Moving along the path …

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.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Blind Spot

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 !

paw-1

You Can’t Fake the Real Thing

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.

Yes, it Really Is About Giving Presents

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!

“Like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again”

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.

The Christmas Condom (Reprise)

Okay, yes, that is a crude title…

…but no more harsh than what we sometimes say to friends and family over the holidays.  Therefore, I suggest that, as part of our morning ritual, we slip on an extra layer of skin, this one well lubricated with the Holy Spirit.

Yes, I’m serious.  Despite our best efforts to rid our psyches of past traumas and wounds, people…particularly those we grew up with…have an amazing ability to push well-hidden buttons.

Shirley MacLaine once said that she had life all figured out…her life and everyone else’s lives…and then she went home for Thanksgiving.

We all have our infections…some more deadly than others…and just like practicing safe sex, we all should do the right thing and keep our infections to ourselves.  Practice protected interactions.

And, just like with safe sex, it may not feel the same; it may not be as much fun; but that nasty barb or snide remark will infect and cause as much harm as syphilis.  (By the way, syphilis causes blindness; did you know that?  Nasty remarks that keep old wounds full of germs and pus will blind ‘loved ones’ to your virtues…and vice versa; did you know that, too?)

Remember, condoms protect both parties.  Before you press the doorbell, if you ask Jesus for the blessing of a Holy Spirit ‘condom’…and make sure it is on you, snug and secure…then you will be protected and protecting.

Happy Holidays

‘Politically Correct?’ No, Minding your Grandma.

Have you heard Goerge W. Bush’s recent speech about this country, democracy, and leadership? Truly warms my heart. Bless him.

In contrast, our current president behaves like a caricature of our worst natures…the personification of our shadow selves…everything our kindergarten teachers told us not to do, be, or say…everything our grandmothers took switches to us for. But because he is president, other ‘children’ in society now think it is permissible to disobey every lesson their grandmothers taught them, every rule their teachers gave them…including the Golden Rule and The Commandments. These ‘children’ need to go back to kindergarten; they need to get a good scolding from their grandmothers.

When reminded of these basic rules of good behavior and common decency, these ‘children’ scream in protest; they are tired of being ‘politically correct.’ Well, dammit, this isn’t about politics. What would your grandmother say?

(I borrowed the image from the internet. Thank you.)

Clemson Culture at Work in the NFL

The culture that is instilled and nurtured within the Clemson Football program is able to spread throughout the NFL (and everywhere else in the world) because it is a living thing and is backed and supported by The living thing…Christ.

Deshaun Watson is a student of that culture and continues to study and do the work of that culture because it lives in him.

Christ lives in Deshaun.  Christ was instilled in Deshaun probably before he was born. Christ has been kept involved in Deshaun’s life through the love of Deshaun’s mother and the coaching of Dabo Swinney.  Christ is invited, welcomed, and received in all aspects of the Clemson Football program and is recognized and acknowledged at each step of the way.  Christ spreads through the Clemson Nation.

If I have any sway, I will keep Christ involved in Dashaun’s life and the Clemson program through my prayers because that’s how it is done.

By the way, another word used for this presence is Love.  It is spread and emmanates through the love shared among the players and coaches and in the way the young men are taught, advised, and coached along.  In truth, this Love is The Reason for the coaching, in the first place.

The battles and challenges in life are for spiritual growth; it is for all of us.  Young men can learn this and can face these battles on the streets…or they can make this spiritual journey on the football field.  I’ll take pads and helmets and the risk of injury over guns and drugs with the risk of so much worse, any day.

This is what the Clemson Culture is about:  winning the game.

In that winning, these young men win the battles and challenges that strengthen their souls, hone their skills in facing obstacles and hardships, and clarify their vision and practice of Fierce Love.

The love instilled and nurtured in these young men might look soft at times…like in the gentle and tender way Deshaun gave his income to the cafeteria workers, but make no mistake:  The Love of the Clemson Culture is Fierce…and that is the nature of the love which is required in our world today.

 

“I am a Recovering Racist”

After the Mother Emmanuel shooting, I posted a sign-up sheet in my church explaining how I am a recovering racist; I was born in deeply segregated Charleston, SC, and was raised to see “colored people” as less than ‘us.’ I have worked hard to reverse that perspective. The sign-up sheet was to give others an opportunity to promise, “I Don’t Do Hate.”

I am now 62 years old and my job is to demonstrate every day, every opportunity, to every person different from me that there is more for them in this life than hate from people like me.

My fervent prayer is that we can soon stop all need to talk about ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It’s just ‘we.’

I responded to a Sojourner article not long ago that any suggestion to reverse trends or make the pendulum swing back the other way is misguided; the pendulum must stop. We are all on the same side…the side of humanity seeking fulfillment of its purpose. Jesus told us how to do that: Love God. Love your neighbor… because your neighbor IS yourself.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who met recently with the president, apparently found a President Trump who has thought better of his initial comments concerning Charlottesville. Senator Scott made some sober and important suggestions to the president (like get to know some black people) and I feel we should give prayerful support because prophets are the only ones effective in making change because they are speaking from within. Tim Scott is a respected member of the Senate and he also knows what it feels like to be summarily discredited for irrelevant reasons… i.e., skin shade.

Those of us who believe in and follow Christ can be the ambassadors we are called to be by behaving as He did:  When the crowd wished to stone the woman found in adultery, Jesus did Not have her throw stones back at them; He diffused the anger completely by pointing out how we are ALL guilty. All of us have hated; None of us is guiltless.

Those of us with faith and the strength of spiritual conviction can find love in our hearts for those who claim allegiance with a hate group; we can love those who hate. If we do not love those who are fearful and are resorting to hurting others, what example do we set? What are we asking them to do if we cannot do it ourselves? Racists, neo-Nazis, Antifas, etc., are acting out of fear. We are to hold them in love until their fear subsides. That is what is meant by loving our enemies. That is how we follow Jesus.

 

Racism by any other name is Fear.

I live in a community (neighborhood, county, state,…) where closed-mindedness is the norm.  I would say racism is the norm but the attitudes and fiercely-held beliefs are not limited to preferences in the shade of skin or ethnic group or even ancestry…although those are very strongly separated classifications.

People around here are deeply resistant to changing how they think but then so are people all over the world.  If it is not what they grew up with, if it is not what they are familiar with, if he is not like me in (you name it: dialect, clothing style, vehicle type, licence plate, food preference,…) then it is wrong and therefore to be condemned, resisted, and (if possible) destroyed.

Two years ago, Lawrence Krauss, “Humanist of 2015,” was quoted as saying Organized religion, wielding power over the community, is antithetical to the process of what modern democracy should define as liberty. The sooner we are without it, the better.”  I won’t venture (right now) into all that is scary with that sentiment, but he demonstrates my point beautifully; Lawrence Krauss rejects everything about organized religion because it is not what he knows, is not what he is familiar with, and people who participate in organized religion don’t sound like the people he associates with…or him.

My own beloved college-educated, successful business-man brother threw out hundreds of dollars worth of organic food from my sister’s house because he “didn’t recognize any of it; I don’t eat that stuff.”

The short-cut suggestion to remedy this issue is ‘education.’  Doctors in hospitals all over the world struggle with patients’ refusals to follow prescribed improvements in diet and lifestyle and have thought the solution was education.  Pamphlets and discharge instructions with pictures and pleas have done little.  Helps and therapies seem to have no sizable impact.  My next door neighbor was hospitalized for 10 weeks last year for complications from surgery.  During this time he was given patches and drugs to help him withdraw from his addiction to smoking.  He lived smoke free among others who were smoke free for several weeks and he even admitted he felt great off the cigarrettes. On the drive home he stopped and bought a carton and lit up before he got to the front door.

These people are not willing to face their fears of the unknown.  “You sound wierd!”  “I don’t eat that stuff!”  “I don’t think my nerves could take it.”

Some fears are huge.  “What if there is not enough to go around?  Somebody has to go without.  Why does it have to be me?”  “If we let them have their way, they are going to take over!”  “One day they are going to rise up and kill every white person they see!”

It’s fear.  That’s all it is…fear.  Fear of deprivation; fear of the unknown; fear of unbearable whatever.  But it’s just fear.

So what’s the solution?  How do you help people who have unreasonable fear?  You must help them one person at a time.  In the way a parent helps a child who is fearful of the monster under the bed, you show them over and over that there is nothing there to be afraid of.  You show the person different from you that there is nothing for them to fear from you.  You demonstrate that there is more for them from people like you than hate. You demonstrate that different is okay…and safe…and sometimes good.

I have two neighbors…brothers…who were both raised in this closed-minded community.  One went into the Navy and worked beside people of a different color and national origin.  His brother did not leave home and has never worked beside people different from himself.  One is not fearful of people who are different; the other one is …but it looks like hate, not fear.

There are specific things we can do that help get through to people who have closed minds, fierce preferences, and fear.  First, be gentle with them; they will not listen if you are forceful or you are yelling.  Second, get to a point where you see things at their level …so that you can understand why they are fearful.  Third, allow them to vent.  Hold them in a safe environment so that they will be open to revealing what causes them to be fearful,  (Sometimes, that’s all they need.)  Their venting might be scary for you but you are the stronger one here.  They need to know…to see proof…that the resolution is stronger than their fear.  In other words, you need to love them.

If you have ever been a parent and you were faced with a child who cried out, “I HATE YOU!” then you know the dynamic I am describing:  you allowed the child to cry out the unthinkable…and then you assured the child that everything between you was still okay; you still love the child ‘the whole thing…all of it…without end.’  (Yes, I’ve been there.)

One more suggestion:  use words that are not usually used in these discussions.  Avoid the cliches and button words; you know what they are.

This is how loving is done.  This is how healing begins.  This is the work of Jesus.

 

By the way, I commend Senator Tim Scott in the way he met with President Trump; Scott introduced Trump to himself….in all of the aspects with which Trump is unfamiliar and that is what is necessary for a change of thinking…