. The corners of the triangle are marked with the words persecutor, victim, rescuer. These of course are not positions we should emulate. They are a pattern of behavior and interpersonal drama people with in systems take turns playing. It is a merry-go-round we need to do our best to avoid.

 

Recently I felt it was time to move on to a new spiritual director. Teresa is a retired Methodist minister with whom I have shared ministry in the past. She like all the rest is a good listener. She also has the skill to ask the right questions that get to the heart of the things. This resonates well with me as life seems to be filled with problems to solve and questions to answer.

 

Wisdom from Zig Ziglar

The wisdom of the wise given in short sentences can contain a ton of wisdom.

 

Zig Zilar is perhaps one of the best and most popular speakers on the motivational circuit. He has also offered many inspirational books. Here I just want to talk about one meaningful sentence.

 

Look back with forgiveness, forward with hope, upwards with gratitude, and down with compassion.

 

Look back with forgiveness.

 

The truth is it is near impossible to live in peace in the present, or into the future, while holding unforgiveness about the past. When I find it difficult to forgive others I work to convince myself that it is an act of enlightened self-interest. When I don’t forgive I am usually letting someone else rent space in my mind and my heart for free. It zaps my energy and my joy in life. Also it has been pointed out that the lord’s prayer warns us about unforgiveness. We pray “Forgive us our trust passes as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The implication is the extent to which we forgive is the extent to which we are forgiven.

 

Certainly, there are better reasons to forgive. Jesus prayed to the Father for those who were nailing him to the cross. He said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

 

The result of forgiveness can be very surprising and positive. Today’s enemy might be tomorrow’s ally.

 

Look forward with hope.

 

It’s another way of saying have faith and trust that things will work out. St Paul writes, “All things work together for good for those who trust in the Lord.” Romans 8:28

 

You could also frame this idea with the need for a positive attitude. If you believe the glass is always half empty that is what you will see. Then you fail to realize that half empty it’s just the other side of half full.

 

You might also come to realize that life can have many self-fulfilling prophecies. Many people are their own worst enemies. I had a friend in high school who was so convinced that he was clumsy that he would often literally trip over a line painted on the basketball court. Conversely, many successful athletes practice positive visualization. Before the game, before the crucial shot, before diving off the board, they see a successful outcome in their minds eye.

 

I am written elsewhere about how I was blessed to realize this idea when I was in kindergarten. The juniors in high school came to where we were to sell pencils that had the basketball schedule printed on them. I said to myself then, “when I am a junior I will come and sell pencils here too.” and I did!

Look up with gratitude.

 

In some circles Pollyanna gets a bad rap. Her name has come to equal a naïve view of the world. However, she and her Glad Game have wisdom for us all. An Attitude of Gratitude is a companion to a positive attitude. With it we recognize that much of the positive parts of our lives are grace.

 

Some years ago, while I was on a mission trip to the Philippines my wife attended a church near our home. That summer there had been many burnings at black churches across the south. She decided as a witness of solidarity to attend a rural black church near our home in South Carolina. She had such a positive experience that when I got home she wanted me to go with her one more time. I still had a Sunday off before returning to my regular job. So, we went.

 

We were the only white faces in the congregation. I had worn my closure shirt and so was recognized as a pastor. Their pastor first invited me to visit with him in his office. Then he invited me to read a lesson of my own choosing. Then he invited me to sit with him on the dais in the front. Then he introduced me to the congregation and said “Dr. Schmitt has a few words for us.” As hospitable as this was the greatest part of our visit there came as he gave a pastoral prayer. In it he walked us all through the beginning of our day beginning with when we woke up. He encouraged us to be thankful for everything: that we were still alive, that we could stand up, that we had clothes to wear, but there was water to wash her face, and food for breakfast. By the time he finished he had encouraged us to be grateful for hundreds of things.

 

This reminds me of another congregation earlier in my career. We had a small congregation of poor folk who shared our building in Rochester New York. They had a special service on New Year’s Eve. The main purpose was to share messages of gratitude for the past year. I was struck that many of them were just grateful to have survived.

 

Look down with compassion.

 

One of my off repeated quotations is from Henry David Thoreau. “Most people live lives of quiet desperation.”

 

The motto for Kairos prison ministry is Listen, Listen, Love, Love.  If we will listen with compassion to others we can be of great service to help them unburden some of that desperation. It will give us patience and understanding for the trials and triumphs of others. People in 12 step programs call it, sharing experience, strength, and hope.

 

If we will look down with compassion, we just might we are looking at our own level with an equal. We are looking at another human being, who like us are doing the best they can to get from day today.

 

Awareness, Relatedness, Wholeness

Freshman year of seminary we were all required to take a course called Awareness, Relatedness, Wholeness. It was not academically challenging. It was however so personally challenging that we all rearranged the first letters and called WAR!  It was in this class I first read Carl Jung, learned about Personality Type theory, and pursued my interest in Dreams.

 

Dr. James Ashbrook was our instructor. Though he is now deceased, many of his books are still available from Amazon. In later years he was especially interested in Brain research and its implications for faith. The first book of his that we read at the time was  The Old Me and The New I. Such a topic was the geography of our own personal WARs.

 

“Know thyself” said Plato, among other Greek philosophers. He just didn’t say how difficult it might be. Those in Recovery (that’s another chapter) say “Denial is not  river in Egypt!). There are many tools to help us know ourselves and discover the new I, hiding inside. Personality Type theory provides very helpful tools. 12 Step recovery meetings and program can help us all. Dreams are, as Morton Kelsey called them “God’s forgotten Language.” Whatever the tool, self knowledge is on the path to wisdom and a better life experience.

 

One of the most powerful experiences from our WAR class came in an exercise using our imagination to help us achieve our future goals. We were asked to see ourselves 5 years into the future. I imagined myself walking the halls of the seminary dressed in a clergy “uniform” with a clerical collar.

 

Actually this was not a completely new idea for me. My first experience of it came in Kindergarten. My class was waiting to enter the cafeteria one day when a group of Juniors from the High School arrived. They were there to sell pencils with the Basketball schedule printed on them. It was the privilege each year of the Junior class to have this activity as fund raiser. I vowed to myself that when I was  Junior I would come back and sell pencils. Ten years later I did just that.

 

With these two personal experiences to encourage me, I often use this technique to help motivate myself to reach important goals. It is also a very good way to pray for others. Speak words describing the positive outcome of your prayers.

 

No Free Lunch

Dad was good with kids. He was happy to get right down on the floor and play. As my brother and I got older he took up fishing as a way to share an interest with us. It was my impression, which I appreciate more now than then, that he cared more about time with us than he did about the fishing. There were no bumper stickers saying “a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work!”

 

Dad had a strong work ethic. He was definitely a member of Dan Rather’s “Greatest Generation.” He lived through the depression and fought in WWII. He was probably a workaholic. One of is favorite sayings was “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”  I can’t remember him saying so, however, I also most likely learned from him that “if it seems to good to be true it probably is.”  When others are ready to “buy” every “news” item they read on the Internet or get in an email, I usually take the time to check it out on sites that expose hoaxes.

 

When Dad said, “There is no free lunch.”  He wasn’t just being a pessimist. He knew you might “pay” for things with currencies other than cold hard cash. One early morning when we were going fishing we stopped to rent an aluminum boat. When the man came to the door he recognized my father. He set us up with the boat and said, “just take it there will be no charge.” Later, I asked my Dad,”if there is no free lunch, how did we get the boat.?

 

He replied, “I don’t even know the man’s name. But I see him in the hall at the Plant everyday. I smile and say hello. Small kindnesses are well appreciated! And that is why he is letting us use his boat.

 

Dad also had a sort of weird, off kilter way of looking at the world. I didn’t see it often, but now and then there would be these odd conversations in which he would indicate that some commonly held beliefs might just be arbitrary. He’d ask, for example things like, “is black really black. Could it be white?” Or he would ask riddles that would make me think.

 

There were two Indians going down the river in a canoe: a big Indian and a little Indian. Now the little Indian was the big Indian’s son, but the big Indian wasn’t the little Indian’s father. Who was the big Indian? Answer: his mother of course. Sometimes the obvious is hidden by prejudice. The was a similar riddle involving

A patient and his surgeon. There were not many women surgeons then, and maybe not so many still?

 

Mom shared a plethora of old English folk wisdom, she learned as a child in London. She passed them on to my sister, brother, and me as the occasion called required.

 

A stitch in time saves nine. Let sleeping dogs lie. Once bitten; twice shy. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Out of sight; out of mind. Out of the frying pan; into the fire. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. All that glitters is not gold. More haste, less speed.You can not make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse. If wishes were horses them beggars would ride. It turnips were watches I’d wear one by my side. A penny saved is a penny earned. Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. Cut your coat according to you clothe. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Easy come, easy go better late than never. Look before you leap. A stitch in time saves nine. Well begun is half done.

 

Mom also taught us “common courtesy.” We learned “please and thank you. Excuse me, and May I “. She also taught me to open doors for women and the elderly and to escort a woman on the street side of a sidewalk.

 

Scouting Wisdom

On my honor I will do my best

To do my duty to God and my country

and to obey the Scout Law;

To help other people at all times;

To keep myself physically strong,

mentally awake, and morally straight.

 

In many ways The Boy Scouts of America have become whipping boys for the “politically correct.” However I shall always be very grateful for my experience in the Scouting Program. I internalized their teachings for building moral character and effective leadership and gained a variety of other lessons along the way.

 

One of the most important lessons was how to step by step progress towards an important long range goal. As a lowly Bobcat working on my first achievement the high rank of Eagle Scout was a long way off. Yet step by step I climbed that ladder until I reached the reward.

 

A recent study determined

“In sum, when compared to Scouts and non-Scouts, Eagle Scouts exhibit significantly higher levels of health and recreation, connection, service and leadership, environmental stewardship, goal orientation, planning and preparedness, and character.”

 

Over the years I meditated upon the character traits of a Scout. A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

 

I remember singing this closing song at the end of campfires.

Softly falls the light of day

As our campfire fades away

Silently each Scout should ask

Have I done my daily task?

Have I kept my honor bright?

Can I guiltless sleep tonight?

Have I done and have I dared

Everything to e prepared?

 

At the other end of the day, at the end of breakfast at Camp we had The Scout Master’s minute. I remember this one. It challenges me most everyday. “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

 

As you may guess it takes a lot a merit badges to earn the Eagle Award. Thus I gained much knowledge and related wisdom for all of those short courses. From fire safety, to first aid and home repairs I learned life time skills and caution. I learned about government in the three badges of citizenship. I learned survival skills on land and water. The list is almost endless.

 

 

There were other lessons to be learned in Scouts that were not part of the official curriculum. At the end of each week at summer camp one boy was chosen to be Honor Camper of the week. The selection was made taking input from everyone, adults, camp staff, and campers. One year when I was about 16 I thought this was going to be my week to win the honor. I was sorely disappointed. The following summer ,I was able to relax, enjoy myself, and time with others. I no longer felt I “deserved” or “earned” the honor. I was genuinely surprised when I was recognized as Honor Camper for the week and offered a counseling job for the rest of the summer.

 

Scouts also gave me the wisdom of men, both volunteers and paid Scout executives. One summer we had a particularly nasty problem at camp. New latrines had been built with large cinder block lined tanks. Unfortunately one was positioned poorly so that it flooded during a heavy rain. We manually dug down the down hill side and tapped a hole in the side so the water and human waste could spill out. Roy Clark, proud to be an exMarine jumped in the hole to make the final tap saying he would not ask any of his “men” to do what he was not willing to do himself!

 

Cub Scouting also gave me an enduring appreciation of skilled labor. Our Den took many field trips to visit people at work. I especially remember trips to a broom factory, a dairy farm, and a fire tower. From the bustle of the barn to the lonely lookout high above the trees I came to appreciate the men and women who provide us with goods and watch over our safety. It takes all kinds of jobs and all kinds of hard working people to keep society humming along.

 

No discussion of the lessons of Scouting would be complete with out the motto: Be Prepared. Have I been caught unawares and unprepared? Sure! It seems that all business at the Department of Motor Vehicles involve at least two trips, if not four! However, more than less, from disaster preparedness, to first aid and home remedy supplies, to packing for vacation I am prepared!

 

The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms: The famous family therapist Virginia Satir, affectionately known as the “Mother of Family Therapy” has given us many great contributions to our understanding and healing of family systems. Below are what she termed the Five Freedoms, which I love! I think if we can foster these simple, essential, but sadly not the norm, principles into our relationships with our self and those close to us, it really helps to maintain peace and harmony and healthy conflict resolution in the family.

The freedom to see and hear (perceive) what is here and now, rather than what was, will be or should be.

The freedom to think what one thinks, rather than what one should think.

The freedom to feel what one feels, rather than what one should feel.

The freedom to want (desire) and to choose what one wants, rather than what one should want.

And the freedom to imagine one’s own self-actualization, rather than playing a rigid role or always playing it safe. (The freedom to take risks in one’s own behalf instead of choosing to be secure and always play it safe.)

“John Bradshaw, On The Family”

I’m sure John Bradshaw had a lot more to say in that book. I read it and another, Healing the Shame that Binds You. However, in the category of wisdom I value enough to share, I share what he too shared from his mentor: The Five Freedoms.

The Freedom to Perceive: it seems so obvious and yet we are often influenced by our past, our preconceived notions, our biases, our fears, our hopes. What we perceive may indeed be wrong. One thing I perceive is truth in humor. I live in Louisiana and here they tell Boudreaux jokes.

Pastor Boudreaux and Pastor Tibideaux were out front of the church putting up a sign that said, “The End Be Near, Turn Round Before it Be too Late.” A city slicker drove by. Seeing the sign he shook his fist at the pastors and drove on. Soon there was the loud sound of a crash. Pastor Tibideaux said, “Maybe the sign should just say ‘Bridge Be Out!”

These days there is a lot of trouble coming from the common experience of profiling. Black men are assumed to be thugs, white policemen assumed to be prejudiced and trigger happy. We may be free to perceive what we perceive, but it doesn’t follow that we are always correct.

The flip side is the Mother of Invention, “thinking outside the box” is the creativity of perceiving what others cannot. So, it is both OK to see no way out and feel stuck AND to keep looking for new possibilities.

In KAIROS prison ministry the motto is Listen, Listen, Love, Love. Volunteers avoid theological debates and encourage participants to express themselves; whatever the subject. When a person is incarcerated the basic freedom of perception is very important.

.

 

Lists to Live By

I have noticed over time and seems to be even more true the case that many people today have not learned many of the time-tested habits that make life better for them and those with whom they share life. Thus I have decided to share those pieces of wisdom I have learned and somewhat foolishly thought that everybody must know and practice. These are lists to live by.

As a Christian pastor number one on the lists to live by would be the two great commandments that Jesus taught. Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. I suppose in these days when secularism is on the rise and even perhaps held by a majority that these might not find favor. However, love is a primary value for most people.

In the same vein is another teaching of Jesus and perhaps of other religions in some form or another. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It may be that these few laws are enough. However it seems that most people need some more specifics to get the point.

The following set of “rules” comes from an old Ann Landers column and found in variations across the internet.

Another more challenging list of rules is called “Do it anyway.” First printed by Kent Kieth and later abridges and made popular by Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

Much of what I learned to help me get along in life was taught me in the Boy Scout program. I still live by the motto “be prepared”. I can still easily recite the 12 scout laws. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. We were also taught to “do a good deed daily.”

The Boy Scouts also taught me to make a regular self examination of my actions. At the end of campfires we would sing these words:

Softly Falls the light of day as our campfire fades away silently each scout should ask have I done my daily task? Have I kept my honor bright?  Can I guiltless sleep tonight? Have I done and have I dared, everything to be prepared?

There are other, obvious to me, directives. I am sure I learned them from my mother. Say please and thank you. Respect your elders and those in authority. Help those less fortunate than yourself. Wait your turn. Hold the door for someone whose hands are full. Speak when spoken to and be quiet when others are talking and do not interrupt. Respect other people’s property and personal space.

Along the same lines are the things they tell you before you watch a movie in a theater. Silence your phone. I suppose we might just add avoid being rude. However my premise at this point is that many people don’t know they are being rude.

Relationships

“Can’t we all just get along.”

These famous words are from Rodney King whose run in with the police led to one off the worst riots in our nation’s history. Like the trite answer to the beauty queen question, “What do you wish for? – answer – “World Peace.” reflect our common yearning to have better relationships with the many people in our lives.

There are indeed many different people and many different kinds of relationships. We are related to family, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers. We interact with sales associates, waiters, and bank tellers. We may come in contact with policemen, lawyers, guards, and service men. We must get along with supervisors, bosses, contractors, and customers. We have acquaintances, companions, and friends. We have lovers, and spouses. Some of us have significant others and some just exes.

In all of these relationships there are common qualities of character and common positive behaviors that can help us get along and bring more peace to our little piece of the world. With just a little bit of effort and a moderate amount of give and take all of our relationships can be more pleasant for us and help create a more positive home, neighborhood, workplace and world in general.

This is not rocket science. Nor do you need to be Dear Abby, nor Dr. Phil to acquire the relationship skills necessary for interpersonal success. Common sense and common courtesy will count for much, as will a measure of common knowledge passed down from ages past.

I am sure you have heard of the Golden Rule. Recently the guys from Car Talk shared a Sunday School childhood misunderstanding of this bit of wisdom. “Do one to others before they do one to you.” This is a humorous completely opposite rendition of the correct application of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This advice fits all of our relationships. It fits the common courtesies at home regarding cleaning up after yourself. It is equally appropriate for those frequent opportunities to be kind to fellow motorists in traffic. There would be much less road rage if more drivers kept this directive in mind.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Another common piece of wisdom comes from a variety of sources. I learned it as coming from Native American traditions. “Before you judge your brother, walk a mile in his moccasins.” In other words, understanding is more helpful than judging.

There are people who seem to “rub us the wrong way.” There are others whom we seem destined to irritate as well. For these and many other relationships the phrase, “kill them with kindness” comes to mind. Remember this. It is almost always mostly about them and not you in the first place. Try not to be too self-centered. A little kindness in the face of adversity goes a very long way. Be helpful here. Be thoughtful now and then. Remember their birthday. Ask about their children. Hold the door open. It all adds up to a more positive relationship.

In the same way remember this little nugget of wisdom. “If you want a smile give them one of yours.” As the saying goes, “Try it you’ll like it.” It seems to almost be a reflex action. Studies have shown that our emotions are tied to our facial expressions. We express what we feel. However, by changing our face we can positively change what we feel as well. It’s part of how “method acting” works. So, get into the role and follow that other piece of common wisdom, “fake it until you make it.”

Here is another more challenging idea. Negative feedback is remembered more clearly and longer than positive. It may be difficult to turn around the negative we receive but we can actively attempt to reverse the negative we dish out. Studies have suggested that it can take as many as 20 to 25 positives make up for the negative. So, if you hear yourself saying “I was only kidding.” know that you have another 20 to 25 positive things to share with that person to make up for the hurt you may have done.

It can be very helpful, and everyone should memorize these three very important sentences.

I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

Unfortunately, few people know and use these words. However, no matter how positive we try to be we all make mistakes. We all have times of weakness, and frustration that lead us to hurt others. These simple sentences can make all the difference. It is best is you really mean it but fake it ’till you make it” works too!

Certainly, relationships are more complex than these few pieces of advice can cover. However, if you begin to apply them you will find a marked improvement in your life and the lives of all the people you know. You may not achieve world peace, but there will be much more piece in your life and in your corner of the world.

It’s All About Love: My One Sermon

If you are a non-believer, or sceptic, disenchanted or distrustful; if you have been mistreated or victimized, cheated, or betrayed; fill in the blanks or give your own negative description; then you will find it hard to believe that God is Love and everything good flows from this love. Love can and will conquer, defeat, redeem, restore, complete all that has been broken, lost, wounded, destroyed, or killed!

In one way or another you have asked the age-old question, if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and all loving, then why is their evil in the world? Why does it happen to the least, the lost, the weak, the weary, and why does it happen to me?

For me the beginning of an answer comes from the nature of love itself. If one is to love and be loved there must be free will. If there is no choice involved in affection it is simply not love. Ergo, therefore, watch out here it comes, people, groups, nations and yes even churches, denominations, and worldwide faith communities can choose not to love! We can fail to love out of ignorance, projection, and just plain choose what is evil instead of what is good!

However, in small and large ways people do choose to love. Even if divorce rates are high couples continue to strive to love in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and wealth. Some parents sacrifice, scrimp, and save so their children can thrive and succeed. Some churches do choose to love their neighbors and care for the lame, the lonely, and the lost.

The next part of the answer is that many things in life are neither good nor bad in themselves. The destruction that flows forth is not necessarily an “Act of God”. The Bible tells us Jesus said, “God made the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the bad alike.”

 

When it comes to natural “disasters” there may be evil or bad choices that may cause disproportionate trouble upon the least, the lowly, the poor and the disenfranchised. It may also fall upon the rich and the proud, who try to mitigate it with better insurance. In my city there are million-dollar homes on the river side of the levee! The foolish man builds his house upon sand. In some cities the poor live below sea level. Hurricanes and floods are no respecter of persons.

By contrast such situations in life are equal opportunities for good and bad. Those with loving hearts step in to help. Those filled with greed and desire for personal gain seek to vandalize, cheat the system, or con and gouge the suffering.

In all things God is love and calls us to be instruments of his love to others.

It is admittedly a difficult step. However, St. Paul urges us to believe “All things work together for good for those who trust in The Lord.” This is not just a late New Testament idea. We find it also in the very first book of the Bible. It is in the story of Joseph told in the book of Genesis. Joseph falls out with his brothers and is sold into slavery. Though he succeeds at many things, his situation seems to go from bad to worse until by a turn of events he becomes second only to Pharaoh in the government of Egypt. When he has an opportunity to punish his brothers for their treachery he says instead, “You intended to harm me, but God meant it for good.”

Therefore, when evil or bad things happen to us it is not helpful to ask why? There are only two answers, and neither is particularly helpful. They are “because” and “why not?” The better question is “How then do I now live in love?”

So back to the beginning. God is love and he created a good world. This is the message in the beginning of the Bible. It is not so important to believe God created the world in 6 days. Rather it is important to believe He created it good! As you read Genesis chapter one, notice that at the end of each day of creation it says, “and it was good.”

 

Now fast forward to the well-known verse, John 3:16. ” God so loved the world….” For now, don’t think about the rest of the verse. Just concentrate on the beginning. It is all about God’s love. “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us…” I John 4:10. It’s the bumper sticker, “God doesn’t make junk!” Yet we find it so hard to believe.

In the Old Testament and for many people today the quest seems to be how to gain God’s favor and blessings. There were sacrifices to atone for sin. There were tribute offerings we might consider as paying taxes to God. There were communal offerings so that God would share a meal and come close to the believer. There were offerings to plead for help as though one might bargain for God’s assistance.

Regardless of church teaching, people today have similar ideas. People think God is most interested in punishing sin. The roof would fall in if I came to church. We think we can bargain with God. I’ll do this God, if you’ll do that. Let me be sick and heal my child. So, it goes. Faithful people miss the whole point of God’s love.

The most difficult of Jesus’ teaching concerns the nature and character of God. God, he tells us is a loving father. That is like an Abba, which would better be translated as Daddy. Can you pray, “Our Daddy who art in Heaven…”? He also tells us that good fathers know how to do good things for their children and then asks (or tells), “How much more does your heavenly Daddy love you!” Yes, God loves us. He is more eager to be in relationship with us than we are with Him. Jesus told several parables about the lost; the lost coin, sheep, and the lost son. The message for us is this: when we feel distant from God, He is looking for us!

Okay, so you find this hard to believe. The Bible covers this too. Consider the story of Job. He was a righteous man who had done nothing wrong. When a multitude of misfortune comes to him his “friends” are sure that he must have sinned in some way. They urge him to give in, to confess, to seek Gods mercy. Instead Job takes on the Almighty and demands justice. I will admit that god doesn’t seem all that loving when he reveals himself to Job. Yet, the outcome is that Job’s fortunes are restored to him and more. There is a Broadway Show called “Your Arms Are Too Short to Box with God.” To me this means God can handle our negative feelings. Like an earthly Daddy He is not harmed or angry with the temper tantrums of His children. Like a loving Daddy He will let us now who is the parent yet pour out His blessings upon us. When the Bible tells us to “fear The Lord” it is more a matter of respect for His power than an anxiety that God is out to get you.

When we observe Jesus in his relationship with some people it appears he thinks it important for people to be strong and determined. He challenges the woman at the well. He confronts the foreign woman who has faith in just a crumb of his blessing. He admires the Roman Centurion who has respect for the power of his Kingdom. He responds positively to friends who tear up a roof and a prostitute who washes his feet with her tears. He recognizes the faith of a despised collaborator who climbs a tree and a leper who stops to give thanks. He appreciates the hutzpah of a woman who pushes through a crowd and another who pours oil on his head. The love of God is unconditional, yet He looks to us to approach with a strong confidence (faith) in His Love.

What then does God want of us? Jesus puts it this way. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you neighbor as yourself.”

These are called The Great Commandments. However, remember where we began, talking about love. If love is truly to be love it cannot be commanded. It must be freely given. In another place Jesus says, “Freely you have received, freely give.” We read this also in I John 4:11 “Dear friends, since God loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Although the characters never go to church or even mention God, the movie Pay It Forward, presents the Gospel in a most convincing way. Because we have first been loved we can help others. Rather than just thank those who have helped us we are called to pass the help along to others in need. Jesus goes as far as to say that when we help the least among us it as if we have helped Jesus himself!

So, what about worship? What about prayer?

We don’t worship to get anything from God. We worship because He is “Worthy” of our praise, adoration, and thanksgiving. We worship because of what God has already done and because we have confidence in His providence to aid what is best for us now and in the future. We hold fast to his promise to Isaiah. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Isaiah 29:11.

Many people think that prayer is mostly about getting God to do something for us or for someone we love or to help with some situation that concerns us. There is a scene the movie Shadowlands about C.S. Lewis. His wife is sick with cancer. One of his colleagues chides him asking ” do you hope to change God’s mind with all that prayer?” Lewis replies, “No, I expect him to change me!” Prayer is first a two-way communication between us and God. It goes both ways. It is about a relationship. Like any relationship, it has its ups and down; it has its seasons. God changes our minds and if we read Job, we know we might indeed sometimes change his.

However, when it comes to prayers of intercession and petition where the intent is to get a favorable outcome for a concern; (healing for a loved one, a new job, justice for a people, etc.) then prayer is a cooperative work between us and God. Our prayers make a difference in the outcome, not because we changed God’s mind, but rather because in some mysterious way, God uses the power of our prayer to effect the change to achieve the desired results. Paul goes as far as to suggest we are “co-creators!” Jesus says in the Gospel of John that believers will do even greater things, than he has done. All this is very amazing!

Evangelism is the topic that flows next. Again, many people think that we must do Evangelism out of duty. It’s called The Great Commission. Go and tell the whole word. Yet it is more like the idea of Pay It Forward and Love. If we have received the Good News, if the God who is love has loved into our lives, well just try, and stop me from sharing that Good News!

If Christians could just get this idea of the love of God and love one another down, there could be more unity and harmony among us. No one denomination has the complete truth of the Gospel. No one way of worship is clearly better than another. I doubt that it really matters to God how wet we get when Baptized. I’m sure he doesn’t care if we use Grape Juice or wine; a common cup or a bunch of little glasses. It matters not if our hair is long or short. Our churches can have clear windows or stained glass. We can sing to an organ, a guitar or sit in silence. Just let us be tolerant, cooperative, and Love, one another.

What do we do when realize we have made wrong choices; when we have failed to love?

Failing to love is at the root of sin. Choosing not to love God; not to love others; not to love ourselves; even not to love Creation. In the Bible, the Greek word for sin comes from archery. It means to miss the mark. For the most part, for most of us, it means we were doing our best to love and missed the target. For some it is worse, they are not even trying to love, or their love is terribly misguided. However, for us all, God desires for us to remain in his love.

The pathway back to God’s love, is repentance. Again, the Greek is helpful. It means to make a 180, to turn around. As with His love God is readier to forgive than we are to seek forgiveness. Whenever we become aware of our lack of love, our sin, we need to say to God and our neighbor: I was wrong. I’m sorry. please forgive me.

Likewise, whenever someone sins against us, fails to be loving, we need to be ready to return hurt with forgiveness and love. St. Paul puts it this way., “do not overcome evil, with evil, but with goodness (with love)!”

What is love? How is it experienced? What behaviors reveal a loving heart?

Perhaps the best summary comes from that favorite passage of brides, read at most Christian weddings; I Corinthians 13. The whole chapter is usually read but the most important part is a few verses, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “my first,”

Doesn’t become extremely angry,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end. (The Message)

Another way to understand love is to examine what it is not. The people of PREP Inc. Have studied the behaviors that cause marriage (and other relationships to fail). Acting in these ways is not love. It is not so much that conflict is unloving, rather it is about how we behave when conflict occurs. These are the behaviors to avoid.

ESCALATION keep the conflict small. When you begin arguing over who spilled the milk don’t end up discussing who trashed the whole yard.

NEGATIVE INTERPRETATION This behavior generally stems from a sense insecurity. It happens when we negate what the other says. Even positive things appear to us as negative. He says, “I like that dress.” She thinks, “He didn’t like what I wore yesterday!”

INVALIDATION This is a fancy word for a “Put Down.” To use a more common vernacular, it’s when you “dis” (as in disrespect) someone. It is particularly unloving when done in public in front of others.

PREP Inc also teaches people to avoid projecting their own negativity on others by using a communication technique they call XYZ. Roughly stated this is a communication in which X = your behavior Y = the situation or circumstances and, most importantly, Z = my feelings. When you do X in situations like Y, I feel Z. Likewise, they suggest that to avoid “mind reading” we learn to say, “It seems to me.” It is a gentle, more loving, less accusatory communication. “It seems to me this is a wrong decision on your part.” Is better than, “You’re making a big mistake!”

Walk. A mile…

I recently read a Facebook add for Barnes and Noble. It said, “Walk a mile in my shoes and you’ll end up in a bookstore!” I thought how true for me, even though I mostly buy e- books these days. There is a lot of truth in this common folk saying, be it Barnes and Noble, Native American, or someone else. Sharing experience is a key to loving. This is no less than the idea behind what Christians call The Incarnation. God came to live as one of us, in Jesus, to better know us and that we might better walk with Him! Once again notice this is God moving towards us without expecting something from us first.

We don’t often can literally walk that mile, but we often can do the next best thing: really listen. This is such an important aspect of Love that it is part of the moto for the very successful prison ministry of KAIROS: Listen, Listen, Love, Love. To activity listen without condition is an act of affirming love, it allows us to stand alongside and to understand the other.

A central theme of KAIROS is inviting the incarcerated residents to open the door to friendship with God. True friendship is a relationship of love. My favorite definition of a friend is glad you showed up and has no immediate plans for your improvement. This is another way to express unconditional love. God loves us just as we are. Do you hear the refrain of the old familiar hymn? “Just as I am without one plea…”

However, Jesus calls us to take this love one step further. We are to love not only those who love us, our friends. We are also called to love our neighbors. The persons who live where we live, regardless of stereotypes, gender, sexual preference, politics, etc. He even goes as far as to urge us to love our enemies, even those who persecute us.

Are we then to lie down and be door mats for others in the named love?

Well no and yes. Jesus was an advocate for active nonviolent resistance. For example, when he taught that we should “go an extra mile.” In those days of Roman occupation there was a law that soldiers could enlist a civilian to carry their load for one mile. The law was meant to protect the population from soldiers who would make them carry it much further. Once a person started to carry the load a second mile the balance of power shifted from soldier to civilian!

It is in acts like these that Jesus spoke of taking up our crosses and follow him. When we voluntarily suffer for love’s sake we enter the Kingdom of God.

Love and Creativity

Since God created us to love and be loved, by Him and each other, and since The Bible teaches that He created us in His own image, it therefore follows that our creative acts are also acts of I love. This seems to me to be true regardless of the activity. Painters love their subjects and their medium, be it oil or water color, temper or acrylic. Mechanics love their wrenches as well as they love their machines. Bakers love flour and the cakes they make. Musicians love their instruments and the songs they play. Hopefully there are also people in creation from whom and to whom the creative music, and motors flow.

St. Paul urges us saying “Whatever you do in the Name of Christ. He might just as easily said do in the name of love. There is a great line in the movie Chariots of Fire, when Olympian Eric Little tells a reporter, “When I run it gives Him (God) pleasure.”

This is the God inspired activity of the love of life, be it sport, work, play, or leisure. God who is love, is pleased when we live into our creative potential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geoff’s Writing Content

I have enjoyed writing content for most of my life. It is probably in my DNA. I come from a family of authors. Most notably my Aunt Gladys Schmitt was a famous author in her day. Early on most of my writing was for school assignments. I started wring poetry in high school. My first really big task was a dissertation for my Doctor of Ministry Degree. Later I tackled a Novel about prison. This post includes a link that will take you to my author page on Amazon. There you will find Recipe for a Happy Marraige, Meditations for a New Day and sereral other books. Also I will post here otherwise unpublished poems and stories. Enjoy!

Geoff’s Author’s Page on Amazon