What Separates the Humans…

IMG_20170429_071642_459This is a question that has been asked for centuries. Typically, it is ended with “by the rest of the animals”, but I have a different ending to that age-old question. I would ask, What separates the humans from other humans? 

As it turns out, it can be something as little as a nylon strap.

While flying American’s friendly skies recently, I witnessed what has become a common occurrence. If you’ve traveled via means of the airlines at all, you know what I’m talking about.

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Inspirational Movies & You

I’m a movie buff. I enjoy great drama, exciting action, and a good story. The best movies inspire me to be better, to reach higher, or to look deeper. I’ve watched thousands of movies in my lifetime. Everything from cheesy camp to the greatest classics. I’m familiar with many of the greats. But I need your help.

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I’m leaving Facebook, and not for the reasons you suspect.

It’s a turbulent time in our country. The election. The hatred. The frustration. The protests. Coincidentally, I’m stepping away from Facebook, but it isn’t for the reasons that so many of my other friends are leaving the social media world.

I’ve decided to step off of the Facebook platform and social media in general, not because I’m offended, which I am. Not because people have exhausted me with their non-stop complaints, which they did. Not because people are out of control, which they are. But because I realized how much of my precious time I’m wasting in the virtual world that keeps me from being in touch with the real world. For every hour spent in virtual relationships, I’m missing out on so much time with face-to-face interactions and meaningful encounters.

I’ve been pondering this move for quite some time. It isn’t a spur of the moment decision. But there was a moment today when the decision became clear, when it hit me square in the face. As I walked through the cafeteria today from my table in the back corner I saw that every table had someone who was not engaged with others but instead, looking down, and thumbing their phones, checking email, commenting on Facebook, viewing videos, Twittering and Snapchatting. This is no exaggeration. It was EVERY. SINGLE. TABLE. In fact, I passed one table in which a woman was actually surrounded by people with their phones out while she was reading the newspaper. It didn’t even look real and I nearly went over to congratulate her for the bravery and outlandish behavior.

Nearly nine-years ago a movie named Wall-E came out. It was a big hit. You probably remember it. But I hated the movie. One of the most troubling aspects was the image of disengaged humans who were depicted as massive blobs too lazy to walk, with giant cups of some drink in one hand and video screens poised in their pudgy other paw. They were over-fed and over-entertained. In this anesthetized state of ignorance they floated along on reclining chairs, completely disconnected from the reality of their situation.

As I walked through the cafeteria today, I realized we are only a hovering chair away from this pathetic reality.

I want to read from books that have pages. I want to look people in the eye as we meet one another. I want to eat a meal without being interrupted by someone’s social medial emergency. I want to turn off the tube. I want to shut down the screen. I want to escape the pattern we’ve created for ourselves.

And so today, as a first step, I’m leaving Facebook. I’m removing the app from my phone. I’m removing the link from my favorites on my computer. I’m stepping away from the vortex that is social medial.

Of course, I’m not going away entirely. You can still chat with me via Messenger. You can still see my pictures on Instagram. You can text or call. Or, and this is a radical idea, we can meet for coffee or share a meal. We can even go for a walk if you prefer.  We can play cards, work on a puzzle, discuss hard topics like (gasp) politics. You see, it isn’t personal. It’s survival. It isn’t anti-Trump. It’s pro-meaningful life. It isn’t against you. It’s for us. As hard as it is to remember, there was a time before social media. There was a time when we engaged one another in the real world.

That’s my goal and I invite you to join me. Pull your noses away from your screens. Straighten your backs and lift your heads to the beauty that is this world. It’s a site to behold.

Exploring Rome

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The Colosseum.

Our trip to Italy is one I will long remember. It was filled with many wonderful memory-building events, amazing food, sites, sounds and smells. During our short time there we took in the Vatican Museums by night, marveled at the Colosseum, climbed the Spanish Steps, gazed in wonder at the Sistine Chapel, and stood in silent awe at the grandeur of a Sicilian sunrise.

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Sunrise over Catania, Sicily.

It certainly is not hard to consider the idea of history and legacy when in a place like Italy. Reminders of a once grand civilization stand at every corner in the form of broken columns and shattered sculptures. The Romans were a powerful presence in their day. In the height of their glory they built armies that marched across the continent. Of course, now every soldier is long dead and buried. The Romans formed a government that would be a standard of greatness for centuries. But ego and madness resulted in its fall to ruffians and barbarians. They erected magnificent structures to honor their heroes. However,  few remain standing as anything more than tourist destinations and rubble.

 

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An ancient Roman calendar found on the archaeological site of Toarmina.

We went to Italy accomplish more than site-seeing. We went to learn about the refugee crisis happening in the Mediterranean and we learned so much more.

Millions of displaced people are fleeing war, famine, civil unrest. They seek a place of hope and peace. They seek lives of meaning. Young men and women leave everything they own. They leave family and friends. They leave home and country. They travel thousands of miles, traverse the Sahara Desert, board crafts that are generously called boats, travel 300 miles in open seas, in search of a better life; a life of peace. A life of meaning. Desperate men and women do the unthinkable in order to survive.

In a place known for its history, we were challenged by our own legacy. In the face of this global crisis the question is obvious, “What will we do?” What action will we take? Our children’s children’s children will look at this time in history and judge us, not by armies mobilized, policies enacted or monuments built, as each of these turn to dust and fall from memory.

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Walking through ancient archways.

There is no good ending to this story if we do not act. And while our nation ponders a reality show election, while our leaders practice their narcissistic aggrandizement, in truth, while our country sleeps, the world is imploding all around.

We have the opportunity to make our mark in history by leaving a testimony to merciful action, love and compassion to nations scattered, people hurting, a world broken. Will our ancestors live in a world changed by a powerful proclamation of peace or will they shake their heads in wonder at our self-absorption and inaction, and the failure of this generation to change the course of history?

 

 

Bus Stop Stories

20150321_095113When it comes to books, the not-so-classic “Forest Gump” is one of the oddest pieces of literature I’ve ever read. If you are looking for something to read this summer, I do not recommend it…and not just this summer, but ever.

On the other hand, the movie has become a classic; a cultural icon in which the main character engages in many major moments in modern history and includes the now famous lines, “Run, Forest! Run!” and “We go together like peas and carrots.”  And of course everyone’s favorite, “Life is like a box of chocolates…”.

But beyond the pithy sayings, and the journey through time, I enjoyed more than anything else the creative device the film makers use to tell Forest’s tale: As the main character awaits his city bus, he retells his life’s story to every unwitting stranger who shares his bench. It’s a fascinating narrative and if anyone had taken the time to wait the day, they might have heard the entire account. As it was, each person only gets a quick glimpse into Forest’s life and by itself, each section of the fascinating yarn might make no sense at all. However, in total it is a chronicle that illustrates a life of perfect timing, blind luck, high adventure, and faithful dedication to one true love.

I can’t help but wonder how many people in my own life could have shared their entire story, but I climbed into the departing bus before I could hear it all. It’s likely I lost interest part way through and walked away from the story of a lifetime. Is it possible that I heard only the unbelievable portion and failed to grasp the entire moving saga of a life well-lived, a love fully given, a grace perfectly extended?

When is the last time you took the time to listen to a bus stop story all the way to the story-book end?

Time Stands Still

I hIMG_20160407_162050ave a thing for clocks.  You can ask my wife. You can question my daughter. My sons will fill you in on the truth. I love a good clock.

The louder it ticks, the happier I am.

The greater the ring of the chime, the more joy I experience.

Over the years I’ve gathered a coo coo clock from the Black Forest of Germany, and added a beautiful banker’s clock in my office, and my best timepiece is a work shop ticker made from a circular saw blade.

The traditional clocks require attention and maintenance if they are to fulfill their purpose. They need regular winding. They need dusting. In short, they need a little love on a daily basis.

So, you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered the clocks were all stopped. No ticks. No tocks. No magical hourly chimes. The most troubling revelation came when I started counting back the days to when I’d last wound the spring and pulled the chain.  More than a week had passed and the clocks paid the price of my negligence.

Most distressing of all, I realized that my desire to succeed at work, move my job to the next level and prove myself to my company and my co-workers, took every spare minute of my time. Early mornings. Late nights. Weekends. Work and more work. Every spare hour was used to get the job done and yet, there was always more to do and never enough time to get it done.

Ironically, my lack of time resulted in my inability to accurately keep my time keepers functioning fully. And if the clocks on the wall suffered because of my out-of-control work schedule, packed to the rim and painfully full, what else declined in my business and distraction? Did I fail to love my family well, just as I failed to tighten the springs on the Banker’s Clock? Did I fail to listen intently, just as I failed to pull the chain and weight on the coo coo?

My need to make the most of every minute to move my career forward resulted in the loss of the most precious commodity of all: Time dedicated to those things that matter even more.

Today I wound the clocks for the first time in weeks. While I can’t turn back time, or regain that which is lost, I can certainly count every minute moving forward, making the most of every precious and fleeting second that remains.

149.5 and Counting

2015-01-01 09.15.54I’m going to live another 25 years.  This is according to the 2012 CDC Mortality report.  Oh, sure, I realize I could die earlier or later but I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m a fairly average guy.  So, if I stay true to the average, I’ll live to be 76-years-old.  That’s 25 years from February.  I just penciled it in on my Google Calendar and decided to make some plans for the big day.  Specifically, I don’t want to go out with a whimper. I want to go out on top of my game and in top form.

As a result, I’ve decided that I need to get some things in order.  I need to get my life in shape.  I need to get some things done. I wouldn’t call this a “Bucket List” as much as a “Get Your S–t Together List”.  For instance, I can’t imagine being over-weight for the next 25 years.  I want my hair to be just right.  I have so many books that I need to read.  I have things I need to tell my nieces and nephews, my friends, my family.  I have skills I need to perfect and talents I need to hone. I want a tattoo of an otter eating a clam on my left calve.  You know, the important things.  And twenty-five years isn’t that long, so I’d better get busy.

I thought I’d start by making the good things of life an integral part of my being; like eating good cheese, tasting fine wine, appreciating classical music, and understanding The Blue Man Group.  This way, I’ll carry these skills, qualities, and perfected characteristics with me to the grave.

I’ve always heard it takes 30 days to form a habit.  So, given the 25 years remaining in my life, at one habit a month (minus the last month when I’ll be busy dying), that allows for 299 new habits to be formed and in place by the time they put me in the ground.

The problem is that new research (How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Lally, et al) indicates that habit formation isn’t cut and dry.  It can take as little as 18 or as many as 254 days to form a habit.  On average, it takes 66 days to form a habit for most people.  This means that my goal has to be paired down to a mere 149.5 habits acquired before I die.  I’m only going to be half as great as I’d hoped on the day they finally pull the plug.  But that’s okay…I can live with that…actually, I can die with that.

Also, Lally’s research reveals that some habits are easier to put in place than others.  This makes sense.  For instance, if I decided to wear only polyester for the next quarter of a century, I simply need to replace my wardrobe by shopping at GoodWill, requiring only 7 shopping days and a $42.35 investment.  Easy.

However, if I want to learn how to Mountain Yodel as perfectly as Roger Whittaker, we’re looking at many 10’s of hours of practice and some significant financial resources just to get to the Swiss Alps, let alone the cost of Lederhosen.  While I have great aspirations, I’m also a realist; specifically, I realize that the Mountain Yodel thing is nothing more than a pipe dream, even though I’d look great in Lederhosen.  I’ve already started on the polyester wardrobe but this may not take me in the direction I ultimately hope to go (the same with the Blue Man thing).  In short, I need to create realistic goals and work diligently to achieve them.

Therefore, I’ve started a list of important habits to form that will pay big dividends and make my life happy and whole for my remaining 25 years.  So far I have only fifteen items on my list but it’s a work in progress.  Heck, I have 66 days between habits to come up with a few more.  Why rush it?  Here are my first 15:

  • drink 64 oz of water a day
  • Become the crazy uncle that everyone always talks about (start with the hair:  note picture above)
  • read 30 minutes a day
  • solve the problem of world hunger by feeding one person a day (may take longer than 66 days)
  • pray 30 minutes a day
  • write 500 words a day (submit to 12 writing competitions by end of year)
  • eat more fruit
  • work on art 30 minutes a day – learn to paint and draw more than cartoon faces
  • 100 sit ups every morning
  • 20 push ups every morning
  • walk 2 miles every day
  • research recipes and make one amazing type of food a week (Julia Child’s style) – start with banana bread
  • say kind words or nothing at all
  • practice silence & solitude without falling asleep
  • work in the yard every day for 30 minutes

You may have more than 25 years remaining in your life, or you might have fewer.  Either way feel free to join me in adding habits that transform.  Who knows, perhaps if we all strive to be better people before we die (or at the very least becoming the crazy aunt or uncle), we’ll be happier both in the end and along the way.  It’s worth a shot.

Ephesians 1:18 – That You May Know

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,”

If we were honest with one another we would have to admit that there are times when we know things with our head but fail to understand them with our hearts.

We know that eating bad food is bad for us.  But we eat it anyway.

We know the speed limit.  But we drive faster.

We know water is good for us.  But we drink coffee, tea or soda instead.

We know things but we don’t really know.  The knowledge doesn’t bring about a change in our actions, our choices, our life’s direction.  Paul is praying that we will be enlightened that the knowledge in our head because action in our hearts.  Paul is praying that we will know…deep down and for real.  That this knowledge will be more than a mind game:  This knowledge will take root in our heart and change us for all eternity.

Ponder that idea.  Rest on that for a moment.  How would your life be different if you truly knew?  If you were truly enlightened?

Ephesians 1:18 – Eyes

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,”

First, read the entire verse.  Take a look at the direction that Paul is going with this thought.  After you have a sense of Paul’s intent, let’s go back to the beginning and break this great verse down into smaller sections.

As you can see in this first segment, Paul prays for the church in Ephesus that the “eyes of your heart” are enlightened.  Our heart doesn’t possess literal eyes.  The reference here is figurative.  The eyes are the window of our soul, the gateway to our inner beings. It is through the eyes of our heart that we receive enlightenment.  We see God’s hope.

What makes this even more difficult to think through is that phrase is found nowhere else in the New Testament.  In fact, this reference is rather rare to history.  Ovid used this phrase in his work, “Metamorphoses” when speaking of Pythagoras:  “With his mind he approached the gods, though far removed in heaven, and what nature denied to human sight, he drew forth with the eyes of his heart”.

Understanding God is difficult.  Comprehending the fullness of God is a complex proposition.  Our hearts must be informed of the truth.  Light must shine in the darkness before we come to appreciate the hope that is available to us all.

May God enlightenment our hearts when we open wide our eyes in an effort to seek His Grace.

Ephesians 1:17c

“…may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”

Paul is praying to God, continually, so the church in Ephesus will get the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. Don’t we all wish we had more wisdom?  Don’t we all hope for insight into life and its struggles?  We would all benefit from these two things.  We would know what was going to happen before it happened and then have the where-with-all to make the right choice to handle the situation.

If we had these gifts, we could play the lottery and win every time.

Or more importantly, we would know which interstate lane to drive in to move faster or which line at the grocery store to select to ensure an easy check out.

But read the entire verse.  Paul is praying for these things, for this church, for a higher purpose.  Paul’s desire is that God will give the church wisdom and revelation so they will know God better.  They will experience God, discover God, trust God.

If we had true wisdom, if we had true revelation, we would know God in a way we have never known before.

That is Paul’s prayer for the church of Ephesus.  It should be our own prayer for ourselves.

Ephesians 1:17a

“For I always pray…”

Do you?

Paul was always praying.  This is obvious from many scriptures.  It is a primary port of his spiritual journey, his walk with God, his relationship with the Father.

Prayer.  Quiet communication.  Soulful speaking.  Meaningful meditation.  Paul needed this time with the creator.  Paul cherished the opportunities with his Father.  he prioritized his prayer life.

Do you?

Ephesians 1:10

“And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ–everything in heaven and on earth.”

In the 1980’s television show, The A-Team, John “Hannibal” Smith is often heard saying his iconic line just after they complete their mission:  “I love it when a plan comes together.”

To the viewer, the A-Team’s plans weren’t always well thought out or well executed.  But with enough explosives and a van that could really take the heat, they were able to foil the bad guys in the end.

God has a bigger plan.  From the beginning of time, and leading up to the right time, God will make sense of it all.  Everything that has happened in heaven and on earth will make sense.  I suppose this is where we get the notion that everything happens for a reason.  It’s all a part of “God’s Plan”.

But consider for a moment that this might not be the case.  Heresy, I know.  Let’s suppose that my wife wants me to drive to Indianapolis to pick up her dry cleaning.  But along the way, I stop at the barber and get a trim.  Ice cream sounds good so I stop for a one-scoop cone.  Another driver dents my car at a red light.  When I get home and present the dry cleaning to my wife, I fulfilled her original plan but there were a few “extra’s” along the way.

I suspect this is true for God’s plan as well.  I cannot believe in my heart that God made a man homeless, his children hungry, and told him to hold a sign at the corner of 10th street and Illinois just so I can give him a $5 bill.  I cannot believe that God caused an earth quake and killed thousands of people and devastated Haiti in order to prove a point and see how the globe would respond to the crisis.  Did God direct Hitler?  Did Stalin get the thumbs up from the Heavenly Schedule?  No.  It isn’t possible. Of course, God knows all and he sees the bigger picture.  But it is the “extra’s”, a meal that feeds a hungry family, a mission trip to build housing, a evil dictator stopped, that we decide to do.

Look at this verse again and then look at the verses that lead up to it.  The Plan of God isn’t about world history or our daily to-do list.  Instead, it refers back to the previous verses.  From the beginning of heaven and earth, God desired that we would be redeemed.  From the beginning of time, God hoped that we would find his salvation.  In His wisdom, he knew that all the rest was “extra” but these things were central.  This is his plan.  And when that day comes, when we see God face-to-face, that is when the plan comes together.

Ephesians 1:9

“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,”

Here is an interesting thought:  God made known to us the mystery.

How many times have you heard someone say (or perhaps you’ve said yourself), “When I get to Heaven, I’m going to ask God about this…or that…or that other thing...”  There are too many mysteries and we want answers:  Why am I always left with the green M&M’s?  Why does the price of gas go up around holidays?  Why isn’t Season 3 of Downton Abbey available on Hulu Plus?  What is my dog thinking when she chews up my wife’s Chap Stick?  Why can’t my family put the toilet paper roll on so the paper hangs the right direction?

These are good questions, a little shallow but good questions none-the-less.  But Paul isn’t suggesting that these questions and so many more are answered now because of God’s redemption and salvation.  This mystery is a little different, slightly deeper and of more eternal consequence.  You’ll have to save those other questions for a later date.

This is a mystery that is open to those who are club members.  This is a mystery that is available for the in-crowd.  These answers are for those who have their ticket punched and are getting ready to ride the ride of their life.

In short, Paul is stating that the mystery of Salvation was once maintained in heaven alone.  God, in his power and reign, held the keys to heaven.  But now, these keys and the mystery they unlock, is available who all who ask.  It isn’t just for the Angels and Prophets.  It isn’t reserved for the chosen people; the Jews.  This mystery, this love that sets us free and pays our price, is available to any and all who desire to receive it.

Ask and it shall be given.

Knock and the door will be opened.

Seek and you will find.

Yes.  That mystery.  No longer hidden from view, God, through Jesus’ sacrifice has handed you the key to the greatest mystery of all.

Galatians 5:22 – Fruit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

The fruit of the Spirit…this is something to think about.  Fruits serve two primary functions: 1. They carry the seeds of future generations and 2.  They provide nutrition.

Fruit, by design, is desirable.  Think of apples, strawberries, oranges, grapes…these are fruit that encourage the eater to partake of the flesh of the berry and discard the seeds, thus planting more fruit.

Some birding books encourage you to plant your own hedge row simply by stringing a wire across broken soil.  Birds who have eaten fruit will land on the wire and as they do what birds do best, the seeds will drop into the soil and will plant themselves for a future crop of berries or bushes.

The Fruit of the Spirit is no different.  This fruit should be sweet to the taste and encourage replication of the same.  If I love well, then others will desire that love, taste the love and pass it along.  If I provide a place of peace, then others will desire to live in that space and re-create that sense for future followers.

It is a simple concept.  The Spirit grows fruit.  We are to be that fruit.  We are to be the means of spreading the Gospel through our sweetness and the seeds that we plant in others.