“Your Mother is Deranged!”

The healthiest, most functional families have two parents fully engaged in the lives and well-being of each individual and the family as a whole. One parent usually keeps track of the home…how organized and clean it is kept…and the health and well-being of the family:  feeding them; keeping them suitably clothed; making sure they are doing well in life, work, and school. The other parent often keeps track of the finances…brings money into the family, invests it, and makes plans for the future…and keeps watch that the home is safely protected. Both parents pass along to the children the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed.

What would happen if the father told the kids, “Your mother is deranged; she sleeps around and gives away your food to strangers. I’m not giving her any more money for groceries. She’s crazy. She’s not like the rest of us. You are not safe with her. We would be better off without her.”

What if the mother said behind their father’s back, “Your father is only in it for himself.  You watch; as soon as he saves up enough, he’s going to leave us. He doesn’t love you; he despises children and says you’re a drain…a weight around his neck. He’s probably got some woman on the side because he doesn’t love me, either.”

When the children hear this enough, they don’t know who to trust; they go inward and feel bad about themselves. They act out or get involved in things that provide some sense of control or predictability in their lives like a clandestine group, a street gang, drugs, alcohol, guns, or suicide.

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America has a two-parent, legislative government which allows for our Congress to act like the two parents of a healthy, functional country. One ‘parent,’ or party tends to keep track of the health, education, and well-being of the American people and the health of the home they live in; the other keeps track of the growth, safety, and financial health of the country and how well it is getting along with its neighbors.

Both governing parents…both entities are necessary. For one parent to tear down the other is damaging to their relationship as well as their dependents; it is a waste of time and energy and a distraction from the real challenges the family faces from outside the home. Tearing down each other Makes No Sense.

I am grateful for our 2-party system of government. I want to be able to count on one side to keep a watch on our future and our financial growth…to keep our economy strong. I look to them to keep a watchful eye on our neighbors and to keep us safe. I look to the other side to keep watch on how well the American people, especially the children, are cared for, taught, and prepared for the future. I depend on this side to keep watch on the health of our land, air, and water. I expect one side to keep their fingers on the pulse of business; the other to keep a tending eye on the disadvantaged and the weak. Both are necessary. All of it matters.

There is no reason…and no room…for the two parents of any family to discredit or attempt to destroy each other; that’s stupid. Any single parent will tell you:  no one person can do it well, alone. The whole family suffers if one parent dies, leaves, or does not contribute. The scope of life is too big; the responsibilities must be shared.

So, you two, stop tearing each other down, come to the table, and talk; there’s work to be done.

(I borrowed the photo at the top from the Rand Corporation; I hope they will allow me to use it.  It was the best depiction of what I am trying to convey available.)

 

Spring Practice

It’s Spring!….at least around here, it is.

Around here ‘Spring’ means Spring Practice for the Clemson football team. Coaches intentionally set up situation plays that will challenge the player’s beliefs…their expectations…and draw out their weaknesses.  The players themselves will try moves that have worked before but don’t anymore….and be open to learning a new thing. That’s what spring is all about.

It is Springtime for all of mankind.

God’s gifts are often described in springtime terms of lush green meadows, gentle grazing sheep, still waters, and sweet lilies of the field. The bright bird song sounds like gratitude to God. But Spring, particularly now, is a time to be alert and conscious of what life is about. Those bird songs are battle cries…fierce warnings to protect and defend. Birth of the young is fraught with dangers; one animal’s young devouring another animal’s young. Spring rains can wash out a lifetime of work. Green shoots are amazingly strong and can move rocks, pull down trees, and tumble earth. Those pretty flowers are the plant’s one shot at continuity; fail to compete for the attention of the insect and you lose…No fruit; no future.

Survival is of the alert.

Spring reminds us that there is always change going on, growth, and adaptation. Walls heave and crumble from frost. Dams and levees break and wash away. Those who make it through these changes are not so much ‘survivors’ as they are the riders at the crest of the waves of change.

Isaiah said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Bernadette Roberts said:
“The way it goes is that God takes something from us and then waits for our reaction.  Usually He takes something we never even knew we had to give and this is because God works at the unconscious level, while we can only work at the conscious level or with what we know about ourselves. So God’s work is really undercover, for which reason we need absolute faith and trust in what we do not know or cannot see – ourselves or God.

God is Creator:  a parent who takes the responsibility of growing us up…and He does this with fierce love, honesty, and tender grace.

Spring practice lasts only so long and it appears it is getting shorter. It is time we took it upon ourselves to grow ourselves up, be the alert scouts for the best future, be the leaders among our peers, and take the love we know out into the world.

Springtime is about waking up and growing up.

#AllIn,

#AllLove,

and to God be the Glory.

Spreading Love…

Clemson’s head football coach, Dabo Swinney, spoke to reporters recently about Clemson’s new 5-star wide receiver signee from California, saying, “He’s got an amazing mind and leadership abilities. I mean, he is an incredibly well-rounded young person that I think will impact our community and impact a lot of people’s lives through the platform of college football.

Dabo, most beloved inspirational speaker, leads his coaching staff not to teach football as much as to teach young men to be fully human, through the platform of college football:  to recognize that Christ resides within each one of them, that there are certain ways of living that nurture and align with that Christ presence, and that every moment in life involves a choice. Every decision, every play in every game, every interaction with teammates, family, coaches, agents, fans, cafeteria workers, and grieving parents, will either reveal more of that Christ presence to the world…or it will cover it over with confusion and obscuring crust. Dabo is plugged in to Christ…and so are his coaches and staff. So are the student athletes. The athletic director gets it. The fan base gets it. The community gets it. The code name sometimes used for it is “Clemson Culture.” Now, others want it, too.

Nick Saban sometimes uses the words Dabo uses and wants what Dabo’s got. When Saban figures out how to get plugged in so that those words have meaning, he may make the rights choices and then…look out, because there are other coaches and programs out there who also get it. Clemson Football is currently at the top, so the time and energy are perfect for this awareness to spread like…well…Spirit.

Dabo is not alone in his awareness of Christ. But his awareness of how college athletics is a perfect “platform” for revealing Christ is brilliant. Also, Dabo seems to have dedicated his life to this. He has a dream. He sees where this could lead. Clemson Culture is not about spreading a religion; it’s about recognizing that Christ is the manifestation of God that resides in every human whether they realize it or not. The first step is accepting it…being open to the truth of it. The second step is seeing it…recognizing Christ within yourself and others. Then you build on what you find through the choices you make. Dabo and his team (and everyone else in the world) call this “Love.”

So, when Dabo and Dexter and Christian and Deshaun and DeAndre and Trevor and Hunter and Travis and Tee and Lyn J and all of them talk about “Love,” they are talking about the deepest, strongest, most everlasting POWER there is. Clemson is revealing Christ through the mechanism of college football and this is an ingenious way for Christ to be revealed and grow in the world.

Why football?  Why not?  It has everything in place to help it happen: close coaching; fanbase support; struggle; challenge; and competition. Student athleticism offers opportunities to perfect skills and to wrestle with the temptation to get lost in pride and resentment. There are myriad opportunities to practice making the right choices…and to feel the resulting power of love…to recognize the presence of Christ in themselves and how it connects them to others.

Sound crazy? Any crazier than having the One who taught us all about this, be born in a cow shed while his parents were on a road trip?

Will Clemson win? They already have. Go TIGERS.

(The image at the top belongs to the New York Times.  I’ll return it if they need it back.)

 

Our Hope is Built on Nothing Less…

…than being Fully Human.

  • Fully cognizant of God’s ever-presence
  • Fully connected to each other and all of life…in love
  • Fully engaged in the battles and brawls that strengthen us and teach us everyday, but . . .
  • Especially in these focused, dedicated events to demonstrate our resolve and our purity of heart.

Go TIGERS!

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.

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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.

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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.