Mining Memories - The Tool of Memory

February 22, 2017

So, what’s up with memories?  We all have hoards of them, apparently endless reams of them that run a seemingly impossible gamut.  Our memories encompass a boundless array of events.  They’re expansive enough to fully embody the entire breadth of our emotions.  They can be crystal clear and irreparably clean in their recollections.  They can likewise be fuzzy, misty-like and somewhat fluid; creating dramatic and moving renderings of our past from the abstract, to the surreal, to something quite conventional.  Memories preserve what would otherwise be lost and they create a means by which to redeem ourselves through the lessons learned and adjustments made because we can recall it all enough to learn. 

Are memories just sights and sounds and moments and experiences filed somewhere in some methodical filing cabinet located in the gray fissures of our brains?  Are memories about some internal hard drive that collects all this stuff for retrieval at some critical or possibly opportune time?  Clearly, memories have a vitally important place in our lives, otherwise why would we have them in such wonderful and woeful abundance?  The ability that we have to store information and experiences and feelings serves a multitude of indispensible purposes.  In fact, it’s likely that we simply couldn’t live without the mind’s ability to remember and to recall.  If we could, we would certainly be so much the poorer.

So it would appear that memories and the ability to recall things would appear to be incredibly, possibly indescribably important.  The question is do we maximize this ability?  Do we utilize this marvelous faculty as fully and as completely as we could or should?  Have we ever even considered the magnitude of this seemingly fathomless resource or do we embrace it as little more than a tool to reminisce, or a curse that causes us to remember that which we’d much prefer to forget?  Does memory become just the stuff of curious trivia or abundant fodder for colorful conversation?  Or is it possible that this ability is far more valuable and more indescribably powerful than we even begin to realize.  It’s possible that we don’t even come close to understanding what this amazing resource can do.  Have we then forfeited a quite phenomenal resource? Because we do, we leave it languishing as some sort of all too common process that readily generates trivia and information, but is lacking for life-altering substance.

Memory Feeds Us

Amy Tan wrote, “Memory feeds imagination.”  Memory is the vast and endless storehouse that ceaselessly feeds the richest parts of our deepest selves.  It’s the copiously rich and prolific food-stuff from which the marvel of our core humanity is luxuriantly nurtured.  Memory refuses to grant us permission to live solely in the one-dimensional realm of the present.  Instead, it affords us the opportunity to live in the flourish of the present while simultaneously sipping fully on the many variant flavors of the past.  Memory can seamlessly draw from both the past and the present, feeding more than sufficient creativity to live with flourish in the present and robustly create an entirely innovative future.    

Memory Preserves

Memory is that thing that will not allow life to listlessly pass by and be forever lost in the passing-by.  Life comes by once and if it were not somehow captured in the passing we would hold it only for the moment that we have it, and then it would be gone.  We would be creatures of the moment only and we would be unable to take every moment and use those moments to build on every other moment.  Memory allows for the amassing of a prolific array of building blocks rather than living with the flatness of holding onto the building block of the moment and having to forfeit it for the building block of the next moment and then the moment after that.  Memory preserves.

Memory Maximizes the Storehouse of the Mind

The human mind is incomprehensibly vast.  Such is the extent of the mind that we’re not even remotely capable of understanding what it can do.  The only limitation that the mind has is the amount of information and experiences that’s put into it, not the capacity to store it.  If we leave the mind empty, if we’re unable to seize each moment and store those moments in the mind’s vast storehouse for retrieval, the immense size of our minds simply wouldn’t matter.  Why foolishly squander the resource of the mind by leaving its vast enclaves empty and barren?  Why would we let empty space define us?

Memories Build on Themselves

Tyron Edwards wrote, ““Contemplation is to knowledge what digestion is to food - the way to get life out of it.”  If we simply see memories as memories, as nice or not so nice places to walk around and reminisce we won’t mine the riches in them to enhance the riches in them.  We walk through our memories for a whole lot of reasons, but typically not to submerge ourselves in them in order to let them build upon themselves.  Typically our trip into them is much more something similar to a casual jaunt and a whole lot more superficial than serious; something like a stroll rather than an expedition, or a walk in the park verses parking ourselves in them.  We miss the fact that memories build upon themselves in a prolific flowering that makes the sum total of the memories greater than their individual parts.  Memories expand in their encounters with other memories.

Memories Mark History

Memories are the files that hold our histories.  Histories grant us an undeniable and powerfully sustaining sense of purpose as they recite our paths.  In reciting our paths we develop a sense that our lives were not the woven from the fabric of randomness, but that there is a rational progression that suggests something of meaning and intent.  Memories map out a path taken that permits us to see a rhyme and reason to what appeared to be randomness.  They allow us to see our lives in retrospect and in doing so to identify footprints that, from the distance afforded by memory, are anything but wandering.  It’s here that we come to understand that our apparently meaningless and misdirected lives have something a whole lot more purposeful to them.  In such a telling discovery, we can see that our lives had a rationale that suggests undeniable purpose.

Remembering Memories

You might be well advised to wade into the vast seas of your memories.  Such a journey is potentially rich, certainly richer than meandering, or more likely, running away from them.

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Magnificent Living - Taking Things for Granted

February 22, 2017

Aldous Huxley pointedly pointed out that “most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”  If you think about it, “infinite” is a rather extensive capacity and we‘re quite adept at utilizing that capacity to its fullest extent.  Taking things for granted means that they no longer garner our attention.  Out of their value to us they’ve lost their value.  Because of the fact they they’ve served us quite well and that they’ve served us quite consistently, we develop the sense that they’ll always be there, or that they’re just supposed to be there.  We assume that things occupy a place in our lives just because they’re supposed to occupy a place.  We make things something more like an entitlement or something we’d ascribe to the norm.  And so, we take things for granted.

The incongruity of it all is simply that things that should demand our attention, or are at least deserving of it are ignored.  Gifts, talents and personal abilities are exercised day in and day out but aren’t seen in the exercising anymore . . . at all.  Because they’re not seen, they aren’t cherished as we are quick to forget that which we’ve rendered invisible.   People or resources or abilities that should be held in high regard or seen as a privilege are categorized as the stuff of ‘stuff.’  Through inattention and the amassing of whole bunch of stuff which is largely nothing more than a whole bunch of stuff, we take things for granted.  That fundamentally means that it’s fallen off our radar under the pretense that it just is.

As we meander along and do that, things gradually fall unnoticed behind an invisible veil where all of these things are smack-dap in front of us but are completely invisible to us.  As they fall behind the veil of taking things for granted, their presence in our lives remains entirely unchanged, yet because of their invisibility their worth or value, which is sometimes terribly immense, is lost.  We walk around with precious things, and precious people, and precious resources, and precious talents that are entirely invisible and therefore ignored.

We don’t often think of actions that show us as rich; that seize the strength and wonder of our inherent humanity and cause us to do great things.  We miss the fact that sometimes just getting through a typical day requires feats of strength, tenacity, courage and outright determination.  Most often life’s about survival and getting ahead, if we can even pull these off.  But we tend not to think that the commonplace and mundane are quite often feats of great wonder, drawing from deep within us abilities that we’ve taken for granted.

Is it possible that the mundane is really the marvelous in quiet disguise?  Have you ever considered the possibility that great feats may really be nothing more than an intentional and focused use of the resources that existed within the person . . . resources that we likely have an ample and similar supply of ourselves?  Have we allowed the marvelous within us to be taken for granted so that its dollar value has been degraded to pennies when in reality it’s all priceless beyond any collection of pennies regardless of how massive?  And are we in a place where we need to consider all of this because we’ve underpriced and marginalized our worth through the persistent effort of taking things for granted?

Taking Things for Granted By Mental Laziness

So we’re robbed and we’re the culprits that did it.  We’ve used the highly effective tool of taking things for granted.  Part of our taking things for granted involves our dogged mental and emotional laziness.  Things of true worth in life don’t clamor for our attention.  They don’t attempt to seize the stage of our lives in some brazen display, touting their worth as they strut back and forth across that stage.  Rather, the things of true worth are to be sought out, looked for, and discovered in a passionate search for the stuff of life that genuinely holds the stuff of life.  It’s a rejection of all the plastic and veneers; all the things that attempt to replicate the real stuff.  It takes effort to find the things of real value; great and unrelenting effort that we often don’t want to exert.  Plastic and veneers are much, much easier so we’ve got loads of them.  We take for granted ‘taking things for granted.’

Taking Things for Granted By Entitlement

And then there’s the whole “I’m owed” mentality.  Things are just because they’re supposed to be.  This whole deal we call life is obviously supposed to come with all the finery and accessories.  It’s just part of the package.  It’s just supposed to be.  So why value something when it’s not a gift, or a treat, or a surprise, or a bonus, or just a nice addition that somebody thought would tickle our fancy?  In whatever way, shape or form that extra stuff comes in, it’s a bit of icing on the cake of entitlement, but it’s not the cake.  The cake is just supposed to be and so it is.  Entitlement is magically toxic, tragically transforming blessings to bare-bones stuff and priceless gifts to allocated accessories that are ours solely by virtue of our birth.  We take for granted ‘taking things for granted.’

Taking Things for Granted By Permission

It’s quite amazing how many things we can give ourselves permission to do.  Sometimes what we give ourselves permission to do is to tolerate what we shouldn’t, which is likely the worst kind of permission we grant ourselves.  Tolerating something implies that we probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place but we’ve chosen to do it anyway.  There’s a dash of ignorance and a pound or two of stupidity in a lot of the permission that we grant ourselves.  There’s a turning away, a bit of ethical ‘sleight of hand’ and some mental ‘nip and tuck’ that numbs us enough so that we can pass on our integrity without really feeling that we’ve passed.  So we give ourselves permission to take a whole lot of things for granted.  We repeat this to the point that we take for granted ‘taking things for granted.’

Taking Things for Granted Because It’s the Norm

Sometimes we look around us and we try to find people doing the things that we’ve questioned doing.  Somehow, if someone else is doing the stuff we find questionable, their actions lend whatever they’re doing just enough legitimacy to do it.  If someone else is doing it, we sometimes feel that we can step over the line just enough to dabble in the behavior and then jump back to the other side of that line.  So, in a world that sloughs things off, we do the same.  We take for granted what those around us take for granted.  They reinforce our actions and we reinforce theirs.  In time we don’t even realize what we’re doing and we take for granted ‘taking things entirely for granted.’

Breaking the Habit

Magnificent living involves not taking the magnificent for granted.  It’s a refusal to marginalize the wonder of life by placing it behind some veil, invisible and lost.  

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Communication - Some Bold Fundamentals

October 23, 2016

Communication is critical to our existence.  Without it, we are isolated entities functioning without the ability to connect to anyone or anything around us.  Without communication we lose relationships, we can't create community, and any ability to cooperate in building out a life and a larger culture simply does not exist.  Yet, despite the incredible importance of communication, we don't focus on doing it well.  Much of our communication is rather sloppy, slip-shod and less than thoughtful.  With others often communicating in a similar fashion, our interactions deteriorate to the point that relationships are simply not possible, or they remain distant, or they become damaged beyond restoration.  This brief video outlines several basic yet powerful communication skills that will begin the process of enhancing your communication.   

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Cleaning Up Our Lives - Liberated Living

October 23, 2016

We live unnecessarily restricted lives.  And in living those lives, we slowly suffocate in the things we have created and surrounded ourselves with.  Living this way, we tend to place blame on circumstance, or we surrender to some misplaced feeling that life is just this way.  We feel we don't have any power to change things and that our lives will simply move on in whatever way the winds of chance and culture blow.  This brief podcasts suggests that much of the constraints and difficulties that we live with are a product of our own choices.  It likewise highlights way to begin to change these in order to liberate the life we live. 

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Assumptions - Agendas and Dangers

October 21, 2016

We all know what they say about "assuming."  But assuming something is not just a random guess or a proverbial "shot in the dark."  Rather, there are often agendas or biases that drive our assumptions.  Assumptions are often far more than simple or naive guesses.  Many times they are our attempts to push an agenda, or drive a situation in the direction we wish it to go.  Often assumptions are really more the manner in which we broadcast a bias or manipulate a situation to the end that we desire.  We can assume something to be something, so that in the assuming we actually make it what we want it to be.  While subtle, such behaviors can be terribly destructive.  This brief podcast outlines this interesting and thought-provoking dynamic so that we might have an enhanced awareness of it in our own lives, as well as the lives of others. 

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A Work Ethic - What’s Ours?

October 21, 2016

Do we know what a work ethic is, much less abide by one?  In a culture of entitlement and rights mongering we seem to have lost a work ethic, We've come to assume that we're 'owed' which simply means that work as a concept has become unimportant or possibly irrelevant.  And if that's the case, a work ethic itself becomes irrelevant and therefore non-existent.  A clear and responsible ethic can drive us to great things both for us and for those around us. It can powerfully assist us in achieving what we will never achieve in pursuing an attitude of entitlement.  Lack of a work ethic leaves us without the motivation or drive to maximize our abilities and raise ourselves to heights we otherwise couldn't imagine.  This brief video outlines both the need for a work ethic and the key ingredients of a potent and motivating ethic.
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Change - The Seasons of Life

September 7, 2016

Life is never static, therefore it is always changing. Life never settles into some place where it's going to ride out its time for all of time.  Life is always building, and in the building sometimes it adds things and at other times it takes them away. There are times where advances move us forward, but where reversals also move us forward despite our frequent inability to understand that reality.  Sometimes life changes in ways we like, and at other times it changes in ways that are less than favorable. Whatever the case might be, life changes and we are part of life.  Therefore, we are both build for and maximized by change.  As part of that journey, we need to focus on the unseen opportunities in change rather than fight it out of our fear of it. This brief video outlines a fresh perspective on change and how to incorporate healthy change into our lives.

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A Clean Slate - The Possibility of a New Start

September 7, 2016

Too often we feel that a fresh start is virtually impossible.  If it's not impossible, we feel that we're not deserving of it, or we fear that the result of change may put us in a situation that's worse than the one we've already found ourselves in.  Many times we feel that change is nothing more than old patterns playing themselves out in some sort of sick circular pattern which leaves us moving forward by moving backward.  And so, we stand before our future believing that it will be a sad repeat of our past until our lives our past.  This brief video outlines a fresh and encouraging way to look at our futures as full of bold possibilities and new opportunities.

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Loneliness - Communication that Starves Relationships

August 27, 2016

Life is a journey, and it’s not a solo one.  But far more than that, along the journey and deep within the journey we find richness in relationships; those who know us intimately in a manner that can obliterate the terrifying sense of aloneness and wipe out crippling sense of meaninglessness.  There’s an indefinable camaraderie in relational intimacy that lends a priceless and terribly rare sense of meaning to the journey, while infusing the journey with an often surprisingly exuberant strength as well.  We need those who can share in the muddy rigors and turbulent turmoil of our journey in a manner that exponentially expands the meaning and the joy of the journey in ways we hadn’t even thought of at the outset of the journey. To journey alone is to journey to possible success.  But to journey alone is to journey to success that is empty, pitifully vacant, likely isolating and therefore void of the sense of success despite the success itself. 

Life is a journey, and it’s not a solo one.  It’s designed for intimacy.  So what’s real intimacy?  Intimacy is that soul-mate kind of connection that has nothing to do with physical intimacy, but everything to do with the complexity of two human beings finding a fundamental interweaving of their corporate humanity that together renders them more than the sum of whomever or whatever they are apart.  It’s the realization that I’m alone in this life as single human being whose experience is uniquely mine.  Yet, I am alone in a world that affords me the opportunity of intimacy where I can take the unique experience that is mine and mine alone, and I can take the unique person that I am and connect all of that with another human being that results in the loss of none of that uniqueness whatsoever, and the gain of adding the life of another to mine, and mine to them. 

Relationships enrich.  They are a gift, an opportunity, the creation of a wildly imaginative God who wanted us to have everything that we are and enjoy the “everything” of another human being with the ability to have each enriched beyond measure and never diminished beyond question.  Relationships expand us.  But we can’t have relationships if we can’t communicate.  If you take communication out of relationships, you have no relationship. Communication is essential, yet we’re losing the very ability to communicate.

 

Loneliness and Full In-Boxes

Loneliness is about relationships, or more fundamentally, the absence of relationships.  The word “relationship” has become terribly ill-defined,or more specifically under-defined in a culture that’s consistently moving in wildly random directions at speeds that we can’t even begin to define, other than whatever speed it is it’s not fast enough.

Because of the speed that we’re relentlessly moving at, we communicate just enough to fill the informational void, get the data, plug it in, or meet some brief connective need of the moment so that we can move on to the next moment to make room for the moment that comes after that.  George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  The acquisition of data and the obtaining of information convey something, but that’s not communication.  It does however leave us with the abysmal illusion that communication took place, yet its illusion only.  We’re left with a bunch of data,but an equally large sense of aloneness.      

All the while we’re attempting to connect,build relationships and maintain relationships in the snippets, sound-bites and the precariously thin threads of texting, posting on walls, blogging, connecting with our “tweets,” IM’ing, being “linked-in” and so forth.  We have electronic communication that fires messages at the speed of light to devices half a world away or the cell  phones hanging on our hips.  

Sure, these modes of communication provide for the transmission of data. But they are not sturdy enough, sufficiently deep enough, or possess the essence of the human touch adequately enough to connect with the heart and soul of another human being.  Certainly, these types of communication have their place. But they fall terribly short and are woefully inadequate in connecting the beating heart and tender spirit of one human being to another.  They are crudely incapable of weaving together the fabric of two complex souls so that they can fully share in the human journey in some sort of unified partnership. 

Relationships are about the degree of connectivity that we have with others.  Degree implies depth; that kind of connection that’s calibrated by ever-deepening degrees of intimacy that bonds us in a cement-like fashion with another.  Sure, we can have a boatload of acquaintances and we can be social butterflies that flit and flirt around a never-ending array of people in some sort of completely shallow, flirtatious dance.  We can play the social games and do the various gatherings and have everyone think that we’re so wonderful and so clever and so quick and so charming and so brilliant. But that’s an orchestrated show designed to impress.  In the end everyone walks away entertained and having had a rollicking good time, but with nothing other than a perpetuated sense of emptiness, wondering are there any real people out there?  What that kind of thing is not is an honest interaction stripped bare by vulnerability whose sole intent is to engender nothing but intimacy with another human being who feels as empty and lonely as we do.    

 

Communication as Critical

Communication is bridge by which two lives intersect.  It’s a communion of souls, a bathing in the heart of another, a melding of two people into one while each individual stays uniquely themselves.  This is not about data transmission or sharp sound-bites.  It’s not about how many gigabytes we’ve used or what we used them for. Communication is the use of words, touch, body language, eye contact,actions, behaviors and so much more that are the stuff of the human soul and not transmittable by any electronic device. 

Phyllis McGinley wrote, “Sticks and stones are hard on bones, aimed with angry art, words can sting like anything,but silence breaks the heart.”  We can say a lot of things and make a lot of noise, but how many times is what we’re saying really nothing more than silence? How many times do we think we’re communicating and all we’re doing is conveying information?  Your relationship will not survive on the conveyance of information, despite how adept you might be at doing it.  Your relationship can only survive on communication.  So you might be well-advised to ask if you’re conveying information and the relational silence that creates, or you’re communicating. There’s a world of difference.  

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Loneliness - Agendas That Starve Relationships

August 13, 2016

We live our lives based on agendas.  Most of our agendas are pretty subdued so that we don’t often recognize them or really comprehend exactly how they affect our behaviors and our choices.  On the other hand, some of our agendas are glaring, screaming into our lives in a manner that every action and choice is methodically dictated by them. 

Agendas have a methodical way of commandeering our thinking.  They can create within us an ever-increasing sense that if we don’t adhere to them we’re going to be in big trouble.  While agendas may innocently start out as goals or frameworks that are designed to productively channel various aspects of our lives, they often grow into monolithic proportions.  Sometimes our agendas become tyrannical gods, legalistic rules, incessantly demanding expectations or rock-hard boundaries that are held as imperative. We then become our agendas and we subsequently project our agendas into everything we touch. 

Because of the intimacy and vulnerability of relationships, agendas tend to rear their ugly heads with quite a bit of force.  Most relationships don’t start out that way, but as they evolve so does the implementation and integration of our agendas.  In time, our agendas become the things that define the relationship rather than the people in the relationship defining the relationship. There is a dictatorial sense to it all; a suffocating and strangling kind of orientation where people are made to fit an agenda.  The relationship itself is thoroughly stifled and ends up pooling in the rank waters of relational stagnation.  In time, the relationship can become intolerable and is therefore vacated. 

There are a number of agendas that we forcefully cram into relationships, or cram relationships in to.  If there’s one thing that’s for certain,certain agendas are certain to kill a relationship.  In doing an agenda inventory, we may wish to look for some of these:  

                                                                                              

The Agenda of Power and Leverage

Typically we build relationships to build out our goals.  Relationships have often become little more than a resource with the ultimate objective of the relationship to achieve whatever goal we have in mind.  Relationships are often seen as a tool, some sort of asset, something that gives us power or leverage.  Sometimes we see it as the thing that supplies us strength or motivation when we’re expended, or that resource undergirds us when our energies flag and our fears flare.  It’s that thing that we can fall back on when we need a boost, or turn to when our emotional legs buckle, or something that lends some degree of accountability that causes us to “buck up” when we burning out.  Whatever we use it for and wherever it fits, it becomes something of a resource rather than relationship. 

To view a relationship as something to be used is to insure its death.  When a relationship dies, a bit of us dies with it. In that sense, using a relationship for our advantage is clearly using it for our disadvantage, not to mention that the other person doesn’t fare all that well either.  Relationships need to be fed and nurtured with ample space to allow them to flourish.  Power and leverage too often becomes punitive and lethal.  

 

The Agenda of “Because We’re Supposed To”

Of course we’re supposed to have friends.  And because we’re supposed to have them we’d better go out and round up a few.  After all, we wouldn’t want to look like social misfits, or undesirables, or people who live out on the fringe of society and have people look at us kind of sideways.  So we have to claim knowledge of somebody, or that we hung out with so and so, or that we’ve have either enough invitations or maybe more than enough.  Sometimes relationships are what we’re supposed to have in order to look the part, and so we go out and we collect them.  It’s something like playing “dress up” where we put on people like some kind of finery and strut about with an air of importance and social finesse.  It’s all about the “look at me” scenario,“ain’t I something?” 

People are not clothing nor are they some sort of fashion accessory.  They’re not points to be counted as we tally up our social scoreboard.  They’re not steps on some sort of social ladder, nor are they an aphrodisiac for our insecurities.  This agenda kills relationships.

 

The Agenda of Working Out My Issues

We all have issues.  Sometimes we view relationships as the place where we can work out our issues. There’s some sort of belief that the person we’re in the relationship with will have some sort of ability to help us navigate our issues.  It could be that they’re close to us, that we see them as committed to us, that we can be vulnerable with them in ways we can’t with others, or that relationships are all about helping everyone become the best that they can be.  Relationships are sometimes seen as having this emotionally magical thing going on that’s got all the mystical ingredients in it.  All we’ve got to do is lightly sprinkle this relational fairy dust on us long enough and abracadabra, we’re good.  Whatever our mindset might be, relationships are sometimes seen as the place to heal of our issues.  While healing can certainly take place, inherently a relationship does not possess everything that we need to heal everything in our lives.

 

The Agenda of Revenge

Sometimes we’re in a relationship to get back at someone else.  The relationship that we’re in is about revenge, about throwing something in someone’s face that hurt us previously.  At times the relationship we’re engaged in has little or nothing to do with the person that we’re in the relationship with.  The relationship itself is in actuality targeting someone entirely outside the relationship.  It’s about retribution fora perceived hurt that was inflicted or a harm done.  Sometimes it’s purely about manipulation as we attempt to press our agendas with someone else through the relationship that we’re in.  Other times it’s our way to break with another person or an entire social grouping by aligning ourselves with somebody who’s completely removed from them.  Revenge wounds everybody, every time.

 

What’s Your Agenda?

Maybe you never thought about your agendas.  They become such a natural part of our thinking we don’t even see them as agendas anymore.  But they’re agendas and they’ll have the toxic impact that so many agendas have in relationships.  Think about yours.  Think about their legitimacy.  Think about the agenda of your agendas.  Think about where they come from.  And most importantly, ask if you really want to keep them.

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Liberty - It’s Not Something That Just Is

August 13, 2016

Too often we don’t appreciate what we didn’t work for or had to sacrifice for in one way or another.  Hand something to us with no effort exerted on our part to acquire it, and we’ll probably exhibit some scantily shallow and rather quickly fleeting degree of appreciation for it.  But make us work for something and expend actual energy in order to obtain it, and we’ll likely hold it with noticeably more importance.  Force us to step it up and sacrifice for some cause to the point that we lose something desperately cherished in the pursuit and it becomes valuable above and beyond most other things.  Press us to the edge and put us in a position where we actually risk dying for something and that this one cherished shot that we have at life hangs in a frighteningly precarious balance, that‘something’ becomes indescribably priceless.  

If we didn’t give something in order to obtain something, then we’re probably holding it rather loosely and with some inexcusable degree of disregard.  If there’s not some work or sacrifice or risk in the exchange, then the greatest gifts imaginable can experience the greatest disregard conceivable.  Taking great things for granted is little more than taking them to a grave from which we can never reclaim them.  Liberty is one of those things.

 

Liberty‘Just Is’

The vast majority of us were simply handed liberty.  Most of us were innocuously born into it, and as time droned on we grew into it as a natural part of our existence.  Because of the freedom liberty afforded us, we grew up and out into life free of encumbrances that we didn’t even realize existed because liberty relentlessly kept those things at bay.  Liberty seamlessly paved the way for us regardless of the fact that we made little to no contribution to the paving.  We’ve walked the road of freedom most often focused entirely on how far and how fast we can get down the road, with little to no emphasis on how much might be able to contribute to the road itself.  

The greatest abuse that we perpetrate on liberty is our assumed right to it.  We resolutely claim liberty as our God-given right, and we vigorously decry the unjust desecration of it when we feel that it’s being violated. We zealously claim it as our due, but few of us cherish it as a gift.  We declare it as an entitlement,but only a scattered remnant see it as a sacred endowment whose survival requires that we invest more back into it than we take out of it.  Too many of us view liberty as something that‘just is,’ and too few see it as something that ‘is’ only because someone,somewhere, at some point in history was faced with the formidable reality that to keep liberty meant paying a stiff price. And millions did exactly that, over and over and over again.  Yet, too few of us have worked for it, even fewer of us have sacrificed for it, and only a scant handful of us have been put in the position of potentially dying for it. And because that’s the case, for many of us liberty ‘just is.’   

Subsequently, liberty is something that’s celebrated in patriotic holidays, we have a robust national anthem within which its glories are penned and sang at the outset of sporting events,the calendar is peppered with federal holidays extolling some aspect of liberty, and the nation is sown far and wide with monuments of every shape and kind that espouse` liberty.  Too often liberty has become a nice idea, a worthy principle, or a presumed right that ‘just is.’  But liberty isn’t any of that.

 

Liberty Isn’t Something that ‘Just Is’

Liberty isn’t something that ‘just is.’  Liberty is a far cry from just being something that just happened to be around.  It isn’t even remotely close to just being something that inspired a handful of holidays, or provided some basic material for a collection of vigorous songs, or a spawned an assortment of weathered monuments that stand silent sentry in capital buildings and cemeteries.  To relegate liberty to these things is to make it an elderly gentleman that we’re fond of to the degree that we understand him, but someone who we largely bypass as we pursue the more important matters of life and living. 

Liberty isn’t something that ‘just is.’  Liberty is something that men and women were willing to trade their lives for, to ransom their dreams to achieve,and to selflessly risk all that life meant to them in order to protect everything that liberty meant to the existence of everyone else.  People have always stepped up to defend it and stepped out to die for it if needed. They’ve come in droves from farms and factories.  They’ve left cities and small towns, family businesses and academic pursuits to stand against those who threaten it.  And they’ve stood in places like Bunker Hilland San Juan Hill and Cemetery Ridge and Iwo Jima and the DMZ and the winding streets of Baghdad.  In places just like these and in thousands of others places now lost to the faded pages of history 1,344,000 American servicemen and women died in the defense of this county.  They never went back to the farm or the factory.  Cities and small town’s mourned innumerable flag-draped coffins.  Family businesses struggled on without them, and academic pursuits were left for others to pursue because they had the liberty to do so.  I would dare any of us to tell these people or their families that liberty ‘just is.’ 

But the story doesn’t even begin to end there.  1,530,000 American servicemen and women were wounded in the defense of this country.  Yes, they returned to the farm and factories,but they returned with wounds that would haunt them for a lifetime.  Cities and small towns tried to understand how to cope with disabilities that changed the person that they had sent away with pomp and circumstance.  Family businesses struggled to support them and academic pursuits were either taken up with great struggle or abandoned altogether. I would dare any of us to tell these people or their families that liberty ‘just is.’   

And finally, 38,160 American servicemen and women were missing in action in the defense of this county.  Yet today, farms and factories wait and wonder, praying that through some miracle they’ll be found and come home.  Cities and small towns move on, always keeping an eye on the distant horizon out of an ever fading hope that the silhouette of a loved one will someday take shape on those horizons.  Family businesses go on but always preserve some place out of the desperate hope that a vacant desk will someday be filled.  Academics vigilantly stand with an empty desk at the ready as well, hoping that studies might resume and that a road to the future might once again be embarked upon.  And I would dare any of us to tell these people or their families that liberty ‘just is.’  

 

It’s Not About Nostalgia

All of those thoughts are moving and warm and tingly and inspiring.  Thoughts like these energize our flagging sense of patriotism and cause us to puff out our chests in pride.  For a fleeting moment we have the sense that liberty is more than we understand it to be.  But liberty is not about some nice feeling.  People didn’t feel like dying.  People didn’t feel like being wounded.  People didn’t feel like being lost in action.  And the uncountable number of people left behind didn’t feel like being left behind to deal with the loss of being left behind.  Liberty is not about a good feeling.

 

It’s About a Priceless Principle

Liberty is about a priceless principle that has captivated the hearts and hijacked the minds of generations for endless millennium.  Liberty is something that mankind has ceaselessly pursued throughout every second and every segment of history.  There is not a generation in all of existence who was not riveted by the concept of it, spellbound by the idea of living in its embrace, and therefore in valiant pursuit of it.  And that’s because liberty is tightly woven throughout the core of our being in such a manner that it is entirely impossible to extract its threads. Liberty is God’s unalterable and untouchable design.  It is His uncompromising and eternally unflinching intent.  We carelessly threw it away in a Garden at the beginning of time, and the cross lovingly handed it back to us.  

Liberty is God’s war cry for us, and like millions since He sent His son into the very same battle.  And like millions since, His son died in the battle to achieve liberty for us.  The difference is that there is no flag draped coffin, and there are no impaling wounds, and He’s nowhere close to being missing in action.  This man Jesus died to liberate us, and then He liberated Himself by rising from the very death He died to bring us liberty.  There is no greater or more far-reaching liberation than that.  Our forefathers understood that.  And out that understanding our forefathers seized the liberties that we bask in today. 

May we realize that liberty is unimaginably costly.  May we never forget that we hold liberty because others held a line at great cost to themselves.  May we never be so remiss as to assume that liberty ‘just is,’ because that renders the sacrifices of others as ‘just nothing.’  And may we forever and always remember that the truest liberty of all is found only in God and the gift of His Son on our behalf.  May all of this liberate you in ways that are wildly liberating.

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Pain to Paralysis - Coming Apart at the Seams

July 22, 2016

There’s pain, and then there’s intensely deep pain.  We all have pain.  We all have the pain of failed experiences,sordid disappointments, wasted opportunities and wasted investments that we thought were opportunities.  There’s the pain of not being where we imagined being, of being forced to embrace dreams as more fantasy than substance, of friends in flight and fortitude forgotten.  There’s the pain of growing up and growing jaded, a world devolving despite relentless efforts to reverse it all, of diminished confidence in our fellowman and a diminished confidence when the fellowman is us.  There’s the pain of watching others in pain and the pain of feeling our own pain, whatever it might be.  Then to top it all off, there’s pain that we can’t even identify despite our desperate efforts to do so which makes whatever’s hurting us hurt all the more. Yes, there’s pain and we all have it.   

Then there the ‘core of your soul’kind of pain that’s entirely different. It’s the kind of pain that’s rarely sharp but indisputably debilitating,profoundly aching to a paralyzing numbness with a venomous bite that’s emotionally heart-stopping.  It’s exceedingly more than painful, it kills; not a straight-up obvious kind of death, but more the killing of the soul that leaves us alive while simultaneously dead.  It’s a pain that flaunts healing, that defies a cure and that leaves a forever ‘limp’ in our souls, if not something more paraplegic in nature. 

This kind of pain is entirely unreasonable and terribly cruel in terms of its intensity, but it makes sense in terms of our humanity.  It seems reasonable that we would feel this way or could feel this way.  There’s something of depth and soul-ness about our humanity that makes perfect sense of this kind of pain.  Yet, it’s horrific despite the fact that it makes sense.  We can embrace it as feasible, but we prefer to reject it as entirely too painful. 

When we feel this kind of pain we would often gladly give up some of our humanity to whittle down the pain.  Such is the intensity that we often wonder if we’ll ever recover, or recover fully.  We often think that if the world is capable of inflicting such pain and we’re capable of feeling it, what kind of world is this anyway?  And if the world is capable of doing this to people and we’re capable of feeling stuff at this depth, it’s likely that the world’s going to continue to hurt us because it can and ultimately it will.

 

Acknowledging Pain

Probably the first step in dealing with all of this is to acknowledge that we do experience pain and that we will continue to experience pain.  Pain seems to be accentuated when we fight it as cruel, unjust, wicked and inherently destructive.  It’s in fighting pain that we escalate pain.  The battle against pain is where a significant degree of our pain comes from in the first place.  This is not to say that we welcome pain into our lives with open arms and loving words of passionate greeting.  Rather, it’s to embrace that fact that life has its fair share of pain and we’re going to experience our fair share of it.  It’s refusing to take the principles of fairness and justice as some kind of ethical template and affix them over our pain because when we do, it’s highly likely that our pain’s going to be unjust.  When that becomes painfully obvious, we rage and tantrum about the injustices perpetrated upon us in some childish rant that only serves to expend more energy and amplify our pain.  We will experience pain, both just and unjust.  We’d be wise to accept that.

 

The Goal of Pain Eradication

No one like’s pain; at least almost no one.  Because we’re adverse to pain, our first goal is to eliminate it.  There’s really no other reflexive orientation that we have other than take some sort of step to get rid of it.  The natural and ingrained response when we incur pain is to react in a way that will make it stop.  That action’s essentially habitual;something that we do without ever even realizing what we’re doing it.  It’s only in recognizing that we’re doing something that we can ever even ask why we’re doing it.  The largely unrecognized, yet terribly fatal flaw in a sole focus on pain eradication is that taking action to stop the pain will typically direct our efforts solely to the more superficial aspects of our pain rather than focusing on the deeper dynamics which are in all likelihood the major source of our pain.

 

The Language of Pain - Pain Is Telling Us Something

We don’t take enough time to ask what pain is telling us because we’re too busy trying to get rid of it.  We want to shut it up.  We’ve long lost the language of pain.  We don’t see it as an indicator, a light on the dashboard of our lives, a warning siren signaling the approach of something, or a red light that suggests that we come to a full stop.  Pain’s no longer a system of the body, or a relationship, or of life that’s flagging down before we fall down.  We’ve meticulously demoted it to being nothing other than pain, and in the demotion we’ve come to conveniently assume that it’s pain only and nothing else. We’ve stripped it and silenced it. Its warnings go unheeded because we don’t hear them.    

 

 Us Authentic

Khalil Gibran said that “your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”  Whatever that shell is its solid to the point of being impenetrable.  Typically it’s constructed from the composite material of our defense mechanisms and it’s fired to a steeled strength in the blast furnace of our previous pain.  We’re constantly constructing methods to protect ourselves from threats that are in some instances quite real, and in other instance are at product of imaginations that are fed by the real experiences.  Pain demolishes those shells.  Pain strips us raw in the sense that all the games and all the protective layers are ripped away.  Pain draws us down and back up into authenticity.  It’s a raw and frighteningly vulnerable place to be, but it’s a profound place from which to understand who we are and to grow deep in that understanding. 


Embracing Pain Opens Up Life

An unknown author wrote that “love means exposing yourself to the pain of being hurt, deeply hurt by someone you trust.”  If we refuse to risk pain or feel pain, we’ve shut down vast amounts of the landscape of our lives.  Refusing to feel pain means that we will refuse to engage nearly all of life.  We huddle in some hovel, fearful and winching at the very thought of pain.  Crouched over, with our arms wrapped about us in abject fear we live out lives of desperate isolation.  It seems that the trade-off is far too costly.  If we want to live; to live in a manner that’s wholesale and abandoned to living itself we’ll need to accept pain,quite trying to eradicate it as a first step, figure out what it’s telling us, let it reveal the true depths of who we are, and grow in the wild concoction of itall.  Feel pain and live! 

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Positive Thinking - Or Just the Truth

June 14, 2016

We tend to talk about positive thinking as opposed to negative thinking.  We associate negative thinking with depression, darkness and an overall pessimistic view of life.  Negative thinking can be our way to avoid failure, offset our defeats by setting them up to happen, and reduce our expectations to some point so incredibly low that anything that happens can't help but be a success.  We can certainly find great value in such a dynamic, but in many respects such an orientation is far too limiting.  While the idea of positive thinking is certainly powerful, it appears to miss a more fundamental and core principle that can be utterly life altering on every level of life.  This podcast explores the idea of positive thinking or just plain truth.  

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Playing With the Dark - Careless in the Shadows

April 14, 2016

We constantly find ourselves captivated by a whole lot of things.  There’s a seemingly endless bunch of stuff that we become absolutely fascinated with and fixated upon, sometimes to the point that we’re held in some sort of riveted hypnotic trance.   A lot of times we’re kind of like mesmerized moths who find ourselves irresistibly drawn to some sort of light, whatever that light might be, erratically fluttering around it until we either lose interest in it or are zapped by it. 

We frequently seem to be most captivated by the very things that can hurt us as if they have some irresistibly seductive quality to them that the tamer things in life don’t appear to have.  We seem to have an insatiable tendency to wrangle with risk.  There’s an unquenchable compulsion within us to ‘play with fire,’ or ‘push the envelope,’ or ‘step over the line,’ or ‘dance with the devil’ as they say.  It seems that we’re all daredevils at heart, some more and some less, but we all have a bit of risk-taking engrained in us somewhere. There’s that insatiable adrenaline rush that we’re all looking for, or we’re after the ability to claim sole bragging rights for some innately daring feat, or we’re consumed with the desire to squash our incessant boredom by stepping outside of the box and doing something outrageous.  In some place at some time, an opportunity to let that side of ourselves out to play presents itself and we let the games begin.

 

Determining What’s Risky and What’s Not

The age-old concept of ‘calculated risk,’ seems to be forever handicapped with an inherently diminishing sense of contradiction. However, ‘risk’ that’s ‘calculated’ may very well be the core ingredients found in the recipe of success. Part of responsible or calculated risk-taking is knowing what’s really risky and what’s not.  To be able to do that, we have to know where the ‘line’ is. We have to know what’s safe and what’s not, what’s reasonable and what’snot, what’s within the norm and what’s outside of it.  To know if I’m pushing the envelope, I have to know where the envelope ends.  In other words, we have to have a sense of the boundaries and the limits that define that which is safe and that which is not.  Otherwise, I can’t define what I’m doing asthe norm, or something that’s other than the norm and exactly how far out from the norm this action sits. 

 

Healthy Reasons for Stepping Over the Lines

Once those lines are defined, we often make an intentional decision to step over those lines.  Sometimes those decisions are a result of our desire to elevate our humanity, or to seize untapped potential and thrust ourselves to new levels. Sometimes our intent is to overcome fears that have dogged us and crush self-esteems that have diminished us.  At times we step over these lines because we’re tired of living out mediocre lives and passively slogging through this pathetic existence of ours, so we lift up our heads and set our sights on great things. At other times we decide that we’re not going to passively exit this life without leaving a legacy that will provide a beacon to coming generations,and so we cast off restraint, bury inhibitions and ascend great heights upon which to construct bright beacons.

 

Unhealthy Reasons for Stepping Over the Lines

At other times we step over the lines just to step over the lines.  Many times it’s nothing more than the challenge of the risk without any real rationale for the risk other than it’s a challenge.  It’s about that risk-taking part of ourselves, which in less than thoughtful moments, risks just to risk.  Many times that dare-devil part of us is unleashed without any real reason or goal other than we have the chance to risk taking a risk.  And so we do it.

 

Risk Has a Result of  Fascination

However,more often than not, unhealthy risk-taking is driven by something that we’ve become fascinated with or mesmerized by. We’re held in some hypnotic trance by something that’s commandeered our thinking and completely impaired our judgment. We’ve become so taken by some concept, or person, or theory, or goal, or philosophy, or trend that it’s completely hijacked our hearts and totally manacled our minds.  And so we ‘play with fire,’ or ‘push the envelope,’ or ‘step over the line,’ or ‘dance with the devil’ out of this blinding fascination rather than doing so out of sound thinking and clear goals. 

This kind of risk-taking is entirely unproductive and ultimately destructive.  The sort of risk-taking that arises from some blinding fascination is nothing more than stupidity running wide open in total darkness down a dead-end road.  Risking to achieve great things is what we were designed for.  But risking in some hypnotic trance is taking what we were intricately designed for and driving it off a cliff that has no bottom.  Therefore, we find our lives ina tragic free-fall, plummeting so rapidly that risk-taking is altogether replaced by survival because it is now our lives that are at risk.

 

Playing with the Dark

One of the things that we seem captivated with and frequently entranced by is the darker side of life.  There’s something tantalizing about dark things as if they’re the ‘forbidden fruit’ that we know we shouldn’t touch but choose to touch anyway because of the excitement attached to touching them.  Too often they become the very ‘dark light’ that we as the moths find ourselves entranced by and fluttering around.  And so we‘step over the line’ out of being entranced rather than out of a desire to elevate our humanity, or to seize untapped potential, or overcome fears, or crush self-esteems that have diminished us, or decide that we’re not going to passively exit this life without leaving a legacy that will provide a beacon to coming generations.  We step over the line with no forethought and we end up being forlorn at a result. 

Halloween is one of those things that captivates many. It’s been granted status as a holiday and because it has, what it is and what it symbolizes has been granted some sort of legitimacy.  Halloween and what it embodies has been given some stamp of approval because we’ve stamped it onto the calendar.  And so we feel we’ve been granted some element of permission to play with darkness because we’ve got this holiday on the calendar that says we can. 

As with anything else, we need to think about what we’re doing when we’re deciding to cross a line, whatever that line might be. What is our reason?  What is our purpose?  If we’re out to raise our lives to the next level or advance others, our reasons likely have legitimacy.  But if we’re crossing the line just to say we’ve crossed the line, or we’re doing so out of some captivation with whatever it is that’s captured our fancy, or dabble in something that we feel that’s forbidden, then we’re likely to become captive to those very things and ultimately consumed by them.

 

Playing in the Dark

We have unparalleled opportunities to do unbelievable things.  But if those opportunities are not tempered by wisdom, driven by right motivation, and held with the recognition that notall opportunities are healthy opportunities, then we are doomed to cross a whole bunch of lines that are going to create a whole lot of problems.  We must understand that darkness can readily imitate light, but it cannot begat it. Therefore, by playing in the dark we will always and in every instance be darkened ourselves.

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Reality - The Extent of Your Reach

March 31, 2016

Albert Einstein said that “  an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”  Yet, we see reality as anything but illusion.  Wikipedia states that in philosophy, “reality” is defined as “the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined.”  When we throw around the word “reality,” we assume it to mean all that’s really real. We see “reality” as something where all the fake and fraudulent has been entirely stripped away leaving nothing but that which is true and genuine. The word “reality” suggests something that’s completely grounded, that’s entirely true and that’s totally accurate.  We sense it as something that’s solidly rock bottom and unarguably the end of the story.  “Reality” for most of us is what life was like before we added all the junk to it that we’ve added.  It’s the uncontaminated raw essence of existence.  In other words, it’s the untainted, untouched and unalterable truth.

 

Shopping for Our Realities

Yet, out of our indomitable need to be masters of our own fates and the captains of our own ships, we prefer to shape our own realities.  It’s odd that we think we have the ability to wield power that we really don’t possess at all.  We don’t see ourselves as wonderfully privileged to be a part of this amazing journey that’s been laid out before us.  Rather, we see ourselves as being people who have the inalienable right and uncontested license to design,fashion and form this journey from the ground up.  We claim life solely as our private enterprise and we cast it entirely in our design.  Indeed, we have a strange way of taking liberty with things that we really can’t take liberty with.  We can be an arrogant bunch at times,thinking we have the ability or the right to manage things that we simply can’t.  

In some respects it might be likened to some sort of god-complex or maybe the classic short-man syndrome.  Whatever it is, we think we’re privileged enough or powerful enough to control that which we can’t.  One of the realities of humanity is our sense that our right to independence extends to our right to craft our lives in whatever manner we choose to craft them. That then creates a mentality that a pre-existent reality which is universal in nature and scope is an entirely unfair and unjust hindrance.  The realities that we create tell us that a universal reality can’t be a reality because of the manner in which it impedes us.  Therefore, if we massage our minds enough to believe that a universal reality does not exist we must create our own reality.   

It’s no news to anyone that there are many realities out there for the choosing. That’s what tends to make all of this a bit confusing.  However, it does afford us the opportunity to embrace the reality of our choosing.  And if there’s not one out there that really appeals to us, we can go right ahead and custom or semi-custom design our own.

 

Our Own Custom Designs

Our “reality” is often what we’ve constructed.  We build out our lives and we fashion our existence, sometimes carrying those tasks out in very meticulous ways, and at other times doing so in rather abrupt and less than thoughtful ways.   Sometimes we create our realities based on well laid out plans, and at other times we piece-meal things as we fly by the proverbial “seat of our pants.”  Oftentimes we exercise great care because we care, and at other times we’re careless because we could care less.  However and in whatever way we do it, what we construct stands before us looking strikingly real and credibly genuine at times.  We can perform a down-right convincing job of rigorously constructing an intellectual,or emotional, or spiritual, or relational behemoth that looks breathtakingly lifelike.  The pressing question becomes, does the “reality”we’ve created reflect the larger realities around us?  And in creating our own “reality,” have we forfeited “reality?” 

 

Our Semi-Custom Designs

The world around us seems like a grandly expansive buffet chock full of cheap imitations.  It’s interesting that what we create is always an imitation of something else.  Whether in whole or in part, the things that we fashion in life always borrow from something else.  That suggests that there must be something original, some creative point of departure that emerged from nothing but itself.  Everything after that is, to one degree or another, a copy. 

So we shop this massive buffet of cheap imitations and we pick a bit of this and a bit of that.  Sometimes we take things in their entirety,or we whack off or carve out the parts that appeal to us.  Whatever it is that we walk out with we craft it into our realities.  Therefore, our realities are borrowed and integrated into some sort of semi-custom design.  What we borrow is what appeals.  So our intent is to create a reality that’s appealing, that’s nice, and that’s comfy and cozy.  Our semi-custom realities can be custom made to fit our personal agendas, our biases, our prejudices, our fears, and our emotional baggage.  They can be fashioned to lend credence to our views, give us permission to avoid our pain, allow us to live in blissful ignorance, and rubber stamp whatever we want rubber stamped.

 

Borrowing

Then there’s the ability to just borrow our “reality” wholesale.  It’s the “I’ll take one of those” mentalities where we simply grab whatever “reality” is closest or whatever “reality” is the easiest and run with it.  In doing this we forfeit any ability to engage life as unique creations and become whatever someone else has designed.  Sometimes we do this out of a compelling argument that convinces us that someone’s design of “reality” is the real deal.  Whatever the motivation, we borrow a “reality” and we park ourselves in it and on it.  Typically we never really question or scrutinize the “reality” of the “reality” simply because borrowing is a whole lot easier to do.  So we live in a borrowed world on borrowed time.

 

Real“Reality”

Anything that we assume to do will obviously be limited by our limitations which are pretty limited.  That means that if our “reality” is limited to what we create, we’ll end up living in a pretty tiny world that’s going to be thinly populated, pretty sparse, quite dreary and just plain flat.  On our own we cannot begin to hope to exercise a degree of intellectual acumen, or emotional depth, or spiritual magnitude that could rise to even touch the slightest hem of the realities of the world we live in.  We build our finite realities instead of exploring an unrestricted infinite reality.  We then spin little lives in dark caverns that we’ve come believe are filled with irrepressible light; and we languish. 

In reality, the question of “reality”has been bounced around throughout human history.  It would appear that a hallmark of “reality”is that we didn’t create it.  Second,“reality” is not the product of innovation or alteration.  Third, if something’s hard and demanding it’s probably closer to reality than the easy stuff. Fourth, embracing reality rather than shaping it or borrowing it is going to give us the richest and fullest life. And finally, reality is expansive enough to give us a life-long journey of endless horizons and ceaseless discovery. The “reality” is that you might want to really think about it.

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Releasing Your Grip - Possessing Life is Letting Life Possess Youi

March 23, 2016

Holding onto something?  Of course you are.  We all do. There are things that we feel are of great value, for whatever reason they’re of value.  Our tendency is that once we determine that something’s of value, or we’re told something’s of value, we tend to grab ahold of it.  The degree to which we grab it and the force of our grip on it is determined by how much we value whatever it is that we’re holding onto.  Because that’s the case, our grip can be something like a horrific steel trap, or it can be rather loose and supple.  

What’s odd is that we don’t often think about how hard we’re holding onto whatever things we’re holding onto.  We presume that it’s a natural and normal thing to hold onto the things in our lives that we value or see as central to our lives.  We misleadingly assume that  once we’re in possession of whatever it is that we’re in possession of, we’re obviously supposed to always remain in possession of it.  We develop a kind of hoarding management mentality that naturally dictates that we hold onto things that serve us in some fashion,or contribute to our lives in whatever way they contribute.  The bizarre workings of our minds can cause us to hold onto things that don’t serve us at all and are simply dead and pathetically decaying weight.  The fact that we possess things causes us to assume that we’re supposed to keep them.  What else would we do with them?  We assume that holding onto things is natural and needed and necessary and obviously normal.  Is it? 

What Determines What We Grab

So we inventory what we have in our lives; people, assets, careers, friendships, dreams, goals, relationships, material possessions, various resources . . . all of the sordid stuff that we have in our possession.  Then we assign each of those things some sort of value based on a grid intricately and tediously constructed from our goals, our value system, our present position in life, whatever threats or risks we perceive that we have, our sense of security or lack thereof, our self-esteem or any myriad number of determining factors.  Then our grip on these things is determined by the value we assess them as having. 

We also inventory what we don’t have in our lives but want to have.  We look outside the realm of our possessions to those things that we want to bring within our realm.  Whether those things are fiscal assets, material possessions, various relationships at various levels of relationship, career goals molded by our aspirations, the square footage of our home, the reach of our influence, our place in some social food chain, or the smoothness of the image we want to project to those around us.  Whatever we want, in whatever way we’ve determined we want it will likewise determine the degree of our grip on that thing.  Likewise, whatever we’ve determined we want will also determine the degree of our grip on the things that it will take to get it.  We’re all about the business of grabbing something to secure our possession of it, or maneuver ourselves in order to get it. 

What About Grip?

It’s interesting that the harder we hold onto something, the more likely we are to kill it.  We assume that strengthening our grip insures the continued possession of whatever we’re holding onto.  Indeed, our possession is in all probability insured.  However, what we don’t realize is that we’ll possess it, but it’ll likely be empty and dead.  Things that are of real value in life can’t be held like that.  The oddity of it all is that the very things that we want to possess; the things that we vigorously expend our lives in some helter-skelter rampage to possess, those very things are killed in the possession.  All of that seems terribly contradictory, but it’s terribly true.  How many times have we held firmly onto something only to lose it anyway despite the iron grip we had on it?  In how many instances have we gone to great lengths and dizzying heights to insure the continued possession of something,only to have it slip right through our fingers? How many times have we rigorously secured something by nailing it down,fencing it in, sealing it tight, cinching it firmly, locking it down hard,insuring it, putting it in a trust, or somehow solidly encasing in some tedious manner or fashion only to lose it despite the aggressiveness of our efforts?  

What Do We Possess?

Yet, there are times when we feel we haven’t lost something despite our grip on it; that we’re still in possession of it and we have it stored away in whatever vault we store things away in.  We point to those things as evidence that holding onto things doesn’t necessarily result in the loss of them.  We’re confident that we can grab ahold of things with an iron grip and despite the iron grip keep them very much alive.  Yet, can we possess something and kill it in the possession.  Do the great and wonderful things die if they’re held?  Is there something about the precious and sacred that in order to live they must be free?  Once it’s dead, what is it that we possess?  How many dreams have we achieved but have seen so many other things die in the effort to achieve them?  And once the dream is hauled into the boat of our lives as some mammoth catch, does it flounder at the bottom of our boats and then expire in the rancid air of captivity?  

We can hold on to many things and point to them to show that we’re still in possession of them, but really not be in possession of them at all.  Things that we grip firmly lose their life and are irrevocably sapped of their vitality.  They become depleted and hold no interest for us anymore, entirely losing their luster and appeal.  The things that are left after we hold onto them are more often than not empty carcasses and hollow shells that have the illusion of life, but none of the essence. 

Possession Is Found in Not Possessing

If we want to embrace life, we must never set traps for it or cage it.  We must understand that it is in the wildness of living that we live.  It’s in the privilege of observing life in all its unbridled passion and surging forcefulness that we are enriched and gorged in the enriching.  Possessing life can only happen in not possessing it. Possessing life is observing it and then romping and frolicking right along with it.  In reality, it’s letting life possess you.  It’s giving life permission to have its way with you, not demanding your way with it through the possession of it.  Possession of this thing we call life is giving up the possession of ourselves and our rights to possession and handing that over something infinitely bigger than us.  Surrendering ourselves and letting ourselves be in the possession of life is the secret to possessing life. 

So, what are you holding onto?  Whatever it is, it’s going to die.  Maybe you need to free yourself to be in the possession of something greater in you and realize that everything that you’ve looked to have in the mad race of possession is all right there.     

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Shep - To Run With a Limp

March 16, 2016

We all have a limp that relentlessly dogs our steps, causing us at times to be dog-tired as we work against our limp in order to keep our lives sufficiently erect. For some of us, our limp is so slight and relatively minor that it’s really quite difficult to detect.  For others of us it’s blatantly obvious, causing us to lurch through life with unsteady and uncertain steps.  To whatever degree we limp, we all walk with a limp.  

There are those of us whose limp is clearly physical, rendering its effect on our cadence as painfully obvious.  Then there are those of us whose limp is emotional, or relational, or spiritual.  It might find its origins in a relationship gone bad, or a life gone nowhere, or hope gone away.  The possibilities are as endless as the ways in which each of us limp.  But we all walk with a limp. 

Shep– Running with a Limp

His name was Bob Shepherd.  My Dad called him “Shep” for short.  The name stuck with him throughout the length of their friendship, ultimately going to the grave with both of them.  Dad and Shep mutually shared an array of marvelous life experiences that made them the best of friends. 

Shep’s limp was polio.  His left leg hung a full three inches shorter than his right leg, profoundly throwing his body from left to right with a heavy pendulum-like cadence that should have toppled him with each step.  But Shep mastered his limp in a manner that his cadence was a match for anyone who would walk the road of the life with him.  Indeed, Shep walked with a limp.  But as Shep found out, a limp need not be limiting. 

The Assumption

Our limps carry an assumption.  And typically the assumption is that the limp will be limiting despite the limit of our efforts to make it otherwise.  Our goal is to limit how limiting we think our limp might be.  It’s all about minimizing the limp which casts the limp always and forever as a disability and a liability, thereby completely robbing it of possibility.  

Getting Close to Normal

Or we set about the task of defining“normal,” and we determine that whatever “normal” is, we’re not normal.  Then we determine exactly how far our limp has put us from “normal.”  It becomes a grand crusade to get as close to “normal” as we can, rather than understanding that we can create an entirely “new normal” that can be far more impressive than the bland “normal” that we’re chasing.   

Surrender

For some of us we surrender to our limp,feeling that the nature of our limp is forever beyond our ability to offset in any manner despite our most aggressive efforts to do so.  We grieve whatever loss our limp has thrust into our lives, and we chart a defeated future that’s now mapped out by whatever our limp happens to be. 

The Possibilities of the Limp

Is it possible that our limp is the very thing that allows us to run?  And without a limp, could we in reality run?  Have we been so entangled in assumptions, and so enslaved to some definition of normal,and have we embraced a defeated posture of surrender for so long that we’ve missed the potential inherent in the limp? Is a limp the very thing that distinguishes us from others in a way that gives us a powerful platform from which to influence others?  Does a limp give us distinctive experiences that others will never have the privilege of experiencing?  Could it be that such a glimpse dramatically expands our view of life, while our limp profoundly extends our experience of life?  If so, then our limp could very well be the greatest gift and the most profound opportunity that will beset this life of ours.  Like Shep, we can run with a limp. 

Limp and Legacy

Our limp could potentially be one of the greatest assets that we will ever possess. And so as we consider our limps, it is my hope that we see the tremendous possibilities in them and the privilege of having them.  Like Shep, may we master our limp in a manner that our cadence is a match for anyone who would walk the road of the life with us.  May we run with a limp in a way that we could never do so without one.

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The Untimely - When It All Happens When It Shouldn’t

March 11, 2016

Someone once uttered the timeless saying that timing is everything. There’s something about things happening in a certain order in a certain time that makes it all fit in a certain way. We sense a natural and correct progression that, if followed, leads to success or happiness or fulfillment or whatever it is that we’re chasing.  The whole element of timing seems critical.  The more important something is, the greater the issue of timing. Timing can be so critical that at times we set out to minutely orchestrate the pieces and parts of whatever we’re doing so that everything is perfectly cinched and tightly in synch. 

Yet sometimes it all falls apart.  I mean it disintegrates; something like Murphy’s Law times three or four. Sometimes it’s not just a matter of something being a bit out of step,or not lining up quite right.  It’s not about tweaking something or nudging it back into whatever place it was supposed to be.  Sometimes the wheels fall off the thing, which then causes everything else to fall off as well.  We end up with the classic train wreck where we met an uphill train on a downhill grade. More than that however, there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason for the train wreck.  It simply didn’t need to be.  It was all way beyond any odds or all statistics.  Whatever happened, it was a cruelly extenuated string of dumb luck. 

Sometimes it just all falls apart . .. all of it.  We’re left standing dumbfounded, mired in the confusion of it all and running our minds down a thousand roads of the classic “what could have gone wrong” question.  Sure, we’ll likely find some things that weren’t too well thought out or strategies that were a bit ill-conceived.  We might unearth some rationales that now, in hindsight, aren’t quite as rational as we originally thought them to be.  We even might stumble over some misdirected motivations or less than ethical agendas that were part of the whole thing.  The way we pasted it all together may have not been entirely seamless and the stuff that we pasted together in the first place might have been less of a fit than we have originally thought.  We may have even chosen to force fit some stuff that in the end really didn’t mesh a whole lot.  Yeah, there are probably some quirks and a few flaws. 

Yet, there are times when these quirks and flaws and other dynamics really represent only a small portion of the whole.  We dig and scratch and scrape only to uncover a sparse handful of these dynamics.  There are times when the sum total of them is far too small and far too innocuous to really explain why the whole thing fell apart.  They don’t add up sufficiently to explain the mess that lays scattered, derelict and broken at our feet. 

In the end we’re left with bushels of questions that rot for lack of answers.  Things just didn’t line up.  There’s no sustaining or compelling rationale other than it didn’t happen when and how it should have happened.  If the timing had been good, it all would have all been good. But the timing was not and now everything lays wrecked and ravaged. 

Sometimes the losses are marginal.  At other times they’re catastrophic.  Sometimes we can just pickup our toys, brush them off, head on home and play another day.  Sometimes there’s nothing left to pick up other than the charred ash of incinerated dreams and the unidentifiable pieces of years’ worth of hope and sacrificial toil. Sometimes it’s no big deal, and at other times the whole thing is a deal-breaker.

 

How Does It Work?        

Maybe we should expand our thinking a bit.  Maybe we should ask the question “is loss sometimes the best thing that can happen?” That’s a bitter and biting pill to swallow, on top of the fact that it’s a completely unsavory to even entertain in the first place.  It suggests however that things in life don’t line up because maybe they’re not supposed to. Maybe what we were doing was in reality a whole lot more wrong than it was right.  Maybe it would have been a whole lot more damaging than it would have been constructive.  Maybe it would have been the thing that would have robbed us totally blind rather than enriching us beyond measure.  Maybe it would have become the monster rather than the malevolent benefactor.  Maybe the fact that wheels fell off of it and it derailed was one of the biggest blessings we’ve experienced in a very long time. 

At the beginning, when we’ve started to head off into most of our endeavors we don’t have the perspective of what this will look like on the other end. All we see is what we have in front of us, how it all goes together, and then based on that how we guess it will all come out in the wash.  We can take a shot at speculating outcomes and be pretty convinced that our conceptualization will indeed be what it will look like on the other side.  We can do the math and project the numbers and point to what it should all add up to.  We can play with our mental bell-curves and crunch the emotional numbers to calculate an outcome.  But sometimes things don’t add up according to our calculations, despite how tedious they might be.  Sometimes our best projections because our most haunting nightmares. 

We’re typically not open to this kind of thinking because we’re angry about the loss and we’re licking our wounds because we feel jipped.  We’re not in the mindset to think about the fact that maybe it blew up so that we wouldn’t.  All we tend to focus on is the feeling that we’ve been victimized, ripped off, short-changed and short-sheeted.  The reality is that sometimes we are.  But quite often this is life’s way of putting on the brakes.

 

Is It Untimely?

Are our circumstances untimely, or very timely?  Do our situations appear untimely only because we’re seeing what didn’t happen, but we refuse to see the things that are happening right in the middle of what didn’t happen?  Are we so myopic that we can’t see beyond the train wreck to the fact that the wreck stopped the train and that that might have been the very thing that compassionately saved us, or maybe graciously redirected us?  To our chagrin, the exact time and place when we think something shouldn’t have happened may very well bethe exact time and place when it absolutely should happened. 

Rose Kennedy said that “Life isn't a matter of milestones but of moments.” It’s not about what we achieve, but what we learn on the way to the achievement.  We glue our eyes to the goal and we ignore the journey on the way there.  And that journey will often involve our world’s falling apart despite heroic efforts to keep them together.  Yet, our world’s falling apart have within the event great lessons that we would be well advised to embrace.  Moments are not always nice, but they can be rich.  So, when your world falls apart in the untimeliness of living, look at the wreckage.  There’s something rich there for you.     

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The Worst Slavery - Slavery to Ignorance

March 4, 2016

Slavery as an institution is pretty far removed from the minds of most of us residing here in 21st century America.  Slavery sits back plenty far enough in the faded, yellowed and brittle pages of history to create a more than comfortable chasm between us and itself. We view that chasm of time and social development and modernism as broad enough to keep slavery from leaping from the past across that chasm into the present.  The idea of slavery seems to evoke dusty black and white tin-type images of the Civil War, the expansive plantations of the Deep South, bloodied chains, inhuman whippings, and wild-eyed slaves fleeing through swamps, thick underbrush and the wilderness of their own fear. 

Those kinds of pictures have become our definition of slavery; the visual that creates a picture of what slavery is.  That definition is nearly exclusive,making our definition of slavery so incredibly tight that we can’t see any other kind of slavery at all.  And if we don’t see slavery, we assume freedom. That assumption in and of itself can be enslaving.

 

Slavery to Ignorance

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  Ignorance is being oblivious,to one degree or another, to the obvious. It’s not seeing what actually ‘is’ to the point that whatever it ‘is’that ‘is,’ isn’t . . . at all.  It’shaving no recognition of something that exists despite how very real and very powerful that thing might be.  It seems that kind of living can be freeing in some cases, and horrifically dangerous in others.  The worst kind of ignorance is when we’re ignorant that we’re ignorant. At that point slavery leaps out of tin-types and into our worlds. 

Ignorance can open the doors to a lot of things and give a whole lot of space for a whole lot of things to exist in our lives.  Yet I think that ignorance of slavery or our enslavement is one of the worst things of all.  To be ignorant and to be enslaved at the same time seems to be the absolute worst kind of slavery since we don’t even know that we’re enslaved.

 

What Enslaves Us?

How many things enslave us?  We tend to see that things demands things of us, that we struggle with certain behaviors or attitudes, that we have our holes to dig ourselves out of, and our mountains to climb over.  We look at our lives and see what we need to change, what should be altered, where we need the proverbial “nip n’ tuck,” a bit of “cut and paste,” or maybe a little bit of Botox for the personality.  We likewise see the pieces of ourselves that need to be entirely eliminated in some sort of wholesale,demolition-like fashion.

We see our foibles, the fallacies of false fronts, our warts and things that warrant our attention.  We know that we’re not where we should be and that where we should be isn’t anywhere along the road of where we’ve been going.  We know at times that our values have been compromised, our integrity has been marred, and that far too often our morality has had the air completely sucked out of it.  We know that we haven’t been accountable when we should have been, we haven’t apologized when we should have, and that we’ve never restored even half of what we’ve stolen along the road of our lives.  We know.

 

Ignorance in Action

Yet, we tuck these things in the file of ignorance and then we file it away in the filing cabinet of forgetfulness.  In reality, we walk with all of this stuff hanging on with claws embedded in our hearts, and roots entwining our souls.  Yet we ignore them.  We skip and cavort through life to some sort of fabricated tune whose verses sooth us with lyrics that all is good and our lives are squeaky clean and polished to a mirrored surface. 

Or we manipulate ourselves into believing that whatever good that we have is good enough.  That life is more about the business of survival which doesn’t afford us the larger luxury of introspection, personal evaluation and the sweaty rigor of change. We don’t see anyone else focusing on all that negative stuff and so we assume that it must not be all that bad or everyone else would be focusing on it . . . wouldn’t they?  We find some comfort in the belief that overall we’re good people and at least we try to do the good thing even if we don’t end up doing the good thing.  We create expansive and ornate rationalizations to justify ignorance, and we do a bang up job of creating them.  We lull ourselves into belief that in the end, all of that stuff really doesn’t matter all that much anyway and that it will sort of eventually fall off behind us and kind of blow off the road of our lives,  somehow getting lost somewhere in the wilderness of our journey . . . so we think.  Therefore, we settle in ignorance and let ignorance give all of these things space to enslave us.

 

Our Enslavement

We are a peculiar people indeed.  We tend to focus on the tasks that will either achieve our goals or keep our heads above water, whatever our situation might be.  We’re notorious for feeding,watering and carefully attending to all the superficial stuff, but we put the real stuff out of sight behind the impermeable veil of ignorance.  And we live as slaves to that stuff.  We work to tactfully or not so tactfully counter the real stuff and we futilely attempt to offset it by managing and manipulating the superficial things and focusing on the things that don’t hit us too hard or upset us all too much.  Yet all of our efforts to offset all of the things stored in ignorance are wholly insufficient.  We live trying to change things by ignoring them.  We attempt to resolve them by countering them with something else that isn’t as difficult or problematic dealing with.  We try to cheat ourselves to health and wholeness. 

The end result is slavery to those things we’re chosen to ignore.  They drive us to futility attempting to compensate for them by ignoring them.  They pound and thunder and bend us from behind the veil of ignorance.  They dog our steps and flog our minds.  They draw us down and drag us out.  They impale us as they impact us.  In short, we become subject to them whether we wish to acknowledge its happening or not.  We become so enslaved by our own foolish and short-sighted vision that we become ignorant to that which enslaves us.  When that happens, we become slaves in the most awful manner possible.

 

Refute and Refuse Ignorance           

We refute and refuse ignorance by being honest about our weaknesses and failures. We acknowledge and bring to the forefront all of those things, we work to work through them with diligence and beat them by resolving them.  In that way our enslavement can truly end.

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Trust - The Personal Characteristics That Build It Strong

February 26, 2016

Trust.  How do you define it?  Typically our definition of it is terribly basic and somewhat shallow.  We seem to define it as that ability to rest fully and completely in something or someone.  That's about as far as we take it.  Yet, the incredible power of trust suggests that it is more . . . much more. Remove trust from a relationship and that relationship simply cannot survive.  Extract trust from whatever situation we're in and we will doubt that person or that thing or that event to the point that we withdraw.  Erase trust and we simply don't want to go there, wherever "there" is.  Take away trust and all you have left is the need to rebuild trust. 

You might want to think about this as well.  Real trust, trust that does the distance is built over long periods of time with consistency, honesty,commitment and the relentless exhibition of integrity and self-sacrifice.  Yet, trust can be destroyed in a matter of seconds. It can come crashing down based on one single action, one errant choice, one impulsive moment, one poor decision, one untimely comment.  Trust is both terribly powerful in prompting us to invest in something even at great risk to ourselves.  Yet, for all its power it is terribly fragile, undermined and completely fallen with but one word, one choice, one ill-conceived idea, one mistake. 

And so, what are the ingredients of trust; the pieces and parts?  More importantly, what qualities do we embrace and what characteristics do we live by that builds trust deep into all of our relationships?  When we look at trust, we might first ask"what is our role?"  The Encarta Dictionary defines trust as possessing a number of key components.  Trust is multi-faceted and complex, a labyrinth of pieces that are undergirded by a dualistic theme of integrity and self-sacrifice.  And so, do we simply hope for trust, or are we the ones who through our deliberate actions and unwavering choices work to build it?  These then are things that we need to build into our lives to build trust in all of our relationships.

 

1.  Reliance.  "Confidence in and reliance on good qualities, especially fairness, truth, honor, or ability."  In a word, integrity.  A person of integrity does the right thing regardless of the cost to themselves. It's an attitude, a life commitment, a unwavering stance that will not bow to unethical pressures, the power of the peer group, the demands of society, or the dictates of the moment. A person of integrity will stand his ground and will choose that which is right and good regardless of the popularity or price of doing so.  Such a person naturally cultivates and engenders a foundation of deep trust.

 

2.  Position of Obligation.  "The position of somebody who is expected by others to behave responsibly or honorably."  There are standards that are good and right.  Some call them absolute truths, those standards that dictate all other standards and all other situations.  Sometimes embracing and abiding by these brings honor and respect.  At other times, abiding by these will incur great cost and potentially damaging rejection.  Regardless of the cost, trust is built by standing responsibly and honorably. There is something of consistency is such stands; allowing others to see that regardless of the demands faced and the temptations that might come, the individual will stand firm on principals of justice, truth and integrity.  Such actions create a trust that weathers shifting circumstances.

 

3.  Hope for the Future.  "Hopeful reliance on what will happen in the future."  Trust is about the confidence in people's actions and their commitment to a set standard that creates a confidence regarding future outcomes.  We are able to derive from the commitment and actions of others a sense that the future will work out, that will it will have some degree of predictability, and that if it doesn't work out, there will be the means to manage whatever happens. Trust creates stability that even in the midst of instability things will work out.  It's about the stuff of consistency; that we are and we will do what we say we are.  Trust then is established not just for present, but for the future as well.

 

4.  Care.  "Responsibility for taking good care of somebody or something."  Trust involves being willing to place that which we value into the hands of others.  The things that we value the most, the very things that we have sacrificed for, that we have given our lives over to obtain or protect . . . trust involves placing the things most valued into the care of others.  There is a relinquishment in trust; the ability to hand over to someone else all that we cherish and love, knowing that they will be as safe in the hands of another as they would be in our hands.  Such a trust means that we can trust even when we cannot be present to insure that things will be well

 

5.  Responsibility That Somebody Has.  "Something entrusted to somebody to be responsible for.  Accept responsibility as a sacred trust."  Here is the place of sacrifice, where someone holds others interests above their own.  Trust means placing the other person first.  When someone embraces that kind of attitude and posture, trust is built because the elevation of another insures that any action will be in the best interest of the other despite the cost to the one to whom trust has been extended. This elevates trust to its ultimate level, allowing us to rest in the fact that our best interest will be uncompromisingly held as primary regardless of the situation.

 

It's About Who We Choose to Be

In the end, trust is built on integrity and self-sacrifice.  The exhibition of these attitudes and behaviors automatically engenders trust.  Trust is about embracing that which is true and right, that which is honest and just and pure.  It's then about relentlessly living those things out in everything that we do, even if living them out incurs a great cost to us.  It's a posture of honesty and authentic living that exudes through everything that we do.  When these are displayed, trust will follow.  We might then ask the question, "are we these kinds of people?"  "What have we built our lives on?" "What might others say of us if we asked them?"  Trust is about what you stand on and who that makes you.  Maybe the building of trust in your life and your relationships is much more about who you are and the things that you have incorporated in your life that make you that person.  Maybe the building of trust begins with you.  Maybe . . .

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Uniqueness - Looking Beyond Labels to See Strengths

February 15, 2016

You ever notice that we seem to be on this relentless quest where we’re scrutinizing ourselves raw in order to ascertain what we think our flaws, our foibles, our weaknesses and our warts are?  We put ourselves under some sort of minutely dissecting microscope with skewed lenses in order to ferret out all of our little imperfections.  We incessantly crawl around on all fours with our eyes mere centimeters from the surface of our lives, scratching and picking and sorting so that everything that we are is entirely clean, socially acceptable, without cultural blemish and perfectly instep with whatever it is that we’ve chosen to determine our steps.  With our noses to the ground on an outrageously mad hunt for any and all imperfections we whittle away our lives being what we think we’re supposed to be, rather than being who we were created and designed to be.  Ever notice?

 

What Sets the Standard For Our Search?

There’s certainly a standard in our culture.  There are expectations that clearly outline who and what we’re supposed to be.  Those expectations are based on culturally acceptable norms that create “cookie-cutter” stereotypes.  Stereotypes perpetuate the cultural norms by encasing them in some kind of frozen blocks so that they automatically perpetuate themselves in any and all places. An unknown author wrote, “Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning.”  The worse bias that we can have is a bias about ourselves as it saves us the trouble of learning that we’re a whole lot more than we thought ourselves to be.  A bias also saves an incessantly busy culture the time of really looking deeply into itself in order to ascertain the wealth within it.  And so we press and contort ourselves in order to fit into whatever box the cultural stereotype has designed. 

Society too often creates a “one size fits all” kind of mentality.  There’s an assumption that there are slots to fill and we must fill the slots.  Find your place, get in it and stay there.  Figure out whatever the cadence is and march accordingly.  Find your box, move in,decorate it, set up shop and be happy. What color is your parachute, what’s your social standing, what’s your breeding and background, what’s your disposition, what’s your passion, what’s your career, and how’s your personality wired? Once you’ve figured all that out, set it aside, take a number, get inline and realize you’re just one of the crowd. 

In many cases, the standards of society are good, meaningful and productive. There are a large number of societal standards that are worthy of our emulation.  However, society too often sets standards for society, not the individual. Society often wants it clean, uncomplicated, tight and easy, so just find your place in line and get it in. Because that’s often the mindset, cultural expectations are designed to fulfill and achieve that mindset.  In succumbing to it, we lose our individuality and sacrifice the resources of that individuality.

 

Discovering Our Uniqueness

The balance that few people seem to achieve is one where we purposefully cultivate the core of who we are, while working to slough off the biasing goo of the culture.  It’s not about a blatant disregard for cultural norms or expectations at all.  Rather,it’s being committed to our uniqueness as a person rather than being rigorously force-fit into whatever the culture wants to force-fit us into.  It’s realizing that when we maximize who we are, we are then of maximum benefit to society and the world around us.  Yet, before we can be authentically “us” we must determine who or what that “us” is. In more effectively making that determination, there are a few thoughts you might want to start with:  

  

Understanding Our Limitations

First, healthy self-evaluation takes place when we’re frankly honest about our limitations.  Sometimes our limits should be exactly that .. . our limits.  Wisdom often involves knowing when to stop, when far enough is far enough, and when it’s legitimately time to invest our energies elsewhere. Limitations exist for reasons. It’s not about giving up or surrendering or being weak-willed or passively apathetic.  It has nothing to do with being sheepish, shy, insecure or outright scared.  Rather, limitations let us know when something is completed, that further work on our part is unnecessary, that anything beyond this point is squandered energy, and that we need to direct our resources toward the next place in our lives.

 

Developing Realistic Expectations

Second, effective self-evaluation takes place when we’re realistic about our expectations.  Our expectations can be too high, too low,entirely misdirected, or so vague that we couldn’t even tell someone what they were.  Expectations define what we expect of ourselves and they typically say volumes about how we feel about ourselves.  Lack of expectations either suggests a sloth-like laziness, a blatant ignorance about life, a disregard for the gift of life and the shot we have at it, or a glaring lack of self-confidence.  Realistic expectations cannot be the stuff of wildly irresponsible ideas or the product of fear-based barriers.  They should reflect the genuine capabilities of our uniqueness which will create the most balanced environment within which our uniqueness can flourish. 

     

Self-Evaluation that’s Outside of Our Vision

Third, healthy self-evaluation occurs when we view ourselves through the template of a belief system that calls us out, up and beyond our own humanity to believe in our ability to embrace something infinitely higher and terribly more profound than the lax designs of a mediocre culture.  It’s believing that the vision of who we can be is dramatically limited by our vision of who we can be.  It’s believing that something greater than us has something a whole lot greater in mind for us.  If we’re not careful, we forfeit vision for confining rubrics because they seem more reasonable and a whole lot more doable.  We then embrace a pathetic and unnecessary compromise that spreads the infesting germ of mediocrity throughout our lives.  We can kill the germ of mediocrity by looking back at ourselves through eyes of something a whole lot bigger than us that sees us as big as we really are.

 

We Are More

Few of us do any kind of self-evaluation with anything remotely resembling the kind of depth that unleashes us.  We are diminished by our own assessment of ourselves; an assessment that wholly abandons our uniqueness.  We rarely embrace a framework that even comes close to allowing us to see the immensity of who we are; that based on that understanding beckons us to be humbled in the stunning recognition of who we are, and that challenges us to draw upon the resources around us to build upon the immense resources within us.  We are more than we presume ourselves to be;much, much more.  

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Love - What Is It?

February 12, 2016

What’s love?  That question is probably a topic to be debated.  We’ve got a million different definitions for this thing that we call “love.”  It seems that we’re in love with the idea of“love,” but we’re not all that caught up in the sacrifices that love will demand of us.  And so, we craft and we carve and we contort love to be something that we love, but something that we don’t love so much that it demands much of us. None of that is really love.  And so, what is love? 

It’s the stuff of endless novels, myths and legends. Entire movies and plays are driven from the first line to the last by this single theme.  We live for it, fight for it, plead for it, cheat for it and die for it. We even go so far as to fabricate cheap and limp imitations of love to at least get a small piece of something that looks like love.  But none of that is really love. 

We step into the quandary of the greeting card aisle and we’re faced with an endless variety of cards that extol love. We’ve got a whole holiday dedicated to it.  Our tombstones are cut with inscriptions that talk about how we loved or were loved.  We’re quick to say that we love certain foods or certain people or certain hobbies or certain colors.  Sometimes we speak the word“love” with a deep passion we don’t even understand.  Other times we throw it around to describe something we tend to like or feel good about. But what is it?

 

Love is Powerful

One thing’s for sure, love is powerful.  We all want it, or in reality we all need it. It’s inborn in us as some sort of fundamental human need that’s as important as water, food and oxygen.  You can’t grab it.  You can’t box it.  It doesn’t ship well and refrigeration doesn’t preserve it.  Love doesn’t allow you to control it or catch it or herd it.  We didn’t invent it and all of our efforts to dissect it end up leaving us as mystified as ever.  There are a million different stanzas and an equally large number of musical scores that bespeak of our love for “love,” but it still evades us. It’s abundantly clear that we’ve in love with “love.”  But what in the world is it?

 

Feeling or Decision?

Is love a feeling or a decision?  We can say with some certainty that love is a deep human emotion where the most fundamental of our passions are stirred. There’s something so powerful about love that people have risen to unbelievable heights and achieved phenomenal things because of love.  On the other side of that, people have also plunged to frightening lows that some individuals never crawl out of.  Love is a powerful emotion that makes us uniquely human and gives us the ability to do things we never imagined we could do.  But, is love a feeling or a decision?

 

What if Love is Both?

Indeed,true love is a profound emotion. However, it must move beyond an emotion simply because love without a decision that throws love into action is love that is in the very process of dying.  Love without a decision never moves love outside of itself.  Love without a decision never touches anyone but us. Love without a decision will utterly rob us of the very miracles that only love can pull off.  Love without a decision, or a decision without love will both fail miserably.     

And so we choose.  We choose when it hurts to choose.  We choose when the choice may cost us dearly.  We choose when not choosing seems the better choice.  We choose when everyone around us deems such a choice as absolutely lunacy because they’ve forgotten what love is.  We choose because love will never be unleashed unless we make a decision to unleash it.

 

Love as the Expression of True Living

There’s one final thing about real love that makes it unique.  In fact, it might be the most important thing.  Living and sacrificing in love gives life an authentic richness far superior to a life that’s invested in just taking, or trying to give based on some cost/benefit analysis.  Love is first and foremost about how it helps someone else.  But in sacrificing for someone else something powerful returns to us. Love kind of splashes back on us. It will eventually come full circle possessing more than what we’d sent it out with.  That’s enriching in ways that are truly great.  Make a decision to love and it will return.  Make a choice and you will be loved.  Choose to love and you’ll end up falling in love with loving.

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Loving Our Enemies - See Ourselves in Our Response

February 6, 2016

We get attacked.  That’s a reality of life.  Somewhere, at some time, someone is going to come after us.  We’ve going to get cut,clobbered or end up with an assorted collection of contusions.  Sometimes the intentions of those that hurt us are misdirected, and at other times they’re completely intentional.  Sometimes the actions of others are the stuff of mindless impulse and therefore kind of shot-gun in their intention.  At other times the actions of others are completely malicious, being viciously planned and savagely implemented.  There are times when the actions of others are based on an errant understanding of events or circumstances, being tragic mistakes and gross misfires.  At others times the intent is simply to hurt so the nature of the precipitating event is altogether irrelevant, other than being a product of cruelty and by-product of selfishness.  When these things happen,we naturally respond.  Yet, what does our response say?    

Obviously we respond.  We respond to a whole bunch of things in a whole bunch of ways.  Oddly, our response is often not analyzed because we assume it to be normal or appropriate given whatever it is that we’re responding to. If we do in fact analyze our response, it’s often because we thought that our response was too pensive and tentative, or we thought it was a too bit robust and overwhelming.  In other situations, we might think that our response was completely misdirected or somehow inappropriate given the situation. Then there are the situations where we feel that we shouldn’t have responded at all when we did in fact respond, or we chose not to respond when we should have.  

However we respond, we respond.   Whether that’s a response that’s thought ou tor thoughtless, we respond.  Our focus then tends to be solely on our response, whether it’s a good response, a bad response, or a rather irrelevant response. It seems that we tend to analyze our response instead of analyzing what our response says about us.  There’s this crafting, managing and executing of our response, but really nothing about what the response tells us about us.  We might be wise to quit looking solely at the response, turn things over on their backside, and ask what our response says about us.  What does the nature and type and kind o response say about who we are?  What does the intensity and direction and flavor of our response suggest about who or what we are at our core?

 

A Bit of Analysis

Fulke Greville wrote that “No man was ever so much deceived by another as by himself.”  That should create a whole lot of caution within each of us.  Of all the people that we interact with, it is ourselves that we should be analyzing the most.  We really can’t afford to live our lives walking in the darkness as if the darkness is the only thing that we can walk in.  We can ill-afford to do things like some brainless simpleton, assuming that doing them is just doing them.  Truth be known, we’re much, much more complex than that. 

There’s a tendency in human behavior to respond without asking why we’re responding the way that we are.  Maybe it’s something primitive, something that has to do with the whole concept of fight verses flight.  When it comes to survival, we don’t necessarily have the luxury of stepping back and pondering what we’redoing.  Or maybe it’s more about convenience;that stopping and thinking and contemplating takes time and energy, and maybe in the rush of it all, it’s just messy and inconvenient.  Or maybe we don’t really want to understand why we’re doing what we’ve doing.  Maybe that will uncover some less than complimentary things about us that we’d prefer not to know.  Yet, we need to know.

 

Wha tOur Responses Reveal

Insecurities

Often our responses reflect our deep-seated, gnawing insecurities.  In some instances those insecurities result in a response that’s wildly disproportionate and entirely over the top. In responding like that, we insure that whatever or whoever’s attacked us is sufficiently repelled or annihilated altogether.  At other times we don’t respond at all,fearing that if we do we’re likely to incur further attacks or more abuse.  So we run and we hide.

 

Immaturity

Sometimes are responses are entirely misdirected, mis-allocated and misapplied; in other words it’s all reflexive and nothing of reflection.  We may not have the maturity to fully understand exactly what happened to us and why it happened to us.  We may not have developed the depth of intellect, insight and the balance of maturity to render a response that’s appropriate to the offense. So, if our response is rather wild, we might be immature.

 

Impatience

We do tend to be an impatient lot.  Impatience simply means that we want some sort of result in the ‘right now.’ Impatience means that we forfeit thinking in favor of doing.  We forfeit gathering data in favor of doing the deed.  We strike out instead of strategize.  Our impatience drives us to an immediate, reflexive action that will likely serve to enflame a situation that we’re attempting to douse.  If our response is knee-jerk, we’re likely impatient.

 

Selfishness

Many times our response is deliberately directed to meet our need or serve our agenda. In the fuming mindset of retaliation we take little if any time to consider the collateral damage of our choices. Nothing happens in isolation.  If we ignorantly act as if that were the reality, we’re simply slogging around in the egocentric backwaters of selfishness. If our actions are all about self-preservation and they spurn the common good, we’re likely selfish.

 

Moral Shallowness

Most of the time, our responses will challenge our ethics and our morals.  When we respond to an attack, the most devastating, brutal and agonizing responses are likely unethical.  If we really want to ravage someone and leave the landscape of their lives scorched and barren,that action will probably be immoral, or so close to immoral that we’d be stupid to engage it.  If we really want to wail on somebody and drive them so far into the ground that they’ll never crawl out, we’ll probably have to stuff our ethics, turn a blind eye and live with the guilt of it all for the rest of our lives.

 

Wha tOur Responses Say About Us

Don’t just respond, even though that’s the easy thing to do.  Ask what your response says about you.  Let your responses cause you to respond to you. Ask the hard questions.  Do the tough analysis.  Face yourself.  You will be a better person who leaves behind a better world even when that world attacks you.  

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Loving Our Enemies - More Than a Nice Idea

February 2, 2016

Life has those lingering proverbial statements that seem timeless; those quips and quotes that have that some kind of message that’s just so compelling that you simply can’t ignore them.  Whatever they say, and there’s a bunch of them that say a whole lot of things, they say something that’s so core to us,or who we’d like to be that secretly we’d love to be able to live them out.  It seems that because they have something genuinely real to them they persist indefinitely because they’re indefinitely fresh and relentlessly applicable. 

However, it seems that these timeless,proverbial treasures are so good that they’re too good to be true, or least too good to be achievable.  We’d really love to be able to actually do what they say and live like they suggest, but they’re pretty demanding and rigorous.  In fact,they’re sometimes so demanding and so rigorous that they seem a bit impossible.  Yet, they remain compelling nonetheless, like some precious gem just beyond our reach.

 

Love Your Enemies

The command to love our enemies is clearly one of those things.  It certainly sounds nice.  It would probably relieve a whole lot of our stress.  It would likely make the world that “kinder, gentler” kind of place.  It would probably diffuse a whole lot of stuff and smooth over things before any real damage is done.  Yeah, but how realistic is that command that really?  Face it; we live in the 21st century.  Look around.  It’s not a “kinder, gentler” kind of world.  Rather, it’s a place where we need to be on our guard and protect ourselves or we’re eventually going to ‘ground round’ in some situation with someone sooner or later. 

Taking that thinking a bit further,how do we love the people who are beating us up in any number of ways that we get beat up?  In fact, is loving them even remotely reasonable as that seems to imply that we’re somehow giving their actions a degree of permission or legitimacy. Aren’t we telling the offender that their offenses are okay?  It also seems to suggest that we’re up for further offenses and that we’ve become something of the proverbial ‘doormat’ in our relationship with whomever wants to walk on us.     

Oscar Wilde said “always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much.” That sounds kind of appealing in a sneaky kind of way because that’s really about a covet kind of revenge.  In actuality, that’s more a sinister way of getting back at our offenders without them really knowing that we’re getting back at them.  That’s not about love. 

I think we move closer to something of substance in the words of an unknown author who wrote, “The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles me.”  That should give us pause . . . probably a whole lot of pause.  There’s another proverbial statement that says that what we hate in others is really what we hate in ourselves.  The hatred for our enemies may well be the characteristics in them that we see in ourselves.  It would seem that that should start to reorient our thinking a bit.

 

The Cost to Our Enemies

What we don’t consider is the cost our enemies pay in being exactly that . . . our enemies.  Being our enemy demands that people do things or carry out certain actions that make them our enemies in the first place.  Our enemies are not enemies without some sort of decision or action that makes them our enemies.  Something was done, or some event transpired,or some situation was initiated that clearly put them in a starkly adversarial position relative to us.  In other words,they had to do something to become our enemies. 

And that action, whatever it was, had to be severe enough to rupture, smash or entirely decimate our relationship with them.  Their actions had to be sufficiently toxic to set them completely at odds with us.  Something pretty significant had to transpire to polarize our relationship with them and put us at the opposite end of spectrum in some sort of adversarial stand-off. Something pretty bad had to have been done by our enemy. 

What we think about is the cost of that action to us.  In fact, we tend to be all over that.  We can easily and quite extensively tell people how bad it was, how much it hurt, how unfair it was, and how uncalled for the actions were. We can recite all of that with great ease. 

What we don’t think about is the cost to our enemy in doing what they did to us. Of course we don’t.  We probably don’t have a whole lot of interest in going over that because we’d prefer to lick our wounds in light of the abuses that were perpetrated upon us.  The abuses levied against us get all of our attention and the majority of our emotional airtime.  It’s not that we shouldn’t deal with those things, but they become our entire focus. 

Yet, perpetrating these things upon us comes with a cost to the person doing those things to us.  In fact, it’s likely that the cost to our enemies for whatever it is they’ve done to us is greater than the cost of those actions upon us.  We don’t see the cost to our enemies because we’re the ones in pain. We assume that the level of pain we’re experiencing reflects the cost,and it’s likely that our enemy is not in pain. In fact, they might be downright happy and somewhat elated about what they’ve done to us. 

However, there are consequences for how we live our lives; deep, profound and devastating consequences.  Many times those consequences aren’t reflected in the pain someone is experiencing and they’re not necessarily reflected in whatever the outcome of the moment is.  Most consequences are much deeper, something like a slow acidic burn that gradually eats away at the edges of our souls;killing us in small degrees so that we die a slow, unrecognized death.  There’s a conscience ignored that will eventually have its day. There’s the reality that nothing that’s ever done in isolation and that when we sow pain, or betrayal, or abandonment, or any other destructive thing it will affect everything else around us.  Then there’s the reality of time and circumstance that simply means that what we visit upon others will eventually be visited upon us.  And finally, there’s the numbing action that occurs when we act in hateful and deceitful ways; a numbing that robs the robber of the essence of their humanity, therefore robbing them of the whole of life. 

There are terrible consequences that are tantamount to the destruction of the offender’s life.  In harming us they are in turn harming themselves in ways that they cannot imagine; ways that they would likely repent of if they could only see it.  And so, we need to attend to our own pain, but in understanding the loss to our enemy we can find a place to love them. 

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To Love or Not to Love - That’s the Question

February 2, 2016

It seems one of the oddest dichotomies. Life is full of strange and downright weird contradictions.  At many times in our lives, at many points both important and not so important we find ourselves pulled in two completely opposite,but equally compelling directions.  At times it seems that two entirely different people reside within us, each mesmerized and held captive by things completely contrary and contradictory;each aggressively vying for the thing that pulls them in opposite directions.  Of all of these kinds of moments, there is one that seems more vexing than the rest . . . and love drives it. 

We all want to love and be loved.  There's a whole lot that we can do without.  As much as we'd love to do without love at times, we're simply incapable of doing so.  There's something woven through the very core of our tapestries that desires to both expel love out and draw it in.  We'd love to do it without fear or reservation.  We'd love to be wrapped init, immersed in it and enriched by it. We'd love to have it abound to the point that we drown ourselves in it because we know that such a drowning is nothing of dying but everything of living. 

We know that a world submerged in love is a world safe, precisely balanced and warmly thoughtful.  It would be a world centered on the good, protected from the bad, a place committed to refuge and stoic inits nurturance of all.  We know that a world embedded in the giving and receiving of love would not be naive, it would be never be careless and it would always err in favor of risking for the good of others despite whatever the magnitude of the risk might be.  It would cultivate the best of our humanity and patiently reshape that which is not. 

We know that this kind of love between two people is nothing short of marvelous and mystical; something that brushes right up to the edge of our humanity and lavishly spills over into some place that we recognize we were designed to live but seldom discover, much less visit.  Love is not an reality that disappoints.  It'snot some idea of fanciful dreamers or misty-eyed idealists.  It's not something spun from the pens of secluded novelists or cooked up as some idea to offset the pain in our world.  Rather, it's the only thing powerful enough to endure when everything else does not.  Love is a staunchly core reality that we rarely ever find.  And it is in missing it that we experience disappointment. 

 

Once Burnt, Twice Smart

Loving means risking.  There's no way around it.As with anything truly valuable in life, there's always something of risk in attempting it.  It seems that we should be able to love without the concurrent risk of being hurt in the loving.  Yet, in the reality of the world that we live in, good things stand toe-to-toe with the bad. 

So when we love, we choose to be vulnerable. In reality, there is no other choice. We must choose to open ourselves up because unless we do so, love has no place to go.  Unless we do so, it will beheld outside of us in some place where it can never 'be and do' all it was designed to 'be and do.'  Unless we open up, we will hold it at bay and long for it while it's right at our very fingertips. 

So we eye it and contemplate it and thirst after it, but we don't reach out for it.  Typically we don't reach out for it because we have before.  And in doing so before we've been burned . . . badly burned. We've been hurt, or betrayed, or back-stabbed, or abandoned or any number of other cruel things that took our hopes of love and incinerated them into something of acidic smoke and charred ashes.  "Once burnt, twice smart" as they say.  It should not have been, but i twas.  We learn never to go there again because being hurt in love always seem to far, far outweigh the love that we originally sought.

 

Playing it Safe and Killing Love

Much like anything in life, we can play it safe. Playing it safe doesn't mean that we will be safe.  But there's some sense that we can make it safer anyway.  Yet we insulate ourselves from love.  We want it, but the risk is too great.  We thirst for it, but we can't bring ourselves to risk for it.  We face the terrible dichotomy of wanting something so desperately, but having that core thirst for love thwarted by all the fears that come with having loved before and having been burned. 

So love goes wanting.  We create thin and shallow replacements for it so as to reduce the risk of reaching for the real thing.  We call a lot of things"love" that run the gamut from something that approximates love to things that have nothing to do with love at all.  We cheat ourselves, we cheat others and we cheat this single, precious opportunity that we have to live and love.

 

Love, Again and Again .. .

We need to love.  We must.  We can do so realizing that all the grievous pain of loss will never offset the wonder of love.  We can do so with wisdom, boundaries and respect.  We can walk into love with our eyes clear rather than fogged by the fraudulent love we call infatuation.  We can love responsibly so that it does not become abused and turn into something it was never meant to be.  If we cherish love, respect it's power,refuse to use it for our gain, always commit it's benefits to others and are lavish in our expression of it, it will serve us well. 

And so why risk loving?  Because the risk will always be offset by love.  Done well, the risk will be always be worth the risking.  To forfeit love is to forfeit much.  "To love or not to love?"  That's up to each of us individually.  Your choice, whatever it might be, will impact you more than you may realize.

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The Battle - I’d Rather Be David

January 29, 2016

Battles are both the bane and the glory of our existence.  We adamantly abhor them when they’re forced on us by vengeful adversaries who mean us all the harm they can muster up, or when they randomly befall us through indiscriminately cruel circumstances over which we have no control.  On the other hand, we rather bask in them when there’s something gallantly heroic about them, or they serve to right a great wrong.  Indeed, battles are both the bane and glory of our existence.    

Battles as Daily Challenges

The battles that we fight come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are nothing more than things we would define as the day in and day out challenges of living out our lives.  We’ve come to see these battles as a natural and acceptable element of life and living.  

Battles as Battles

But then there are those things that have little or nothing to do with the natural course of life and living.  There are these acutely harrowing moments either forged on the anvil of our poor choices, or violently struck on the revengeful anvil of someone or something else.  These are those events that are not about pressing through to the next thing, rather they are about surviving so that we can get to the next thing.  

Battles of Justice

Then there are also those battles that we choose to engage in.  It may be that we have witnessed a searing injustice, or that a line has been crossed that should never have been crossed.  Any number of these things enflame our ire and prompt us to step into the fray. 

Battles of Calling

Or we may sense some innate calling that’s compelling beyond any of our best efforts to resist.  There might be a compulsion borne of some deep inner essence that whispers that we were born for such a moment, or that the entire purpose of our existence is to wage the singular battle before us.  Of warrior stock or not, we may feel an irresistible call to a battle either large or small. 

The Goliath’s

Superiority

It seems that in fighting these battles of ours, we’ve developed a mentality of superior warfare.  There’s something in our construct that envisions what superiority is, whether that’s sheer numbers, or the extent ofour resources, or timing, or any of an innumerable number of things.  This is more akin to a Goliath mentality. 

Clearly, wisdom would dictate inventorying such resources as held up against whatever foe we face.  Yet, could it be that the calculations that we’ve devised to determine what battles we will fight or not fight have entirely removed our convictions, our calling, our sense of injustice, and the whole notion that we were raised up to lay ourselves down?  Would it be reasonable to conjecture that any instrument of war, regardless of how devastating, only takes on life when those who hold those weapons are driven by deeply core convictions that bring us to the battlefield?   Have we taken passion and conviction and calling, which are the most potent resources of war, off the battlefield?  And if we are not driven by those things, is the battle really a battle at all? 

The David’s

Battles of Conviction

In that sense, I would much prefer to be David.  I would prefer to know my weapon well and be practiced in its use. Yet, I would want the heart behind the weapon so that the nature of the enemy and the weapons arrayed against me do not hold the power for me that they might otherwise hold.  I certainly don’t want to be foolish or naïve and thoughtlessly take on an enemy without careful consideration.  However, neither do I want to winch in fear or call a battle lost that is winnable because my core convictions undergird the weapons that I possess sufficiently to overcome when others would think I could not.  I much prefer to be David. 

Our Battles

It may be wise to survey the landscape of our lives, as well as the far greater landscape of the lives around us and ask whether we’ve fought battles or run from them.  And whether our choice has been to fight or flee, where were our convictions and what role did they play or not play in those decisions?  For a life that has forsaken conviction is a life lived in hiding, deaf to purpose, and robbed of victory.  I would much prefer to be David.

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What We Worship - The Things We Bow Down To

January 24, 2016

What I Worship

The Things I Bow Down To

We all worship something.  For the strong and stalwart types among us,we probably find that statement a bit pathetic or at least somewhat unsavory at best.  For the more passive among us,that statement might make us feel more subservient and possibly more used than we already feel.  For everyone else that’s somewhere in the middle, it might resonate as slightly antiquated with a dusty touch of religious sentimentality. Regardless of where we fall or who we are, the concept of worship can cut against the grain and be seen as an action that undercuts our independence.  Worse yet, the whole idea or act of worship might usurp our independence altogether, which for many us is a rather frightening proposition. 

Often we conceptualize worship as being something that demands our obedience and allegiance.  To many, worship suggests subservience and a kind of scripted groveling where we’re irreparably stooped and bent in penance or slavery to something.  To others, it’s an action that they sense is owed to something in their lives, or it can be an action that draws one close to the object of worship.  Whatever the case, we all worship something.     

 

Our Need to Worship

Dorothy Thompson said that “the instinct to worship is hardly less strong than the instinct to eat.”  That’s pretty powerful.  There’s something woven and intricately threaded within us that demands that we worship.  Benjamin Disraeli framed it nicely when he said that “man is made to adore and to obey: but if you will not command him,if you give him nothing to worship, he will fashion his own divinities, and find a chieftain in his own passions.” 

There’s something core within us that needs something core above us.  So, it seems that we’re always about the process of creating something that can be that “core” thing.  In reality we’ve become quite adept at it.  In creating,we might ask ourselves are we creating just to create, or are we creating something to worship?  How much of our energies, our efforts and our creativity are directed toward the creation of something that’s much more than simply something that we came up with, and is actually more about something that we can look up to?  In all the scurrying about that we do in life, in all the assorted investments that we make, and in all the tedium that we’re all about, are we in reality creating something that’s big enough and sufficient enough to appear worthy of our worship? 

 

Worship Implies a Throne

Worship suggests that something has been elevated above everything else.  There’s something within our lives that holds that key and sacred place; the thing that we have set on the throne of our lives. The whole concept of a “throne” suggests that each life has a place of primacy, a central location or point which everything else draws from, and around which everything is centered.  Most of us don’t think about the concept of a “throne” likely because such a notion is the stuff of antiquity; some object that we would associate with ‘pomp and circumstance.’  That imagery doesn’t really fit in our conceptualization of our lives as we live them out in the 21st century.  A “throne” is just too eccentric and off. 

Yet, in thinking about worship it seems unpardonably imperative to embrace the understanding that we each have a central place in our lives that is second to none.  There is that place that we carefully guard, that “hill that we’re willing to die on,” that part of ourselves that’s unquestionably non-negotiable, and that thing that we feel we simply couldn’t live without.  There are those places where no one’s allowed and no one can touch.  We have that inner sanctum, that holy of holies that’s reverenced and revered.  We may not think of these places quite that way, but they’re there.  These are our thrones.

 

Something on the Throne

It would seem to follow that if we’ve got a throne, and we do, that something’s probably on it.  Therein lays the great question for each of us.  What do we put on the throne?  It seems that while we have a throne, we are privileged to put on it whatever we want. Things can demand that we put them on the throne; whether that be people, or dreams, or relationships, or careers, or material objects, or religious beliefs, or the desire for status in whatever arena we desire status in.  Petitions for the throne can come from painful events, disheartening failures, any of our many wounds, or a wide array of emotional issues.  Things such as denial, hatred, bitterness and revenge can all jockey for a place on the throne.  Then there are all kinds of addictions or other destructive behaviors that will want to sit firmly on the throne so that they can exist unimpeded and unquestioned.

 

Ourselves on the Throne

More often than not, we put ourselves on the throne; or at least that’s what we think we put on the throne.  We want to reign supreme in the kingdom that we call “us.”  We reign with an iron scepter and we bow to no one.  Bryant H. McGill said that “self-made men often worship their creator.”  That’s quite frightening.  Yet, the throne of our lives is such a massive and sometimes overwhelming place that we’re fooled as to who’s actually on it.  It’s really not “us” that’s on it,but things we’ve put there that we think are “us.”  Often we’re deluded into believing that we’re reigning, when we’re subservient to what we’ve put on there.  Because we put these things on the throne we assume that we control them.  Yet, what we put in power, what we elevate to that position will turn and control us.  Likely one of the greatest deceptions is to firmly believe that we’re on throne when we’re not.

 

What Should We Put on the Throne?

The throne of our lives is a powerful place.  It would make crystal clear sense then to carefully determine what we put on the throne.  Often we’re not wise enough to know exactly what that should be.  Our frequent short-sightedness and hedonism are hardly suitable lenses through which to make such a choice.  It’s entirely feasible that anything that “we” put on the throne will in time turn on us, usurp us,use us, or possibly destroy us.  It’s downright possible that anything that we put on the throne will help will turn to our ill. 

Maybe it’s more about “allowing”something on the throne; something that does not demand that place, but requests it.  Maybe something that inherently seeks our good over its own. Could there be something that designed us purely for itself and us purely for it; something that is the only natural and good fit for the throne of our lives?  Is the throne of our lives custom-made for something or someone like this? Anything else on the throne will surely lead to a life that embraces the agenda of whatever it is that’s on the throne. Only one thing sits on the throne on our behalf.  So, who’s on the throne?

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Sacrifice - Un-Centered, Unselfish and Uncut

January 23, 2016

Sacrifice

Un-Centered, Unselfish and Uncut


The concept of sacrifice seems more suited to novels or epic movies.  It appears more an ideal; a concept that when observed from a safe distance seems wonderfully heroic, deeply inspiring and chivalrous in a way that stirs up something powerful in us that seems to be forever held hostage despite the fact that it gets stirred.  Sacrifice, as we watch it displayed from afar, awakens some internal passion that chafes against our souls in its quest to be unleashed within us.

 

Somehow sacrifice seems to be something that is entirely right, that is likewise entirely lost.  There are those things that we believe exist yet are lost to mankind; the things we are ever in search of not because we are caught up in some sort of shallow fascination with them.  Rather, there are those things that we know to be authentically real whose absence must be remedied by their discovery.  There are those things that we are made for,yet which are entirely absent.

 

Sacrifice is one of those things.  It’s something that we know we are all called to.  It’s one of those things that we know is the right thing to do; that it’s part of our humanity and represents something undeniably central.  Sacrifice is the totality of our humanity called upward and outward in a grand display of selfless behavior.  It declares that we are not made solely for ourselves, but that we are made for others.  It captivates our minds and catapults our actions to do things we never dreamt possible. Indeed, it defines the core of our humanity; representing the ultimate action that one human being can take on behalf of another human being.  That’s sacrifice.


 

The Balance of Sacrifice

All of this doesn’t mean that our lives are always about other people. It’s simply about priority and the arrangement of things in our lives.  Our culture, and in many cases our world seems bent on maximizing our personal gains in any situation.  There appears to be an inherent mentality that the self can be sacrificed, but only to the degree that the self is not actually threatened, or threatened beyond likely recovery.  Sacrifice is calculated and made clean.  Certainly, we must exercise wisdom when we take actions on the behalf of others, but a clear set of priorities would seem to dictate the manner in which we act with others in mind.

 

Priorities

It seems that our actions are dictated by our priorities.  There appears to be this inherent grid that we run decisions through.  That grid seems primarily to hold the welfare of self above everything else.  Clearly,that seems to be in keeping with the natural tendencies and behaviors of base human nature. 

 

Yet, there is a sense of some deep sort that runs entirely contrary to human nature; that in putting ourselves first, we must by necessity put others first. There’s some sort of sense of community, of relationship and connection that deems us only a part of a much large whole.  And as a part of that larger whole, we are obligated to preserve the whole above the preservation of self.  That dichotomy all seems rather strange because it appears to run against our natural inclinations to make certain that we’re okay and that our personal interests are protected.


 

What’s the End-Game?

We all ask where we want everything to end up.  At the end of it all, when our days are over and the fullness of our time, talents and energies are spent what will be left?  That’s a terribly big, and in some cases, a terribly frightening question.

 

If our focus is upon ourselves, then the end results of our lives will be likewise focused on us.  The benefits and resources that we will have garnered and spent will serve us and us alone. That might make for a life that we perceived as satisfying and a good ride, but it ends at our end.  The service of self terminates at our own death. Therefore we will have left nothing that outlives us, nothing that serves the greater good, nothing for those who remain.  It would seem that the end-game is indeed the end-game in a manner tragic and unfortunate.

 

Whatabout Legacy?

What kind of footprint will each of us leave?  Will it be big enough and broad enough that others are enriched by it and find both comfort and inspiration init?  Will it have changed lives,redirected people who were on crash courses to their own destruction, or given someone somewhere some degree of hope in a place where they saw none for themselves?  Will our legacy live on, not just for the purpose of living on but for the purpose of giving others purpose?  Are we committed to leaving something of value behind that will cost us, but will in turn be of inestimable value to someone else, someplace else?  Or are our lives spent in the service of self which means it all begins, and more tragically ends there?

 

In leaving a legacy, we can’t be so shallow as to leave a legacy of who we were as some sort of monument to self.  Monuments are not legacies, they are simply reminders.  A legacy is leaving something to others for the sole purpose that it gives them something valuable and needed in their own journey whether we are given the credit for that or not.  It’s a selfless detachment where we hand another human being something that may very well be life-saving without them knowing its origin or being able to credit the one who gave it to them.  It’s a gift that is given for no other purpose than the nature of the gift and the recipient who will receive it; the giver being entirely lost in the transaction. That is sacrifice.


 

How Will I Live?

Sacrifice . . . it runs contrary to who we are, but it is in reality everything that we are.  The pinnacle of our humanity is ascended when we descend in the service of others.  We are raised up when we lay ourselves down. It builds us, it builds others, and it builds families, communities and nations.  Sacrifice is the best of our humanity manifest in shining moments when everything that would diminish us is overcome and set aside.  It is all of us at our very best.  So how then will you live?

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Self-Image - What’s Yours?

January 23, 2016

 Self-Image

What's Yours?


Self-image is that perspective that we have about ourselves. It’s kind of like looking in some sort of mirror in order to determine what we look like.  We stand in front of these mirrors and try to figure out who we are, what we are and what we’re not.  We tilt our heads and squint,trying to make out the reflection of our heads, our hearts or whatever’s in there. 

We are constantly coming back to these mirrors in order to figure out who we are and what’s in there.  Conflict brings us back.  A relationship gone bad brings us back.  A job loss, financial collapse,personal failures, the upheaval of mid-life crisis or some tragedy all bring us back.  These kinds of things make us question ourselves so we’re back in front of some foggy, squiggly mirror with squinted eyes trying to get our bearings again.

 

Distorted Mirrors

You’ve seen the mirrors that distort your image. Those can be the kind in the Fun House at the circus on antique mirrors aged and faded by time.  The image isn’t quite right.  Sometimes it’s close and other times its way off, but it’s not accurate. 

It seems that most of the time a poor self-image is the result of a distorted mirror.  You see, we don’t make our mirrors.  Most often they’re made for us.  Key people in our lives make them.  Mom’s and Dad’s and relatives and friends and teachers and pastors and bosses make them. These people all have a hand in building the mirrors that we peer into. 

For some of us those mirrors are fairly accurate.  We were fortunate enough to have some solid people around us who knew enough about who they were to help us build accurate mirrors.  For others of us however, we came from difficult or dysfunctional situations where the mirrors got all messed up.  We were told that we were worthless.  Negative messages poured in almost relentlessly.  We were labeled,categorized, put in some sort of personally diminishing box, cataloged and stamped as inadequate, stupid, a born loser, a mistake, a burden, an object, or any of a million other destructive identities. 

Our mirrors were shaped to reflect these things back to us even if they weren’t there.  We gaze into these mirrors trying to see who we are.  Reflected back to us are distorted images emblazoned on these mirrors that have nothing to do with who we really are.  When we look in the mirror it sure looks like those things are there, but they’re not.  They’re convincing alright, but they’re not reality.  Our self-image is whittled away and eventually destroyed if we’re not able to understand that what I see is not what I am.  Rather, it’s what other people told me I am.

 

It’s Their Reflection

People in our lives build their reflections into our mirrors. It’s called projection. Projection is where someone places their issues on us.  It’s a convenient way to avoid dealing with our issues by putting them on someone else. And so people project their issues or their deficiencies or their quirks into our mirrors.  And when we look into those mirrors, those things distort our image.

We are not those things.  They are simply a distortion of our true selves.  Sadly, we tend to embrace them as being true about us and we incorporate them into our lives as if they are real.  They’re not.

 

Adjusting Our Mirrors

We need to adjust our mirrors, to clean them up.  That can be done by identifying what people have put there and telling yourself that it’s their image not yours.  It’s looking closely enough to ask “whose reflection am I really seeing here?” It’s not about denying any of the bad stuff we see by attributing it to someone else.  That kind of stuff’s too easy to do.  It’s more about an honest assessment, teasing out fact from fiction and tale from truth.  Who am I really?  It’s a great question and one worth figuring out.  So . . . look in the mirror again,but look differently.       

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Success - Defining It Defines Us

January 23, 2016

Success

Defining It Defines Us


It would be pretty safe to say that all of us want to be successful.  We’re not stagnant creatures just milling about and burning time until we drop dead.  There’s something more intentional about us; something that responds to challenges and has a natural inclination to set goals, whether we actually achieve them or not.  We have a need to have a purpose; something that defines us as more than carbon-based life forms going through a series of meaningless motions on our way to the grave. We have a need to achieve, to conquer, to rise to great heights and soar.  It seems that being alive is not enough to justify our existence or lend value to that existence.  Rather, we have to make our mark and leave a timeless legacy that shouts that we were more than simply people who lived out our days.

 

This need to justify our existence naturally and most predominantly results in the need to succeed in some way.  To do that, we have to define success.  How do we know if we’ve succeeded?  What will give us a sense that we’ve accomplished something?  How will we determine how far we’ve come or how far we’ve yet to go?  Did we do it right or did we do it wrong?  To answer those questions we’ve got to define what success is.  Otherwise we have no yardstick that we can use in order to determine our progress or lack thereof.


 

How We Define Success

The problem for most of us is not in succeeding.  The real issue is in how we define “success.”  Whatever that definition is, it’s extremely powerful.  Our definition of success, whatever that might be, has power beyond our recognition and it has implications for us that in large part never even dawn on us.  How we define success will define what we do and how we do it.  Our definition of success will quite literally direct the whole of our energies.

 

Whatever our definition of success, it will be the thing that drives us, that determines where our energies are invested, how our resources are expended, what risks we will take, exactly what we’re going to be willing to sacrifice, and the degree to which we’ve achieved or failed.  Our definition of success becomes the yardstick by which we measure both what we do, and ultimately what we’re worth.  It can become the idol at whose feet we bow and to which the whole of our lives and our energies are sacrificially expended.  It becomes the focal point of what we do.  Therefore,our definition of success becomes terribly critical.


 

Our Definition Defines Our Value

Our definition of success is driven by whatever our ultimate goal is.  There are tons of goals that we could sort through and sift through and discuss and evaluate and weigh out.  However, at the core of each goal there’s typically one central goal that defines all other goals.  That fundamental goal is to have a sense that our lives have “value.” Whatever our goals are and whatever they look like, it’s likely that their main objective and their core purpose is to convince ourselves that we have value.  It’s entirely imperative that we see ourselves as having value as value justifies our existence and validates that we’re worthy of the space that we’re taking up.  Having a sense of value is core to our humanity because without it we feel empty, hollow, entirely lost and totally unworthy.  Value is indispensable.

 

The way that we convince ourselves that we have value is by convincing others that we have value.  It’s a kind of a self- inflicted ‘sales job’where we get others to believe that we have value which in turn convinces us that we have value because until others see it in us, we can’t possibly believe we have it.  Because that’s frequently the case, as sad as that might be, our definition of success is built on and around doing something that others will look at in awe, or reverence, or be driven to emulate, or hold in high esteem, or find praiseworthy because it’s all so grand and mesmerizing.  Once others grant it value, we grant it value.  When we ever that is, has to incessantly generate outcomes that people will value so that we can stuff ourselves full of that “stuff” sufficiently enough in order feel that we have value.


 

A Better Definition – What It Is and What It Isn’t

A definition of success is not so much about success as it is standards.  It’snot about accolades as much as it’s about authenticity.  It’s not about strategy, it’s about sanctity.  It’s not about where one wants to go, it’s about living well right where we are.  It’s not about what one does but who one is.  Success is based on how we chose to live which dictates what we choose to do; not the other way around.  Success is the maintenance of virtue and the life-long refining of a right heart when the world around us sees no value in either or anything else admirable for that matter. Success is a commitment to an unwavering morality for the sole purpose of morality and not for any applause that such a stance might obtain for us.

 

As Elbert Einstein put it, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”  Success is living well and dying with that legacy left in our wake.  It’s not about how many people witnessed our living well or how many can attest to it at the end.  It’s simply that we were those things whether they were displayed in front of masses of people or lived out in the greater testing ground of total isolation where no one sees but us and God.Success is a life well lived regardless of how many trophies or certificates or promotions or contracts we got in the process of living.  The marks of real success can’t be hung on a wall, or deposited in a bank account, or used as leverage to advance a career.  Those things are more the stuff of achievement, which are good, but they’re not necessarily “success.”

 

It’s not that achieving things or diligently working for those kinds of things is bad.  They’re not. It’s simply that they’re not the hallmark of the kind of success that shapes lives; that transforms people, that rocks cultures, that calls others to higher ground and boldly exhibits something that’s far beyond the tiny confines of our human existence and something more of the character and essence of the God who created us.  Success is right living, exuberantly virtuous living, mindful living, and selfless living that combine to result in a bold living that can be stunning.   It’s all lived out without wondering how many brownie points we’re going to amass by living that way and how good it’s all going to look to everyone around us.  It’s just living with brazen integrity for the sake of living that way and nothing more. That’s success.


 

An Adjustment

Our culture ties success to achievement as defined as worthy and worthwhile in and by our culture.  Yet, real success is a life well lived regardless of the achievements or lack thereof that might be a part of that kind of living.  Live right.  Live well. Live with integrity.  Be guided by a strong morality.  Be a stand-up person in a world that’s too often standing-down. That’s success.  That’s worth living for and dying in.  Re-define success for yourself and live it.

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The Bottom Line - What Drives Our Decisions

January 23, 2016

The Bottom Line

What Drives Our Decisions


We make decisions all day, everyday.  Whether those decisions are the redundant routine things that fill up most of our days, or those decisions are the seminal moments that alter our lives for the rest of our lives.  Some of the decisions that we make are conscious; choices that are the product of much time, rigorous thought, the balancing out of potential consequences, weighing the pro’s and con’s, performing analysis sometimes to the point of paralysis, and drawing on whatever our resources might be to make the best possible decision.  Sometimes our decisions are well researched,talked about, prayed about, stewed over, mulled over, poured over and turned over in our heads until our heads hurt. 

At other times our decisions are entirely unconscious, being something more of reflex, habit and instinct.  Sometimes those decisions are made on the run, navigating whatever’s coming at us at the moment that it’s coming at us.  Often we don’t have the time to think and we have no space to ponder what needs pondering. The minute that we might use to think about our decision is already packed with something else that’s already more than what those sixty seconds can hold.  On top of that, the next thing in our lives is already upon us, having shown up way too early like some uninvited relative.  Hot on its heels, the thing after that is already well on its way to our front door with whatever demands it’s going to make. So we make decisions in a reflexive, unconscious kind of way because that’s all we can do.

 

Decision Being a Choice

Decisions occur when we make a choice.  A choice implies that we have options; that we have an array of things or possibilities or directions or resources or whatever to choose from. Without options we don’t have a choice for there’s no other choice to make.  Therefore, the existence of a choice likewise indicates the existence of options.  The process of making a choice involves narrowing down those options in order to embrace a single option.  The other approach is that we do a bit of picking and choosing, blending several possible options or parts of options into a single, workable option.  However we go about it, we spend our lives making choices which is the shifting through of options.

 

What Drives Our Decisions?

Yet, what drives our decisions whether those decisions are conscious or unconscious? What’s the underlying stuff that shapes, drives and directs whatever choices we make?  We can assume that our choices are based entirely on whatever our options are.  We can presume that what drives our choices depends on what we’re having to choose from at the time we’re having to make the choice, the limitations that we have at the time we’re making the choice, as well as the practical implications of the choice both long-term and short-term.  In other words, what dictates our choice is whatever’s going on as we make them. 

It seems that the real truth of the matter is that the things that drive our decisions are much less about the reality of whatever those decisions are and much more about our underlying value system.  What drives our decisions is something much more core to who we are. The chemistry and alchemy of our decisions arises from core values that shape our perception and our thinking. To say that our choices are nothing more than a mix of all the stuff of whatever our present options represent cheapens the ability we have as humans to make powerful decisions in the most difficult of situations.  We’re driven less by the realities of what we’re facing, and more by the core values, beliefs and deep within us.

There are fundamental core values that we might not recognize at all, that we might not be able to articulate, and that we might deny wholesale.  We have core values that we’ve intentionally developed and other core values whose origins are entirely unknown.  We are driven by deep passion, core convictions, bedrock values, staunchly held beliefs and deeply engrained opinions.  The depth of these and their centrality in our lives is such that they affect all that we do whether we realize that or not.   

 

Exactly What Are Our Values?

The issue is what kind of core values do we possess?  What do our values look like?  Exactly what are the values that we hold to?  What’s the nature of them?  The holding of core values does not mean that those values are sound, right, moral, ethical or anything else for that matter.  Core values can be rotten to the core.  So, presuming that we have values doesn’t mean that we have good values. Yet, good or bad we all have core values. 

In making decisions, we need to understand that those decisions will be a direct reflection of our values,whether those values are positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy, ethical or immoral, selfish or selfless.  Our decisions are a concise and tightly focused mirror of our values.  We then need to realize that our choices are not wholly based on the reality of the options presented to us, or the dynamics that we’re dealing with.  Our decisions are not wholly the carefully crafted outcomes of carefully weighed facts and carefully considered repercussions.  The weight of our underlying value system will always be heavier than the realities of the options before us and the reality of the dynamics that surround those options.  More than anything, our choices are a product of our values and less a product of our acumen.  Whether slight or significant, our values will tip the scale in their direction.    

 

A Look at Ourselves

An unknown author wrote, “When one bases his life on principle, 99 percent of his decisions are already made.”  Our values decide our decisions.  We would do well to look at our decisions as they are a direct reflection of the values that we hold.  Our decisions may reflect values that are sound, balanced, ethical, moral and resonating with sustaining depth.  On the other hand, our decisions may reflect values that are selfish, unethical, imbalanced and lacking any real substance to render them timeless or timely. Either way, our true reflection is reflected in the mirror of our choices and decisions.

So as you peer into this mirror, what do you see?  You may not like what you what you see, but look into it anyway and decide what, if anything, you want to do with the reflection that’s staring back at you.  If you happen to like what you see, you may want to ask how do I keep that reflection solid and vibrant, and how do I further build on it and enhance it.  Regardless,your choices and your decisions reflect who you are at the core of who you are.  It’s all worth a good look and it’s worth some serious reflection.

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Uniqueness - Not as License

January 23, 2016

Uniqueness

Not as License

Sometimes fully being oneself in plain sight can be viewed as rather weird or downright odd.  Sometimes our uniqueness is labeled as strange, bizarre, quirky or slightly peculiar. ‘Different’ in a culture of uniformity is too frequently labeled as eccentric, curious, “out there,” slightly unconventional, eerie, a tad bit unorthodox, or being something akin to being a dork.  Our uniqueness can have dramatic social implications, causing us to be the outsider, the alien, the cultural misfit or just so plain weird that we’re a social phenomenon entirely unto ourselves with no place within which to fit at all; being relegated to the outcast. 

These kinds of conclusions are quickly drawn and judgments are carelessly rendered rather than seeing uniqueness as potentially fresh, distinctive, or entirely singular. Far too often uniqueness is directly correlated with weirdness, dumping it into an entirely negative and typically unredeemable social sideshow.  Uniqueness is pathetically reduced to oddity.It is then seen as entertaining because face it, “odd” is entertaining.  The throngs of society curiously mill about these sideshows seeking some form of entertainment or amusement at the ignorant expense of the miracle of uniqueness.  If you happen to have had the misfortune of having been dumped in some sort of sideshow because of your uniqueness, you’re seen as a permanent resident unless you reinvent yourself and sacrifice your uniqueness as part of that reinvention.  The cost to do that is astronomical and deadening.  

 

The Loss of Rendering Conclusions and Judgments

These various labels that we apply to others or have applied to us create a sharp and tainting distinctiveness that separates and excludes, rather than incorporates and includes. The profound asset of our uniqueness becomes a crippling liability.  We have these various labels dogmatically slapped on our foreheads in exceedingly bold type with the whole of our person then being identified based on whatever’s been scrawled on the label and slapped on our foreheads.  Following the brutality and ignorance of uniqueness branded as oddity, or worse yet as a deficit, we are forever relegated to the sideshow of life. The richness of our uniqueness is then lost to us, and lost to a world wallowing in stereotypes.  In such a“lose-lose” situation, we are all diminished in ways that we may never make up.

 

Rightly Exercising Our Uniqueness

In a culture that embraces tolerance and diversity, let’s make one point very clear. Being unique is not about taking license by being oneself and using it as a stage to elicit attention, or make some sort of controversial cultural statement, or use it as a pedestal to flaunt immoral behavior, or generate some sort of shock factor in those who are watching us be “us.”  Simply put, possession of uniqueness does not include permission to use that uniqueness with impunity to create something that we’re not in order to fulfill a personal agenda or fuel a social mission of some sort.  Our uniqueness is not a lifeless stool to be snatched up and errantly or thoughtlessly used in the service of whatever cause we choose to use it in.  Being authentically oneself is much more responsible and careful than that. 

Being oneself is about embracing a deep respect for the stunning and entirely vibrant uniqueness of all of creation; a uniqueness that has been carefully crafted, unapologetically exercised and fully manifest in each and every one of us. It’s respecting that uniqueness within us not as license to be itself at the cost of everyone else around it, but something that builds upon everything else around it.  It is not a pedestal to demand tolerance of the aberrant behaviors that we take license to construct from of our uniqueness.  Rather it’s a place where we bow in some soulful combination of deep appreciation and mind-boggling awe as we look to carefully unearth who and what we are without twisting or tainting who we are in the process.  It’s has nothing to do with revisionist mentalities or self-decreed permission where we seize our uniqueness, plop it as some lump of clay on a potter’s wheel and methodically shape it to our designs or our likening without regard for what it really is.  Uniqueness used in these ways will cease to be unique.

 

Uniqueness Gone Bad

The uniqueness of our individuality under the total control of the individual is likely to be driven by selfish and self-centered agendas that will make us unique, but uniquely troubled, dysfunctional,disoriented and distorted.  The power of uniqueness in the hands of limited people with unlimited parameters is dangerous indeed.  In a culture of self-determination, personal rights and the territorial thumping of our chests to declare that we’re the masters of our own fates we take license with our uniqueness that is not necessarily ours to take.  The cultural mindset of brazen independence creates a misguided sense that we are indeed of our own making, and that if we don’t shape who we are in whatever image we’ve determined that to be, we will have completely squandered our lives.

 

Uniqueness Well Handled

It seems that our uniqueness is not something to be shaped by us, but understood by us.  It’s not to be engineered by us, but explored by us.  It’s not to be created by us, but cultivated by us.  We do not set its agenda; rather we discern it so that we know enough of it to know the agenda it has set for us.  Our uniqueness is a precious gift that’s designed to be understood so that we can participate in making it the most that it can be, not shaping it into what we want it to be.  Our uniqueness holds within it the clues and the resources that tell us who we are, why we’re here and what we’re supposed to do with this gift called life. 

Our uniqueness is most effectively nurtured and cultivated within moral and ethical parameters that don’t inhibit that individuality as the culture assumes, but rather creates a place for us to maximize that individuality.  Moral and ethical parameters keep our uniqueness pure, supple and free from all the things that would tarnish it and ultimately destroy it.  Uniqueness is a priceless gift that is as fragile as fine china, as tough as fired steel, and as broadly expansive as the creative genius of God.  It is a gift beyond our ability to handle, but not beyond our ability to surrender to something greater than us so that it will eventually become something greater than us.  Uniqueness surrendered and lived out in the enabling power and protective place of moral principles and ethical standards paves the way for that uniqueness to rise to unparalleled heights, to be more than we can think or imagine, and to grow far beyond the horizons of any vision we could craft for it. 

You are unique . . . that’s already an established reality.  Amazingly, you are one of a kind. You’ve got one and only one shot at life.  So, what are you going to do with the immense gift of your uniqueness?  You will kill it or cultivate it.  What will you do?  Consider it.

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A New Life - Starting Again

January 21, 2016

A New Life

Starting Again

 

Ever feel dead?  I mean the kind of dead where life’s lost its vitality, its meaning and every bit of its luster?  The kind of dead that leaves you feeling entirely numb and completely hopeless all at the same time; being stranded in this limp kind of limbo where you’re alive but you don’t feel like it at all?  Ever feel like there’s absolutely no purpose, no direction from here to someplace other than here, no value whatsoever, no redeeming quality anywhere, and no ladder to get you out of the bottomless hole you’re in?  Ever feel dead? 

Here’s a curious bit of information that’s quite striking.  Archaeological excavations unearthed wheat seeds in pyramids dating back to 2500 B.C.  That makes these ancient seeds somewhere around 4500 years old, give or take a century.  In order to determine the types of grains used in the ancient world, archeologists planted them to see what would happen.  They grew!  Somehow, the spark of life hung in there for four and a half millennia.  What should have been long dead was very much alive.  What should have been snuffed out was not.  What should have been entirely hopeless wasn’t.  Think about it. 

It’s that time of year when things become new.  Spring and Easter are reminders of that which was terribly dead being made impossibly alive.  There’s something of a restorative quality about this time of year, where something whispers wild rumors of new beginnings arising from the seemingly dead seeds in our lives.  There’s something almost cruel about it all, as if there might be some sort of truth about a new life actually being possible.  Maybe it is true. 


Starting Over

How many times have we wished that we could just start over?  Would it be better to be dead and start over all new and fresh?  Sometimes it seems that it would be a whole lot easier to simply wipe the slate clean of whatever life has been.  There’s nothing like a fresh start, a clean break, a new day, a mulligan or a do over. 

However, life doesn’t grant us those options.  History is history.  It’s carved in granite in some sort of indelible script on the pavers that mark the road of our lives.  We can heal from it, learn from it, grow because of it, forgive what we did to others and forgive what was done to us.  We can let it haunt us, dog us, diminish us and destroy us if we let it, but we can’t change it.  It’s resource or demon.  It’s something that can be an asset or liability; a gift that blesses us or ghost that haunts us depending on how we use it, but it’s there for good. 

So, we’re stuck with our pasts.  Is life then about starting again, or is it about taking the resources of our past and using them to start over again?  Do we really want a fresh start, beginning with nothing in an attempt to build something?  Or would we be wiser to take whatever we have, whether it‘s perfect or painful and start from there?  Would it be wiser, possibly much wiser to plant that which seems dead and see what happens?

 

Starting Over is Not Starting Fresh

Starting over is an acceptance of a past we can’t change, an unrelenting conviction that the future can be different, and the stubborn wisdom to use the past to make the future what the past was not.  New starts are best built on the difficulties, failures and pain of the past.  It’s not about wiping the slate clean.  It’s about diligently studying what’s written there, learning from it, discerning its messages, drawing from it and applying what’s there.  Life from death in a resurrecting cycle where what kills us is turned in on itself to build us. 

Starting over is taking what life has dealt us and learning to see it as a resource when all we see is ruin.  In the oddity or maybe the miracle of life, the roots of something new frequently lie in the decaying husks of something old.  We just don’t see it that way.  We discard the old because we assume old equates with dead and useless.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Starting Over by Believing that You Can

The seed in you is not dead.  Sometimes we don’t start over because all seems dead anyway.  There’s no life left so what’s the sense.  It’s all lain barren for so long that nothing could possibly hold any spark of life.  Whatever’s in us seems parched, dusty and long ago abandoned to the sands of time and hands of fate.  Life however is teeming with vitality and is likewise terribly tenacious; holding on against impossible odds in impossible situations over impossible lengths of time.  There are seeds within us that seem long dead that are in reality very much alive.  New beginnings lay in dead husks.

 

Starting Over by Looking Back

So what are the lessons back there that lay strewn among the ashes and carnage?  We would rather not pick through that stuff if we had our druthers.  It’s ugly.  It’s often painful.  And sometimes there’s a stench back there that reeks of abuse, abandonment, betrayal and loss.  So we’ve buried it . . . a long time ago.  Why unearth it?  We unearth it because seeds for growth are sown in fields of pain.  What seems dead is very often alive.

 

Start Over by Reinvesting Your Life

Try again.  Give life another shot.  Do it differently maybe, but go at it again.  Believe that things in life spend infinitely more energy trying to live than working to die.  Life is about living.  Look around you as spring moves across the landscape.  Life fights back.  It’s designed to overcome.  It’s intentional about living with intention.  It takes seeds that seem dead and from them, life brings forth life.  How about you?  Ever feel dead?  How about believing in a new day, giving life another shot and watching what happens.  The seeds are ready.  

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