Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In the School of Life

The topic of education in America is a hot item these days. Everyone has an opinion about the solution for our ailing education system. The problems are complex and I feel very inadequate to mount a soap box and blame anyone for the challenges we face.

What I do know about is the joy of learning. After a lifetime of learning I feel as if I have only scratched the surface. One of the great blessings I have enjoyed is a love for reading and exploring and discovery. I am grateful to my parents, my teachers, my fellow students, my professors, and my mentors for modeling for me the joy of learning.

I never thought of learning as a way to make money but as the great adventure of living. Some kids make better grades than others in school but some kids have the great blessing of falling in love with learning. For whatever reason, I have a great love affair with learning. I love to read, to reflect, to ask questions, to explore - to dig deeper. I am not sure where this love was born but I am so grateful.

Tony Compollo has this wonderful story he tells about growing up in Philadelphia. Each morning this very Italian American boy walked to school with his Jewish friend down the street. Each morning the last word from the Jewish boys Mother was "Do you have your books?" For Tony, the Italian kid, the last word from his Mother was always "Do you have your lunch?"

Not all families have the same passion for education but it doesn't mean that we have to miss out on the great adventure of learning.

One of the highlights of my adult daughter's life each month is Book Club. She loves it. Reading and then talking with others who love to read and learn and grow. Like her Mom, who is an avid reader, even with a busy career, a husband, and two kids, my daughter has not lost her love for learning. Nothing makes me happier.

Until we fall in love with learning all arguments and blame about education problems seem pretty useless to me.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Big Things

When I was a boy I remember my Father saying that people often "major on the minor things". He was talking about church and all the constant squabbles that church folks have about "minor stuff". He was right and his assessment is still true. But the principle applies to more than just to church politics and disagreements - it is the way of the human mind and heart.

One of the things that has transformed my marriage is a focus on the big things. When I get peeved at some small irritation that comes with two people living in the same space I have lost my way - that little stuff is a waste of energy and time. There are "big things" that matter: being respectful at all times, demonstrating genuine love, solving serious conflicts with kindness and patience, practicing forgiveness.

Being able to take a step back and see how silly the minor things are is so essential in good relationships. Honestly I don't have the time or the energy or the interest to talk about so many of the things people yap about all day long. I think some people just love to fuss and fight. This is true in churches, in families, and at work - give me a break and give yourself a break.
Jesus was a big things kind of guy - "justice, mercy, and faithfulness" - these are the matters that carry more weight. (Matt. 23:23) The big stuff needs my attention - to do what is good and right, to be full of mercy, and to be reliable.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

That Little Word

When I was kid the number one subject at my little church was sin. Nothing else even came close. We talked about sin, the preacher (my father) ranted about sin, we listed sins, we compared sins - we knew we were sinners and we knew everybody else was too, even if they would not admit it.

At our church meetings we ended the service with an "altar call" to sinners - when we had a revival or gospel meeting the speakers goal was to get every sinner down that aisle, confessing their sins, weeping, and begging for forgiveness. The unconfessed sin was the target - did you lose your temper today? did you have a lustful thought? did you speak a careless word? Truth be told, I had done all of those things and did them most everyday to some degree or another. But after a while it all just seemed crazy - why did we have to make a spectacle of our sins? I had been down the aisle several times. Yes, I was a sinner but I hated the circus atmosphere so much that I determined that come heaven or high water, I would not go down that aisle! This made me more of a target than ever - the visiting evangelist would move toward me - looking straight at me, as we sang "almost persuaded" but I never was - it was a test of the wills and I stood my ground.

The word "sin" has fallen out of favor these days. You can do about anything and it will never be called sin. We talk about all the results of crazy behaviors but we rarely speak of these choices as sin. Drop the word sin in a conversation with your co-workers in the corporate world and you will get some funny looks.

The typical overreaction has occurred. We hated the way sin was used as a manipulation tool by churches and preachers and parents so much that we "threw the baby out with the bath water"! Now we don't know how to talk about sin in a way that makes sense to people.

Anthropologists have found something true of all human cultures - acts of wrongdoing cause a sense of guilt and regret.

I would love to recover the word sin in our vocabulary. Not so we can beat each other up but simply because it restores a true sense of responsibility for my actions and yours. When I hurt someone it matters. We see so much that is destructive and evil in our world and when the word "sin" becomes illegal to use, something has gone wrong.

Balance is always tricky. We can do better.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can't Shake the Blues

One of the things I am noticing more and more is how many people seem to have the "blues". Sad, depressed, down - the blues - whatever you want to call it they have it.

I have been blue before and honestly it stinks. The best thing about the blues is looking back after they are gone! What I am encountering currently is a kind of down mood swing among the general population. People moaning about the bad economy, moaning about politics, moaning about their jobs, moaning about their marriages, moaning about the weather, moaning about church life, moaning about their kids, moaning about their parents - the list goes on and on.

There is a famous quote of Alex de Tocqueville after he visited America and spent time with us back in the 1800's - he noted "a strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants...in the midst of abundance." His observation seems accurate for today's "melancholy" mood.

We have so much - so many "things" - all of which promised to make us happy and yet we still have the blues! When the global economic crisis hit back in 2008 a string of tragic suicides made the news - most of these people were wealthy people who had lost their wealth and their status with the collapse in the world markets. They were riding high and then when the money was gone they thought their life was gone - one was the chief financial officer at Freddie Mac, another the CEO of one of the largest US Real Estate Firms, one was a French money manager who had invested 2 billion dollars of his clients money with Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, another was an officer in one of the countries largest banks, another was an executive from Bear Stearn's who lost his job - the list of powerful people whose world came crashing down all around them.

One thing I have discovered about the joy of "things" -- it is temporary. A new car soon has scratches, dents, high mileage, and the new smell is gone. A bigger house, new shoes, the latest tech gadget, a 50 inch flat screen T.V. - all these new "things" promise to bring us joy and for a time they do -- but only for a while.

All of us are searching for something deeper, I think. Something that will not rust, break, lose it's newness.

Paul had this amazing attitude about his life: he said he had learned to be content (at peace, happy, joyful) in whatever circumstance. (Philippians 4:11-13) The strength to live that way came from the Lord. There is something to this.

I know people who have lost jobs, had to uproot their families and move, start new careers, leave retirement for the work force again and they are very content and joyful people. They do not whine and moan about these challenges they have faced - they dig in and live life with purpose and meaning and joy.

I am praying that you will find this kind of joy - the kind that will help you shake the blues and sing a new tune. The kind of joy that does not disappear when life tumbles in.

"The joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)

Just thinking, Steve

Friday, September 3, 2010

Learning to Rest and Recharge

I am back in the saddle after my brief Sabbatical. I must say it was outstanding. I think I should write a book about my experience - I have a title - "Eat, Pray, Love and Nap". Has anyone used that?

Seriously, I had hoped to truly spend time reading, praying, and getting plenty of healthy exercise and all that happened in abundance. I read a whole stack of good books - some very recreational and some very thought provoking. My wife and I did our morning fitness miles through the hills - we covered nearly 40 miles during a 7 day period. We saw hawks, doves, chaparrals, white tailed deer in abundance, and enjoyed some spectacular views at the top of those high hills in the Texas Hill Country. We would be out of breath on the way up those hills but the climb was worth it - so beautiful!

Life needs cycles of vigorous work and periods of rest and "re-creation" - it is a great secret to being healthy spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually. When I work all the time and take no breaks I become maladjusted - my thinking becomes skewed.

One of my favorite descriptions of Jesus is from his childhood - Dr. Luke tells us that he grew in wisdom, stature, favor with God and favor with men. (Luke 2:52) That is the the healthy balanced growth that we all need.

So work hard and do your best in your vocation and your relationships, but remember that times of rest and reflection will keep you balanced and healthy.

By the way, on the first day of our little retreat in the Hill Country I fell in the little creek that flowed by our cabin. I trudged my way back up the hill to the cabin wet and muddy and laughing outloud. My wife loved it - but was not surprised. Little boys never stop exploring.
Stop exploring and you stop living.

Just thinking, Steve