Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crossroads Weather: Foggy with a chance of confusion

It’s clear. I understand now. Over the course of a lifetime, people are just not fully aware of their circumstances. They don’t know what they are doing. It’s a groping in the dark thing. I came to this understanding this morning. It’s not something to take lightly, though we are all certainly blessed for our efforts. Imagine how worse off we’d be if we weren’t blessed. Every decision we make for the most part of our lives is based in near complete ignorance. Still, we plow through and do what needs to be done.Everyone operates under mostly the same situation. We wake up every morning. We go through the day, eating our meals, doing those things that need to be done, and finish by climbing into bed with a prayer that our next effort will be done well. Then, the following morning we do it all again. The things we do are support of any decisions we made some time prior. Some choices seem to be made on the spot without any effort while others are more dramatic and can’t be so casual. Even though it may seem that the most unimportant decision is made on the spur of the moment, it’s not. We’ve prepared for that decision. Those more important decisions? Well, we’re never quite ready to make them. When we think we’ve got all the information, we don’t. Still, we do the best we can.So, our life – it’s merely one decision after another. We act or don’t. We eat or don’t. We sleep or don’t. It’s what we do or don’t. The younger we are, the less we are concerned with the research. Still, the older we get, some of the seemingly less important decisions get too little attention. Life doesn’t change much; just circumstance and perspective transform to fit the individual. Rash isn’t quite the right description, since that suggests a little less respect for the process. Unfortunately, we aren’t capable of anything else. Sure, some people are a little less affected by this malady but everyone is stuck with it to one degree or another.

As a young child, the decision process is simpler but the way we make those decisions doesn’t change a lot. Should a child decide to place a forefinger into an outlet, the shocking experience is enough to generally dissuade further experimentation. The choice to not place the finger into that hole in the wall doesn’t require a full understanding of electricity – only just enough to know it isn’t comfortable to do so. Down the road, as we age the choices are a little more complex. Regardless, we don’t have all the information before a decision needs to be made.

Choices and decisions and the consequences that follow leave us to make more choices and decisions. Sometimes, a little coaxing is necessary. Most people have parents who gladly help with this process. Those who do not, struggle a little more but they still have to make it through the process. Teachers, pastors, bishops, policemen, firemen; mentors all. People learn as they make their way through life.

I’m interested in how we seem to judge another person for the decisions they make. Even if we don’t want to admit it, we all do it. It’s clear if you just listen to 80% of all the informal conversations people have. They’re talking about people and the circumstances of their lives. A cursory look at the programs on TV suggests we’re not interested in much anything else. Reality TV, News and programs that center on the gossip of Hollywood takes up the majority of what is available. There must be something of a voyeuristic high when we watch Jerry Springer and those who choose to expose their lives on his show. Why else would that kind of show be so popular?

We see that man at the freeway off-ramp with his sign. We either give him money or try to ignore him. Either way, we make a judgment about the choices he’s made. Why else would he be standing at the freeway off-ramp? Certainly, no one wakes up one bright spring morning and decides it’s time to go get a crudely drawn cardboard sign announcing one’s desire to work for food. That choice doesn’t just come out of the blue. Does it?

So, when we make our choices, are we thinking about the long term affects the choice might make? I’d have to suggest, no. Well, not clearly. We look at the near term and some short term affects. For most choices, though, it is about the here and now. Motivations are clearly based on what is best for me now. Seldom does a long term view enter into our decision making. I’d suggest that the long-term approach to decision making happens at the most once a year during open enrollment. Life insurance. What level should I choose? 401k. How much a month should I put into that? IRA’s and CD’s. Same as 401k. You don’t think about these things all the time. Well, most don’t.

So, at eight years of age, I chose to be baptized. Did I really know enough to make that decision? I don’t regret the decision at all. But, I clearly did not have a large enough perspective to make that decision with a full understanding of the consequences.

When I was 19, I chose to serve my church and my Lord on a mission in a foreign land. The experiences I had while I served were priceless. I learned innumerable things. I grew significantly. Still, did I have enough foresight to know that was the best course to follow? I have never regretted the decision to go, even with all the struggles I had while serving. These struggles started during the first weeks and did not cease until after I returned home. I could never have prepared for those things I would encounter and have to work out without the benefit of parental guidance or any support from anyone I knew before getting out to serve. It was all because I chose to jump onto this effort with full commitment.

When I was 23 years old, I asked my dearest wife to marry me. I hadn’t finished school but I thought it would be a good thing to be married anyway. I didn’t complete the course work at that time because my duty to my family was far greater than my need to be educated. That decision certainly was not about long-term benefit and spoke specifically to the needs of the moment.

I’m certain there are hundreds of decisions I’ve made in the past 40+ years that could be detailed in like manner. The point is, it’s not normal for a person to understand the full picture when the decision needs to be made. Decisions and choices are made without that understanding and affect us weeks and years later. We’ll struggle with the consequences of a decision without ever really knowing what the real basis for the problem actually is, working to find a resolution to fix the “now”. We’ll probably negatively affect the future again and again.

I wonder how best to beat this cycle.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I Am the Christmas Spirit

I enter the home of poverty,
causing pale-faced children to open their
eyes wide in pleased wonder.

I cause the miser’s clutched hand to relax,
and thus paint a bright spot on his soul.

I cause the aged to renew their youth
and to laugh in the glad old way.

I keep romance alive in the heart of childhood,
and brighten sleep with dreams woven of magic.

I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways
with filled baskets, leaving behind hearts
amazed at the goodness of the world.

I cause the prodigal to pause a moment on his wild,
wasteful way, and send to anxious loved ones some little token
that releases glad tears - tears which wash away the hard lines of sorrow.

I enter dark prison cells,
reminding scarred manhood of what might have been,
and pointing forward to good days yet to come.

I come softly into the still, white home of pain,
and lips that are too weak to speak
just tremble in silent, eloquent gratitude.

In a thousand ways I cause the weary world to look up into the face of God
and for a little moment forget the things that are small and wretched.

I am the Christmas Spirit.
~ Anonymous

Friday, December 18, 2009

Failure to Find Cheese

Failure, utter and complete, has been the incredible picture my life has painted over the course of the past few years. You’d think I was saying this to garner sympathy or at the very least comment. I’m not. It is just a little realization that came to me in my sleep. And, like my Grandmother used to say, “I’m not complaining, just explaining.”

A few years ago, I owned my house and had a pretty decent job. The family was pretty happy living out in the Midwest. Things were good. I enjoy shoveling snow during the winter and mowing the lawn during the summer. I enjoy the extreme cold and wet heat but nothing beats the wonderful spring and fall days of pure comfort, breathing in some of the cleanest air to be found. Life was grand. I guess I took it for granted.

Have you ever read the book Who Moved My Cheese? Well, my cheese has been totally decimated, leaving me with nothing nearly as comfortable as what I had back then. In an attempt to gain some grasp on that wonderful pile of cheese, I moved first to Chicago then to Los Angeles. It seemed for a season I had what I sought. The cheese supply has not been enough, though. I need to find another source of that commodity.

It’s nearing a year since I last worked at a normal job. My prospects are almost all dried up dust in the perpetually blowing wind. I’ve wandered through this maze of life, having no luck with a new source of cheese.

My wife suggests I need to embrace what life has offered. I don’t like it. Although I used to consider myself a cheese lover, it seems my taste for cheese is quite limited. I’ve got to figure how to force my cheese-desires to expand. The question is how.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Xmas instead of Christmas?

I’ve heard people complain about the replacement of Christ with X in Christmas. There are many who misunderstand the origins of this practice, thinking it is an attempt to remove Christ from the center of the holiday. Of course, many seem to think the holiday itself was from its inception centered around Christ but that’s another story all-together.

I wonder how many people remember the historical account of the Emperor Constantine and how he decided to embrace Christianity. It goes something along the lines of this. You see the Emperor had this vision of sorts. It was probably not unlike anything many others have had but we tend to shy away from calling these things visions for fear of seeming insane. I wonder how many of the Emperor’s contemporaries thought he had lost a couple of those bricks making his load a bit incomplete. In any case, in this vision Mr. Constantine saw the Greek letters Chi and Rho intertwined.

The Greek Chi is written a bit like we write X whereas the Greek letter Rho looks like our P. Chi and Rho are the first two letters of the Greek word Christ, which means savior. XP is sometimes used to stand for Christ. Sometimes, X is used alone to mean Christ. This is the case where Chi replaces Christ in Christmas.

We English speakers and readers see X and don’t associate that with Chi. We read X-mas and have problems seeing the connection with Christ. Some Christians then mistakenly believe it is an effort to secularize the holiday.

Happy Xmas everyone!