What TV game show/reality show would you like to be on?

I have already appeared on Jeopardy!, so the next logical game show would be Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

    1. What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD?

I believe it was Das Boot – subtitled

    1. If you had one million dollars to spend only on yourself, what would you spend it on?

A new home with a fenced yard, big kitchen, and plenty of room for gardening, a good SUV type thing, pay down all the bills, and travel

    1. One place you’ve visited, can’t forget and want to go back to?

Northern Minnesota, near Lake Itasca

    1. Do you trust easily?

Incredibly easily, to a gullible fault

    1. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think?

Act before I think, unless it is connected to my job.  I tend to be a bit more deliberate with other people’s money.

    1. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days?

It has been a rather emotional couple weeks.  Very busy and the typical ups and downs that come with human interaction.  Today a friend of mine lost his mom, who was a very kind and wonderful person.

    1. Do you have a good body image?

Better than I did before.  I have become a pragmatist about what I am, and looking at areas in which I can improve for my health.

    1. What is your favorite fruit?

Bananas.

    1. I’m always being asked…

If I am still acting.  The sad answer is no.

    1. The last big belly laugh I had was…

Listening to my nephew tell a particularly embarrassing but completely hilarious story concerning the river, a seagull, and the one thing our family ALWAYS talks about when we get together.

    1. What websites do you visit daily?

Facebook, Mail, and a number of news aggregators.

    1. What have you been seriously addicted to lately?

Music.  Particularly “You’re On Fire” by They Might Be Giants.  Listened to it no less that 10 times yesterday.

    1. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?

I only know the person from whom I borrowed this from as a blogger and as a friend of a mutual friend. She seems quite interesting, and I imagine we would get along famously from what I know of her.

    1. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head?

The Fruit of the Spirit, a song I am teaching the Sunday School kids.

    1. Favorite clothing?

Touched on this in last night’s questionnaire.  A torn pair of Carhartt jeans.

    1. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy?

When covered in copious amounts of sugar, or when lumped together in bar shape.

    1. What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground?

Something similar to this happened ($20, not $100) just before Christmas and I ended up giving it to someone who needed it more than I did.  I would hope I would exercise that same generosity if it would happen again.

    1. Items you couldn’t go without during the day?

Honestly, aside from food, water, and air, and maybe my C-Pap, I could do without everything else.  It would not be easy, of course, but we could all make do with just the basics.

    1. What should you be doing right now?

Being productive.  Instead I have allowed my mind to meander a bit and focus on writing. Back to work!

Chicken on a Plate?

  1. If you could build a second house anywhere, where would it be?
    I would prefer to have a first house built, but assuming that has occurred, a home on the beach facing a large body of water would be just fine, thankyouverymuch.
  2. What’s your favorite article of clothing?
    A T-shirt and jeans is practically my fashion calling card, so any quality t-shirt and the pair of Carhartt faded jeans that actually look pretty nice on me.
  3. What’s the last CD you bought?
    A CD?  Wow, taking me back in time.  Probably classical music, at least 9 years ago.  
  4. What time do you wake up in the morning?
    6:30 am.  Even when I wish to remain sleeping.
  5. What’s your favorite movie?
    The Princess Bride
  6. If you could play an instrument, what would it be?
    guitar.  For the coolness factor and because it would have come in handy many times.
  7. What’s your favorite color?
    black
  8. Which do you prefer, a sports car or an SUV?
    what, no sensible sedan?  Ok, SUV, because the Gardening Beauty likes to purchase large items via Craigslist.
  9. Do you believe in the afterlife?
    Not in the sense I used to believe in it.  Somehow, I now view it as much more about the spirit having a lasting presence in some way, and the possibility that it is all about a search for love.
  10. What is your favorite children’s book?
    Be Nice to Spiders
  11. What is your favorite season?
    Autumn, crisp cool walks
  12. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
    ambition
  13. If you have a tattoo, what is it?
    nope nope nope, this body has enough little quirks without me adding graffiti to the proceedings
  14. Can you juggle?
    I learned once, but have lost any small ability I might once have possessed.
  15. Who is the one person from your past you wish you could go back and talk to?
    Karen
  16. What’s your favorite day?
    When there were cartoons, it was Saturday morning, specifically.  But Fridays tend to be positive, generally.
  17. What’s in the back of your trunk?
    Isn’t this an oddly worded question?  Not even VW Beetles have the trunk in front anymore, so technically, the back of your trunk is somewhat redundant.  But, there are two blankets, some WD-40, washer fluid, jumper cables, and a tool kit.
  18. Sushi or hamburgers?
    Sushi is pretty amazing when you can get the good stuff, but even a cruddy hamburger tastes pretty good.
  19. From the people you email this to: who’s the most likely to respond first?
    No one, for this will remain un-emailed.  There might be a few friends who would find interest in this, but I don’t know who.
  20. Who’s the least likely to respond?
    Everyone
  21. Who did you receive this from?
    I borrowed this from IBA
  22. What is your favorite flower?
    I have become quite fond of anything that attracts butterflies and bees.  
  23. Do you believe in love at first sight?
    It has occurred, I’m sure, but in my experience, no.
  24. What would be your dream job?
    Researching and critically analyzing… stuff.
  25. What is your favorite meal?
    The Gardening Beauty happens to be an amazing cook, so choosing one is terribly difficult.  Her stew meat and mashed potatoes is probably my favorite comfort food, bar none.

He Never Gave Me A Gavel

There is a vice that is difficult to resist.  We are surrounded by those with whom we do not agree, with those who act differently, look differently, express themselves differently, and believe differently than we each do.  What is your first reaction to people different from you?  Or to those who hold deeply held values that run completely opposite of yours?  Sadly, I almost always judge, and judge harshly.  It is a never-ending struggle to accept them for who they are at their core.

Come As You Are.  We all are different.  No two experiences are the same.  We do tend to drift towards those with whom we hold similar experiences and beliefs, and that’s natural socialization, but we need to have a more sophisticated view of the world.  That is what it means to be human: to encounter the unknown and unfamiliar and find ways to incorporate it into our experience.  Think of all the things we miss because we judge others.  How about the mother with the out-of-control kids at the supermarket?  Imagine the wealth of love she must possess to care for those children.  Look at the abundance of energy that those children possess, and even though they are bouncing off the walls, try and see them curled up on the couch next to their mother while she reads to them.  We are complex, very deep, emotional beings.

Be Who You Are. I know people who hold deeply conservative views that are in direct opposition to mine.  I know people who deal with things in a far different manner than I do. It takes real effort every day to love them, but why wouldn’t I?  They are lovely, caring people whose opinions and skills happen to be different from mine.  Yes, we discuss things, and yes, it gets heated sometimes, but we want the best for each other.  However, it is far too easy for me to lump those who share opinions that differ from mine all together as a non-specific mob and dismiss them as wrong.  That does as much disservice to me as a thinking human being as it does to them.  And yet, I too often fall into that easy habit.  It is very easy to hate, to despise.  But to love?  That takes work.

To take this thought experiment in another direction, consider those we demonize regularly, and who demonize themselves with their actions: the fundamentalists who kill in the name of their twisted view of faith.  These were once children, some still are children.  They have followed their hatred downward into an evil place.  How do we free them from their hatred?  It is not easy to follow the example of love Jesus gave us.  How can we possibly love someone who could commit unspeakable acts?  I don’t know that it is possible within the confines of humanity, but it must be worth trying.  If we do not, if we continue a cycle of hate upon hate, then we are truly doomed.  We are left to be reborn as a species again and again only to consume ourselves.  But how can I love someone who is filled with hate, whose actions are evil?

I imagine Jesus asking those questions as he prayed for His father to take the cup away from Him.  Why did He need to suffer for these spiteful, hateful human beings?  It was to give us hope.  To teach us that love truly is the way.  It is no coincidence that he distilled everything down to love – Love God, and Love Everyone.  That’s it, that’s the answer.  But what an impossibly high standard to achieve!

In Your Face

Never one to shy from the limelight, there is one thing that causes me to shrink and move to the shadows… my faith.  Here, in this venue, I find it relatively easy to lay bare the idiosyncrasies of my journey, but I have never been one to proselytize in the traditional sense.  The image of a “true believer” expounding on the righteousness of her or his beliefs makes me cringe.  The reality is, I have no idea if what I believe is absolutely true.  I have faith that the God in whom I have placed my trust, who has blessed me in spite of what I have done, not because of what I done, exists in some sense and has shaped where we are and who we are in another sense.  But am I right?  Does everything I believe ring with the absolute truth that brooks no discussion, no doubt, no controversy.  Jesus, I hope not.

It is exactly that kind of self-certainty in the absolute that resulted in the horrific actions in Paris last week.  The murder of people who merely satirized what another considered sacred is an affront to faith of any kind.  Faith is not belief in the unprovable.  It is taking what you know, what you feel, what you experience, and finding deeper meaning in it.  These murders were not an act of faith, they were the brutal culmination of a mindset that actively denies truth.  Fundamentalism in any form is destructive, because it allows no doubt, it demands that you simply accept without discussion, it punishes punitively, and is devoid of the one truth that matters… love.

The men (and fundamentalist violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men) who corrupt the truth of love for their own political and economic gain are the basest form of evil.  They resort to violence because it is the only language they can speak.  When you abandon truth, it is easy to lose yourself in the most primitive of reactions… brutality.  They have devolved, taken humanity backward.  Those who embrace the easy answers of fundamentalism (no matter their faith journey) miss out on the experience of living, of being a child of God.

I write about my faith in this forum because faith requires discussion, and sharing my faith in this way might make it easier for others to share theirs.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but faith grows when you doubt it and question it.  When you seek, you find.  Do not fear the questions you need to ask, and certainly do not accept the answers you hear without skepticism.  Listen to your heart, listen for the whispers of truth around you.  Be the Love you seek.

Liquid Prayers

I cry.  Sometimes once a week, certainly more often than many might find socially acceptable.  I hide it and feel ashamed of it most of the time.  The prevailing norm is that men don’t cry.  In truth, that is utter baloney.  Men cry, and they should do it whenever they need.  It is a release, a relief, a catharsis, an emotional explosion that is far less destructive than violence and far more constructive than repression.  And today, I received a new perspective on tears from Courageous Dear Heart.

Whether tears of sorrow or tears of joy, they are prayers.  What?  Tears are prayers?  Well, yes.  Why not?  They contain the raw emotion, the need, the unfettered joy, that pours from us.  If you believe that your prayers are heard no matter how they are offered (and I do), then tears are an excellent delivery system.  They rise from the heart and soul of each of us.  When we are devastated or inspired or moved, they pour forth unbidden.  I admit I cannot hold them back if I tried.  Is that weakness?  Well, we are all human and have weaknesses, but I am not sure tears equal weakness. Have you ever experienced the power of someone who you have known to be stoic or cold cracking their armor or lower their mask just enough to allow you in? It takes a special strength to drop all those protections and appear before humanity vulnerable and real.  So be confident that your tears are not wasted, do not merely fall and evaporate.  They have meaning and effect even when they are private.

Fear not, friends.  Allow your emotions to flow, do not be ashamed of being human. Embrace the courage and comfort of liquid prayers.

Spreading Salt

I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount in preparation for giving a message later this month and came to these words that I have read and heard many times, but never really took time to consider closely: “You are the salt of the earth”.  It made me stop in my tracks.  What does that mean, really?

Many have theorized that the verse is about being a good Christian and many sermons and treatises have been written saying just that, but Jesus was not speaking to just his disciples, or just his followers.  He was speaking to everyone.  We, all of us, are the salt of the earth, regardless of who we are or what we have done.  Everyone needs to be the salt, not just a select few.

So is it about good works?  No.  It is not about being a regular church-goer, or someone who tithes, or someone who wears their faith loudly and proudly.  Time and time again, Jesus urges humility, a personal and private connection with God, and even in the words of his most famous sermon, meekness.

It’s about grace.  It is about dealing with one another with respect and kindness.  Salt is many things.  Once, and still, it is a preservative.  If we maintain kindness and respect toward one another, we will preserve ourselves.  I believe we have the capability and responsibility to shape a heaven here on earth.  The Kingdom of God is not just in the future or the afterlife, it is not merely the act of waiting while we suffer through pain, it is not martyrdom. It is actively and constantly working toward His kingdom here on earth.  It is about keeping our saltiness, our grace, with each other.

Jesus was our example.  He instructs all of us to do as He does.  He instructs with gentleness and respect.  He reserves any warnings of condemnation for those who have abandoned kindness and who have embraced the pursuit of pride and the acquisition of things over the importance of humility and generosity.  Take a look at those in history who we have endowed with saintliness.  These are people, women and men, who have shown true grace.  We exalt them now because of the depth of their love, but in their own time, they did not seek out exaltation.  They merely followed the example of grace and love provided by Jesus.

Examples of grace, of saltiness, are not limited to those who follow the teachings of Jesus.  This is more proof to me that Jesus’ words transcend religion.  They go right to the core of what it takes to be truly human, to be born in the image of God.   Narayanan Krishnan is one of these human beings, a term I use with the utmost respect.  His story below is one of the most moving examples of kindness and generosity I have ever encountered.  He truly is the salt of the earth.

 

 

Consider the immense responsibility we all carry.  We are not here for ourselves, we are here for everyone.  We are here to care for, and love, everyone.  I have failed in meeting that responsibility up to now.  I lose myself so completely in the struggle to feed my own appetites that I neglect the very real hunger around me.   I have lost my saltiness, but there is hope.  We can rediscover our flavor, our ability to preserve.  We can make the road less treacherous.  We can listen and follow and inspire.

Desktops and Faith

Thanks to the generosity of the Grace Speaker, I again have a proper keyboard at which to type my thoughts.  The absence of a tangible keyboard was one of the reasons my writing took a hiatus.  It was certainly not for lack of ideas.  So many things have been rushing through my brain, but I find myself shackled by the necessity to hear the click clack of keys.  Composing on a tablet or smartphone is psychologically limiting to me.  While I consider myself relatively technologically savvy for one of my age, I still cling to certain conservative comforts, like being able to experience the tactile conveyance of words and ideas from my head through my fingers into a keyboard.  The light-emitting diodes that inhabit my phone do not have the same magnetic draw to me.  I suppose I am much like the person who refuses to give up their typewriter, or their heavy bond paper and fountain pen.

So many brilliant ideas slipped into the ether thanks to my resistance to touch-screen-fueled progress, but I suppose if they were truly as ground-breaking as they seemed, they would still be making their marks on my mind.  Instead we begin again.

The faith community to which I belong has been taking up much of my time, in positive ways mostly.  Over this past year, I have realized a long-time dream of delivering an inspirational message in front of an audience who was actually there to hear one.  Whether it was inspirational or not is a judgement I leave to those who heard it, but just the opportunity was an honor.

My faith has transformed in many ways.  What was once a collection of orthodox beliefs ingrained from an early age has become a more personal, nuanced way of embracing the world and those who inhabit it.  By no means have I been successful in repressing the appetites and desires that constantly seem to complicate what should be a simple life, but what I have been able to understand is that the efforts I make to control them is only one small part of the journey.  A more important part is the love required to interact with one another.  The Courageous Dear Heart reminded us this Christmas to look for Jesus in those who we may not like.  Think about that for a moment.  Put in your mind the image of a person with whom you struggle.  Now, attempt to see them with the sense of grace that Jesus saw us.  See the love in them, and by extension, yourself. Try to love the people that dislike you, that you dislike, or that you believe don’t think anything of you at all. If you can do it, it will transform how you view the entire world.  I’m not there yet, and maybe never will arrive at the end.  But the journey.  Maybe that is the way we strive for heaven here and now.