The Kids Will Be Ok.

Back before video games and internet and oh hell, before push button phones and color TV; life was much… how should I say this… slower. Yeah. That works. Life was much slower. I grew up in Iowa on California Street in a sleepy little town called Cedar Falls. Pretty much every summer evening the kids of California Street would 9252FC11-7F46-4D0A-94F5-B40E12E057F7gather for nightly rounds of Four Square. I don’t recall that we played a particularly competitive brand of Four Square. We played a more social version. The rule was we played until the streetlights came on or the girl from up around the corner’s dad would step out on their front porch and blow his whistle. It was a source of embarrassment for her and I never knew why.
To summon us home my Dad did a cool single note tweet loud and shrill. The tone would rise and fall a bit then rise again before a staccato stop. There was no mistaking his call. He could also make a pretty cool noise blowing past a single blade of switch grass. I suppose these are skills that were needed before everyone’s kids carried cell phones. I can whistle but I never mastered a loud whistle that would have been useful to call the kids home from a block away. I would have had to use one of those referee whistles like the girl’s dad from up around the corner. I wonder if my kids would have been embarrassed by that?
Kids today can engage with their friends instantly 24-7 and their friends can be from anywhere on the planet. We were pretty much limited to the kids on our block, maybe one over and until the streetlights came on. The dynamics of that difference is pretty remarkable if you think about it. I’ll not be casting judgements on the quality of connections and relationships between then and now. No judgements other than, our life was, as mentioned before, slower.
Every generation recalls their youth as the best path to virtue. I recall when my kids were young I’d often hear people talk about “kids these days” in a way that was rarely complimentary. I’d sometimes hear that in gymnasiums or auditoriums filled with hundreds of peewee wrestlers or high stepping show choir competitions. I’d point to all the determined performers faces and say, “the kids are going to be ok.” My youngest is now a senior in high school. A friend recently posted on Facebook that she worries about kids these days. Her post wasn’t so much about the previous complaints I’ve referenced but rather the state of the world they are facing.

I recall when I was growing up we were witness to civil rights battles, assassinations and the Viet Nam war. When my twins were growing up in the 90’s there was 9/11, Genocide in Rwanda and the gulf war. Today we see, well you know why people would worry about kids these days. The thing is, every generation faces their challenges and the great thing about God is that he wired us to be resilient. If we focus on helping each new generation and those among us that need a hand up things are going to be ok. It’s always been that way and by the grace of God it always will be.

This holiday season don’t get too wrapped up in the things going on in the world. Slow things down a little bit and engage kids where they are. Hug those close to you and let them tell you about the awesome victory they had on their favorite Xbox game. Know that you are doing the best you can to lift up the people you can and encourage them to value the same. The kids are going to be ok. My days playing Four Square on California Street taught me that.

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How To Beat The Holiday Blues.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and we say goodbye to loved ones it’s not uncommon to feel a bit forlorn. It’s time to get back to work and add the grind of Christmas shopping, office parties, pageants and preparations. Even the mostly avid of Christmas aficionados acknowledge some anguish associated with the Yuletide season. We BB0A349D-498C-4B14-93B7-314F6D9AA6A4long for lost loved ones and languish for the carefree days of our youth. Many of our most magical memories of Christmas are remnants of childhood. It’s not hard to understand how some people struggle with the holidays and it’s not unexpected that most of us experience occasional bouts of sadness this time of year. That’s ok. Our humanity mandates that we cherish the connections of our past.

As our kids pass through our doorways heading back to their lives at school or work and as we recall the loved ones who have passed before us it’s normal to sense a piece of us is missing. To ease your stress this holiday season I recommend you read, “The Book of Joy: Lasting 3C447346-6FF2-4F23-BCB0-1D6A587CB309Happiness in a Changing World” by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams. You can add it to your shopping list for those hard to buy for family members as well. (You’re welcome!) Maybe share it as a book club with those you gift it to and enhance its value immeasurably. The book mentions “the concept of Ubuntu. It says: A person is a person through other persons.” That makes sense. A large part of our humanity is made up in our instinctual need for community.

What better example of community do we witness than our family? That being said, all families aren’t perfect and I would add they aren’t enough. In these days we spread ourselves around the world and getting together is sometimes a major undertaking. Cherish those times together. In the mean time we can grow relationships in our neighborhoods, our markets, our jobs, pretty much anywhere other people gather throughout our day.

In “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” Archbishop Tutu says, “I could not speak as I am speaking without having learned it from other human beings. I could not walk as a human being. I could not think as a human being, except through learning it from other human beings. I learned to be a human being from other human beings. We belong in this delicate network.” It states, “So the best way to fulfill your wishes, to reach your goals, is to help others, to make more friends. “How do we create more friends?” he now asked rhetorically. “Trust. How do you develop trust? It’s simple: You show your genuine sense of concern for their well-being. Then trust will come.”

Our next job, a new car, or next pay raise or even the passing of a debilitating ailment will never bring us happiness. It might for a minute but always looking ahead or looking backward for better times is not how we are meant to live. When we do that we are focused on ourselves and our current condition. Appreciate when times are good but know that science and all of the great religions agree that our most fulfilled life comes from serving others. If the holidays get you down this year take a moment and find a way to help someone near you. When you focus on others that forlorn feeling you’re having will recede and you might just experience again that magical feeling of Christmas you are longing for.

 

Losing My Religion.

On Sunday my church began a new series on the book of James. Our pastor emphasized that the book of James is a message to church going folks and that the message would make us uncomfortable. In fact he advised us to pray that our faith would be challenged in the series. I’ve been around church all my life and if there is one thing I know. Never pray for tests or anything like patience, courage and strength – pray for those and you are just begging for an episode in life where you will need all kinds of patience, courage and strength. I would have to think about it before actually making that prayer.

On the same Sunday our church launched fall community groups. Community groups are little breakout groups where you can meet with other folks and discuss each weeks sermons. The hope is for gleaning deeper understanding of the weekly message. My wife and I hadn’t IMG_5548participated in a community group in quite some time so we decided to sign up for this fall session. In that first meeting there was a fired up Christian who admonished us to confront everyone we meet with the good news of Jesus, a woman who was certain God uses hurricanes to get our attention and another person who believes Christians are under attack in America. I wanted to attack her for that but my wife kept deliberately making eye contact with me as a way to plead with me to keep my cool. After 35 years she kinda knows me like that.

If my faith were to be tested it really couldn’t be tested much more than it has been lately. I recently prayed and told God I don’t want to be a Christian anymore. Nobody could be more surprised hearing those words come out of my mouth than I was. My mind instantly flashed to my youth and Sister Mary Monica, the convent mother at our local parish. I was in a religion education class for public school kids and the Pastor came by to check on us. While visiting he kindly showed us a card trick and for some reason I thought it would be cute to remind him that cards are the tool of the devil. He IMG_5549laughed. Not because he thought it was funny. He laughed, I imagine, because he could see Sister Mary Monica swooping down from her perch with an eagle eye on the back of my head.

I’m not sure what hurt the most. The smack on the back of the head, the simultaneous grabbing of my earlobe and pulling me to my feet in one motion, or the fact that I was helpless and I was drug out of the room into the hall by an angry little Irish Nun in front of all of my buddies. They could do stuff like that to kids back in the 60’s. Then we got beat when we got home. When I hear kids today cry they will call services if they have privileges restricted I have to laugh. But I digress. The point was I sometimes am rather clumsy with proper reverence. God knew I didn’t want to break up with Him. He’s cool. I just don’t know that I want to be associated with “Christians” anymore. I kind of think they do more harm to His message than good. That was my point. I just wasn’t very eloquent expressing that in my prayers.

As my wife and I left our small group the unspoken understanding between us was palatable. My wife is much more tolerant than I am and I imagine she was waiting to see if she’d ever get the opportunity to go back and be a part of this group. At least she maybe wondered if she’d get an opportunity to go back and be a part of that group with me. I could tell it was something she wanted us to do together. I’m not stupid… All of the time… Sometimes. Before I said too much it came over me that this group might in fact be my faith test. I’ve been pretty angry with conservative Christians since, well forever, but most acutely since this last presidential election. Maybe it’s time I sit down and listen to them for a little bit. That God of mine, He’s a funny guy.

Pray for me.

 

The Dignity Of Labor Through A Son’s Eyes

As I mowed my lawn in the ninety degree heat Saturday I watched the lawn service trucks moving through my neighborhood. With sweat getting in my eyes I fantasized about the luxury of allowing a crew to do my work. There are three reasons I dismissed the notion. First, I actually like mowing my lawn. Second, I was raised to do the work in capable of doing and finally I find great comfort in the reminder that I come from working class roots.
I do love to mow. The combination of the smell of fresh cut grass, the sun shining on my shoulders and the instant gratification of seeing my lawn transform with each pass is, in its own way, intoxicating. There is an almost spiritual element IMG_0152associated with tending God’s green earth, the proverbial hands in the earth thing. I grew up in Iowa and there is a great respect for farmers born in the gratitude of their hard work and bountiful harvests. In some small way the attention I show my landscaping brings me closer to my agrarian heritage.
My parents were raised feeling the economic hardships of the depression. They never stated as such but I sense they thought it foolish to pay someone else to do what one was capable of doing themselves. There’s nothing wrong with providing opportunities for others as a means to defer tasks one might not enjoy. My opinion is that a man’s character can in part be measured by his willingness to do what needs to be done. As much as I love to mow; would I prefer to be out on my Harley or purusing the local farmers market? Yes. Yet somehow those activities are a little sweeter after I’ve completed my chores. A side benefit is that mowing my lawn racks up over 7,000 of the standard 10,000 steps fitness standard.
The final reason I may never pay anyone to mow my lawn comes from respect for my father. My dad was the CEO of IMG_0153Clayton’s DX, a two bay neighborhood gas station where my grandpa and I, after my older brother, served as his only employees once I was old enough and outside of school hours. Anyone who has spent time around an auto shop knows there are few professions more physically challenging. It’s heavy dirty work that is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. My dad did that ten hours a day, six days a week and then would come home, do his books and attend anything and everything that was required to maintain our home. He never complained. He never required down time or alone time. For him, life’s value was found in being with those he loved and attending to their wants and needs.
I think in my dad’s best year he cleared $18,000 and yet somehow I don’t recall ever wanting for anything. I have the luxury of a job I love and the freedom from any real money concerns. I think my dad never questioned his state in life AD02B0D8-179D-4900-97D7-A0A53AC9003Bbecause he was driven by duty and found honor in providing a safe, joyful and loving home. I think of him often when I mow. I remember the silly straw hat with the red bandana he wore when he worked in the yard. I still have that hat. I don’t wear it because if I breath deeply enough I imagine I can still smell the sweet aroma of his hard work.

Your Hidden Gifts.

My parents met post World War II while big band, dance halls and supper clubs were still the rage. I don’t have many stories of those times but the band names they referred to were the likes of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, the Glen Miller Band, minus Glen Miller by that time, and the like. I think they actually met at an up and coming band leader Lawrence Welk gig. My dad claimed to not care for Lawrence Welk very much but you’d never know it from the hours of Saturday night time our television was dedicated to his TV program. My dad, while not a musician, shared his love of music with his kids. He encouraged us all to play an instrument but forgot to provide the gene pool. That’s OK. We are all proficient at volume control and tone settings on our music playback machines and my kids would tell you it’s rare to not hear music in our home if I’m in the house. I’m grateful for his gift of music appreciation. It provides a richness to my life I can’t imagine doing without.
Both of my parents are gone now. My main Pandora station is img_4813lightly mixed with music from their era. Every time a Sinatra, Miller or Dorsey song graces my playlist I have fond memories of growing up. Music transcends time and space in a special heartwarming way some times. I was born in 1960 and in the early years of my life a few dinner clubs were still around. The Colony Club sat high on a wooded hill in central Waterloo, Iowa. On special occasions I remember getting dressed up and joining my parents on “date night.” That’s how they did it. I could maybe count on one hand the times my parents went out and left us with a baby sitter. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to get rid of me to this day. I never learned what it was like to be excluded. I always just assume I belong wherever I happen to be.
The Colony Club was a candle lit fine dining establishment with tables surrounding a large hardwood dance floor that was edged by a large stage capable of holding twenty-five or better musicians. By the time I got to hear the bands play at The Colony Club I would imagine few had ever played with the great leaders bearing their name. I don’t suppose that mattered much to my parents much because they always seemed to get lost in the music. And that’s the funny thing. I always thought of my parents as the straight and narrow Ward and June Cleaver types. They were modest, practical and reverent… Until they hit the dance floor. Clayton and Anita would transform into something unrecognizable. Upon taking the floor they bestowed an elegance and grace that could only be capable if gravity did not apply to them. I’m talking Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers grace. In the event you think I exaggerate I’ll tell you, I thought long and hard and decided that is the best way to describe what I saw. I was always in awe of them, of the love they had for one another. What I wouldn’t give to see them dance once more.
We all have hidden little surprises stored away in our gifts and talents. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go through our lives in such a way that people would share that with us. Wouldn’t it be grand if we felt safe enough to share our gifts with others. What’s your hidden talent? Would you care to share?

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