I am now posting primarily to HolySmokeOnTheWater.com because its structure is better suited to my rambling interests: theology, Christianity, my opinions, snippets of what I am reading and hearing,… NotesFromTheMargins.wordpress.com is where I put the dialogues I have with people. I will continue to post items addressing Teachable Moments here. Please join me on these other sites. I miss you.
Thank you. Catherine (Kitsy) Stratton.
On January 22, Semalt, a company which scans websites ‘for browsers’ for a fee, scanned my website for free. They took my domain name and added their own stuff and created a new site address and scanned that address.
The scan was then provided to (or commissioned by) someone in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ghana. Shortly after, I was ’email followed’ by half a dozen email subscribers whose addresses consisted of a string of 23 letters. Those followers do not show up in my list of followers and I do not recall the email service used.
With all that is being revealed about how the Russians are posting fake material on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, I am concerned that my accounts are being utilized. This blog post is being linked to both my Twitter and Facebook feeds automatically through WordPress. I was hacked through the WordPress app on my Android phone in 2016; it can be done.
The goal is to confuse and contradict so that we will grow to distrust our news media and even our government structures and institutions…like the democratic voting process. In 2016, I did get confused with all of the contradictions in the news and their efforts were successful; I did not vote.
Even if we must resort to ancient methods of communication, like watching network news shows, reading printed newspapers hand delivered to our door, attending local meetings and talking to each other, checking our sources, and being shrewd and skeptical, keeping our eyes and ears open and holding our opinions close to our chests, we need not be undone. We have been invaded, but invaded countries have resisted and overcome their invaders in the past. We have the better motive, Freedom, on our side.
Last night during Clemson’s heartbreaking loss to Alabama, Jesus reminded me that His followers are not the winners of the world. I railed against that and then was convinced to own the truth of it. My need for Clemson to be victorious has been my one blind spot in my personal crusade to rid myself of attachments and identifications and to complete my journey as a follower of Jesus…the kenotic path to union with God.
Last year, I boldly blogged about my fervent prayers during the National Championship because I felt the world needed to see a football program of coaches and players, who openly give credit for their lives and performance to God, be victorious. My prayers were not for God to favor Clemson but were toward the quarterback Deshaun Watson who seemed cowed by the physical hostility he was receiving from the Alabama defense; I prayed for God’s presence to get through to him…for Deshaun to remember Whose he is and to feel that power. I was not alone in my prayers and Deshaun rallied. Clemson won that game.
Last night, when Alabama was once again making it personal, I tried everything I could think of to influence a win…everything short of making a deal with the devil. But Jesus, in His gentle, tender way, reminded me, “My followers are not the winners of this world.” Dammit.
I was reminded of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where one of the disciples took a sword to fight back the guards who had come to take Jesus to His crucifiction. Jesus corrected the disciple then and He corrected me last night. I argued, “But Jesus, don’t you want the world to see us victorious? Don’t You want to win?” Well, of course He does..just not in that way; that’s not how it works. I need to go back and read the Sermon on the Mount.
I worry about Dabo, too. I knew we (he and I) were in trouble when I saw the video clip of him dribbling grass from his fingers onto the playing field. I recalled how he picked Tulane for his practice field, and why, and the same hotel in New Orleans that he stayed in 25 years ago, and why. Those moves of superstition are no better than my daughter and myself donning every item of Clemson clothing and paraphernalia that we own to “set the mood,” a bit of juju, as one commentator put it.
Dabo is in a very difficult position…one of teaching these young men how to live a Christ-filled, Christ-guided life in a segment of the world where the goal is always to win…regardless. The biggest lesson Dabo has to teach is how to lose…and not just losing gracefully and the lessons to be learned from it, but also why losing self identity and self importance is key to having given your life to following Jesus. For a football coach whose job it is to teach them to win games, that’s tricky. You have to fight to win in order to learn from the loss. Jesus showed us this over and over. Even the Apostle Paul danced the tricky dance of “to lose oneself is Christ” but also to not only run the race but to finish it.
It’s a paradox. You must give your all to attain the goal but go through the ultimate loss at the pinacle to achieve the prize of salvation. It’s twisted but it works. If coached properly, this loss will be a huge gain for those young men…and the coaches. My prayers are with them now.
My prayers are also with me because I see that I have been holding out this need for Clemson to be victorious….holding it separate from everything else in my life that has been damaged or destroyed. I had a friend years ago who gave everything to God, except one area of his life. He lead several AA groups, coached children and adults in TaeKwonDo, but kept his multiple sexual relationships out of his commitment to God. That did not go well for him…or others.
Not only did I realize I was fiercely attached to and idetified with the need for Clemson to win, I found myself deeply hating Alabama’s head coach. Everything about his motives, values, and demeanor has been offensive to me…but I have no buseness hating on anyone !!! (God, forgive me.) Following the guidance of AA, I will pray for Nick Saban to be victorious and also for him to learn of the love of Christ…the love which motivates Dabo Swinney and the Clemson players.
Thankfully, much good came about last night: my daughter dug deep into her own well of wisdom to help me see all of the aspects of my blind spot and to lovingly help me deal with it. She pointed out how the unpalatable tenor of Saban does not necessarily extend to the team; we watched the small interview of the ‘Big Guy’ on the Alabama team who made the unexpected touchdown; his demeanor was just the opposite of Saban’s. Da’Ron Payne was modest, humble, and grateful for having been given the opportunity. Bless him. Perhaps he will be the spark in Saban’s camp that turns Saban’s influence from a cancer to something healing. Maybe. I will pray for that.
Go TIGERS !
I’m torn…not between Clemson and anyone else winning the championship games, but between Clemson remaining special (if not unique) in its culture and other schools incorporating into their own programs what Clemson has had for a long time. Granted, it will take a while for these other schools to completely reform; it starts with recruiting the right sorts: players and coaches. But some schools are at least giving lip service to the change. Nick Saban of Alabama has begun saying the kinds of things Dabo Swinney says all the time; Saban just doesn’t know what he’s saying, yet. By that I mean Saban is intentionally using the same words but there is no deep knowing at the heart level, and you can’t fake the real thing. When Saban gets around to understanding what he is saying, then he needs time to cycle through the seasons to process out the players who were recruited for all the reasons Alabama has been recruiting players. Alabama’s criteria have not been the same as Clemson’s.
I don’t know the whole story, but a Clemson player recently transfered out of the program. I noticed that the story gave some statistics and then enumerated the accomplishments of the player’s father. I suspect this player came into the Clemson program for the wrong reasons. It occurs to me now that most Clemson recruits emphasize the attraction of the strong family feeling among the Clemson coaches, players, and staff. I have also noticed how often the opinion of the player’s mother is key. I suspect that one major criteria in whether Clemson wants a specific recruit or not has to do with how open the young man is to a new strong fatherly influence…which he will definitly be under once working with Dabo Swinney and the other coaches. You will be coached, taught, nurtured, encouraged, but also tested and held accountable. When you emerge from the other end of this journey…this education and training tunnel…you will be a man your mother will be proud of and the world will look up to.
I believe that as long as Clemson is special in this mind-set of selecting those open to the program; training, nurturing, and proving them inside then outside; and encasing the whole thing in love; Clemson will continue to be second to none and victorious to the end. This is business. This is the business that Dabo Swinney is in. This is the business of life and all institutions in the business of preparing young people for life would be wise to line their programs up with what Swinney has built. That includes schools, churches, youth programs, and the military. Commanders in chief, headmasters, scoutmasters, and head coaches should start with the heart and then work with the mind and body, instilling a culture of fierce love and tenacious grit, that does not tolerate indulgences of poor conduct born of fear (racism, abuse, disrespect, hatred,…)
Some aren’t called to such programs…but all could be. All should aspire to be.
So, I’m torn. Part of me wants Clemson to keep its culture unique like a secret..and to always win. The other part of me wants this culture to spread throughout collegiate sports into professional sports and out into the fandoms, neighborhoods, public schools, military, and beyond; all of them will benefit. In many cases, it isn’t possible to be selective in who you bring into a program but it is always possible to be selective in the leadership, instructors, and coaches. And it must always start with the heart.
The unwritten part of the agenda…
They are kept underpaid, so they eat poorly. They are malnourished, so they become weak. They are kept stressed so they fail and become ill. All assistance is removed from reach, so their bodies give out and they die. This is how the problem of ‘them’ is solved…
What is not well grasped is that the mistreatment intensifies and strengthens their inner bond with God… their inner knowledge of God…truly, God’s knowledge of them. Even if Armageddon is brought about as part of the agenda, in the end, who is it that God will not know? Not ‘them.’
“But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.'” (That’s from the gospel of Matthew.)
Then who do you suppose will enhabit the New Earth?
So many Christians are real Scrooges about Christmas…expressing a great deal of rancor and nastiness because Christmas is not celebrated in the way they think it ought to be. Well, guess what…they are wrong to do so.
“Christmas is not about a tree! or strings of lights!”
Well, actually, yes it is, partly. The Christmas tree has several ‘roots’ in Christian tradition, one of which is how “the temptation that brought sin into the world hung on a tree (the forbidden fruit), and the act that resulted in salvation from sin (Christ on the cross) hung on a tree. Furthermore, once sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all mankind, were no longer permitted to eat of the tree of life. However, in eternity, Christ’s work on the cross will give us ‘the right to eat of the tree of life’ once again (Revelation 2:7).” (from Traditional Christmas Symbols – Christmas Trees.)
“Well, it’s not about presents, then!”
It most certainly is. While the giving of gifts has obvious roots in Christian tradition, i.e., God’s gift of His Son to the world, I believe there is a much more important reason to preserve the tradition of gift giving: Christ NEVER commanded us to celebrate His birthday; He DID, however, command us to love our neighbor.
(Who is our neighbor? Every one else. EVERY ONE ELSE. Yes, them, too.)
No one quibbles about Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Flag Day. They are important days because without such designated days, most Americans would go their entire lives without pausing to acknowledge their friends, family members, neighbors, much less strangers who have dedicated their careers, limbs, and lives to protect us and sometimes the world, from harm. Having a designated day is a good thing.
By the same token, having a designated day to give to others is also a good thing.
It is often debated as to whether Christ actually said that “it is better to give than to receive,” so I will not use that as an argument…although it would be an easy one. I will say that in order to follow Christ’s command to love others, one would be hard pressed to find a better or simpler way to start doing that, than by giving gifts. Sure, there are flawed motives, resentments, financial burdens that often result but Christ never said “Love your neighbor only if their are no problems or complications involved.” In fact, those problems and complications actually introduce additional opportunities to obey His command: One may readily give gifts to those one appreciates…but what about those one doesn’t particularly like. The process of giving to someone you don’t want to give to is a huge opportunity for healing. Let’s say you resent having to buy a gift for your sister-in-law. Were there no designated day to Do It ANYWAY, you could live out your entire life without having to face the fact that you resent a member of your own family. As it is, your resentment raises its ugly finger once each year…presenting you with the designated day to DEAL WITH IT. Christmas…the designated day to deal with your issues; what a gift from God!
“Christmas has become crass and commericalized”
Has Christmas become crass and commercialized…and we, materialistic? You bet it has…and we have. But that’s easy enough for each of us to step around and over-come. Do not throw the Christ Child out with the sullied bath water.
Christmas as a gift giving occasion is a good thing…a God thing. It forces us to think about each other…what the other person values and appreciates…and gets us in a position to love that person and express that love. Without Christmas, such efforts would be rare, indeed.
So, Christmas: Bah! Humbug?
No. Baa…as in a little lamb. The Lamb of God, that showed us that in stripping away the material obsessions, reactions, judgements, greed,..we can be pure Christ-ness on earth the way He did. God’s gift to the world. Take Him and give Him as a gift to others this Christmas. Pray over your gifts before delivering them or putting them under the tree…praying that the Holy Spirit of Christ go with the gift. Or when you hand someone your gift, point out to them that Jesus showed you how to love and that in celebration of His birth, you want to give them a gift. Feel moved to share your joy.
The giving of gifts at Christmas is a way to obey Christ’s second commandment. Just celebrating His birth is not. Getting grumpy and chastising others for putting up trees, giving gifts, hanging lights, etc. is definitely NOT.
“Everything about Christmas has become so hate-filled and crazy!”
Hey, it’s all good; even the long lines and traffic snarls are ‘God sends.’ Talk about teachable moments! If you were a good Boy Scout, you would thank God for Black Friday because Main Streets and shopping malls during Christmas present abundant opportunities to do many many ‘good turns’…all in one day.
Do you need to feel better about Christmas? Need to feel better about the world and about life? Christmas is Here to the Rescue! Look no further for opportunities to practice love, patience, and kindness: Go shopping!
Two years ago, in January of 2016, I dictated the following into my cell phone. I was in the process of moving from North Carolina, where I had lost my job and was having to vacate my house, walking away from the mortgage, to South Carolina where my brother was letting me move into a vacant 60-year-old house trailer of his:
I’m driving through Travelers Rest, closely watching my gas gauge because I am just about out of gas…the orange empty-tank light is on. I have about a dollar seventy five to my name and I’m making plans. There’s a gas station at the Green River exit on 25 and I’m thinking of offering to clean the bathroom in exchange for two gallons of gas. I’m recording this because I’m thinking about what it’s like to live like this…for the people who live like this every day of their lives, and can’t get out of the downward spiral.
All of my life, when I have come across people who live this way, hand to mouth, I have been skeptical; I have thought that they somehow had a choice and chose to live this way, either because they were lazy, wasteful, and stupid or because they had an entitlement mentality…used to someone bailing them out…so used to social programs that they knew no other way to live. They didn’t seem to know how to take care of themselves.
God was I wrong. I find no satisfaction in this. Yes, I have been wasteful and at times, stupid. But, lately I have exhausted myself in trying to survive, wrestled with ways of working things around to make it through the month, the day, the next hour. And I almost made it. But now I need just a little bit of help. And that is so hard. I believe it takes more strength to hold my head up and survive this…and to ask for help…than it did to work my 9-to-5 government job for 22 years.
I will make it through this. I know I will. I’m having to convince my daughter that she, too, will survive this because she, too, is overdrawn and facing rent day. But I’m also having to teach her that this is a God lesson in humility. This whole scenario is destroying my pride. And that is a good thing…a God thing. To live on the same level with the people who live on the streets or in their cars or in 60 year old house trailers with the floors falling in… it’s a good place to be.
God, forgive me for all those times when I have felt superior to people who have nothing. Forgive me for making them feel bad by looking the other way or not smiling, for not looking them in the eyes, and not offering to help. And for all those empty-headed idiots who say people who live on the street do so because they want to…it makes me…well, it makes me mad enough to cry.
Well, I did it. I stopped at the Green River exit and asked the attendant if I could clean the bathrooms for two gallons of gas. He deferred to the manager. First, she takes her calculator out to figure how much two gallons is going to cost her, asks me where I’m going (Weaverville, NC, is 61 miles from Travelers Rest), and how many miles I get to a gallon (Honda Fit, 34 mpg.). She looks up and tells me she’s already cleaned up and they close in 10 minutes, so, “no.” I wait. She waits back. So I leave, with no gas.
I drove 61 miles on an empty tank, like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again.
I’m now at my daughter’s apartment in Weaverville where it’s warm. But, outside, it is 19 degrees and I’m thinking about the people broken down by the side of the road, or ‘sleeping’ under bridges, or in their cars, or even in shelters. I beg God to bless them, if not in this life then in the next one. And, please, God, if they sleep, let them know in their dreams that someone is sorry–very sorry–that someone cares for them even if there is nothing she can do to help, and that she loves them.
That was two years ago. My life still hovers quite close to the ground but, thanks to my brother, my home is warm and snug…even snuggier than before becasue my daughter now lives with me in this 60-year-old house trailer. Try as I might, it remains a constant battle to stay afloat financially. But we are fine; we are doing okay…okay enough to pay a small token forward. I have put a small amount of money…enough to buy two gallons of gas…in a red envelope with instructions for the gas station attendant to hold onto this envelope until someone comes in, needing just a little bit of gas to get home.
God bless them.
Forgive everyone for everything…including yourself.
Detach from of all of your issues.*
Reacquaint yourself with God.
*What I find helpful is to envision Jesus with a wicker hamper at his feet. As issues come up, I put them in the hamper, say Thank You, and back away. If I find I’m carrying that same issue around with me again, I put it back in the hamper and back away…again. I do it as often as it comes up…seventy times seven times…plus 1, if necessary.
When I find myself carrying on an argument in my head with my boss from 15 years ago, it goes in the hamper and I back away.
If you are being bullied, put it in the hamper and back away.
If you are fearful of tomorrow, put it in the hamper and back away.
If your obsession is to be an actress, put it in the hamper and back away.
If you hate Trump, put it in the hamper and back away.
Tired of being ‘Politically Correct?’ Put it in the hamper and back away.
Seeing a white man with a black woman together makes you angry? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Sick of hearing about billionaires and their tax cuts? Put it in the hamper and back away.
You are Bipolar? Put it in the hamper and back away.
You fear your boss has Bipolar Disorder? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Ashamed that your daughter is pregnant? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Feeling guilty that you are spending money you really don’t have? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Feeling good about meeting your budget and giving to the church? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Want to kill your father for groping you? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Grateful you’re not fat? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Wish you were skinny? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Always thinking about consciousness? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Love that your house is so beautiful? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Hate Coach K? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Afraid you are pregnant and you don’t know whether to be happy or scared? Put it in the hamper and back away.
In constant pain? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Hate the Jews? Put it in the hamper and back away.
In need of forgiveness? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Can’t tell fake news from real news? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Counting on them getting theirs on Judgement Day? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Afraid for your children? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Proud of your accomplishments? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Lost your faith? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Your wife is leaving you? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Dying of cancer? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Wish you had said then what you have been practicing and rehearsing in your mind for the past 10 years? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Obsessed with posting memes that insult Liberals? Put it in the hamper and back away.
Wishing you had a laser to blow the tires out on that damned truck that just cut you off in traffic while the driver flipped you the bird and all you can do is glare because you’re driving a Gremlin and the horn doesn’t work……put it in the hamper and back away.
This does not mean you do not work toward your dreams, stop someone from abusing you, be an activist for the disabled, build your business, or save money for the future. You do the work but you release the anger, the fear, the regret, the urgency, the resentment, the pride, the arrogance,… You detach from the need, the desire, the obsession.
All these emotional attachments are covering over the God Part of you that wants to breathe and have expression in the world. We all have identities we cling to: I am a single mom. I am bipolar. She is clairvoyant. He is a Republican. They are Hispanic. You are wealthy. He is a Trump supporter. I am a Christian. I am a recovering racist. You are a Humanist. I am old. She is smarter than you. I am an adultress. She is crippled. He is a Yankee. She is a cocaine addict. They are Holocaust survivors. He is a Vietnam Veteran. I am a Tiger Fan. If we can lay our identities to one side just a bit and let our God Part be what we present to the world, peace will come.