Five-Year Conversation Part 6

October 21st, 2016 § Leave a Comment

Then I was reading Ecclesiastes. It is one of the best things ever written. If you haven’t recently, go give it a read. I had before this last time read Ecclesiastes at least a dozen times. And in all those times, never had I seen what struck me this time around. The central theme of Ecclesiastes is happiness. No joke. It really is.

The refrain that gets our attention is Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and chasing after the wind. Reading it, we think, “Okay, this book is a downer.” But we’re missing it if we do not couple it with the other recurring mantra in the book “… under the sun.” Everything isn’t meaningless. What is meaningless is everything under the sun or better way to say it might be: Everything in this world, in and of itself is without meaning. And responding to the impulse to run after them will have one feeling as hopeless as chasing after the wind.

If I can accept this as true, then the real point of Preacher’s message kicks in.

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.
Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love,
all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days.
For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might …  Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

It is in the letting go of a life of transcendent glory in the mundane world that I can enjoy the beauty of living under the sun. When I reject that the things in this world can, if worked just so and so, be glorious, then the glory that exists somewhere other than under the sun can be infused into the human, the earthly. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

God is not here. But he is real. And if you would believe him, he will fill a meaningless world with meaning, the dreariness with glory. So, go eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart … Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun – all your meaningless days for this is your (wonderful) lot in life.

Five-Year Conversation Part 5

September 23rd, 2016 § Leave a Comment

So, believing that God was going to do this impossible thing, believing that he would get me to love him, I started to pray each day for a pure heart. A pure heart … meaning a heart not divided into multiple loves. A heart with one master, undivided, whole. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

Each morning as I prayed, I sat in that particularly overwhelming brand of doubt. It’s that doubt that comes over me when praying for someone’s healing. I dislike the feeling so much that eventually, I slip into that mindless, rambling prayer. It’s as if a self-preservation instinct kicks in. The subjecting my mind to talking rationally about the impossible eventually becomes too much. If I must, I’ll get in the room with it, but don’t make me wrestle with that beast. I’ll throw stuff at the impossible, averting my eyes, but don’t make me look at that thing.

What do you know of love anyway? A pure heart? A pure heart? Do you even know where your heart is?

Weeks of praying with no signs of movement, so I thought, “If I can’t get more of him in my heart, I can try to get other things out.” What were my idols? For what was I really living? For what do I grieve? Worry? What makes me happy?

My family. My kids. Success. Opinion of others. But if I’m honest, those things, less in and of themselves, but more as they relate to me. It’s me. The conclusion was that the small idols were pieces of a the great big idol — my life. What do I really want? I just want my life to work out. Lame, but it is that for which I’ve worked all along? My life.

Took the fight to two fronts, and was really getting my ass kicked on both.

 

Five-Year Conversation Part 4

September 8th, 2016 § Leave a Comment

That’s the thing I learned. Idolatry is a matter of the heart.

As I was coming to this realization, I thought about that wonderful parable about the Kingdom of God found in Matthew 13. “The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his JOY went and sold all he had and bought that field.” For what will I joyfully sell everything I have?

It made me think how different this man in Jesus’ parable was to the young man who approached Jesus seeking eternal life. When he confidently tells of his strict adherence to the Law of Moses, it says that Jesus loves him. He mercifully tells him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” To this, it says the young man went away full of sorrow because he had great possessions.

I wondered, “What in the world did the guy find in the field?”

Then I realized that maybe what he found was what Jesus offers the rich young man, “… come, and follow me.” Maybe the treasure is Jesus.

When it was put to me that way, oh man, I knew the truth. “Lord, I don’t really want you.”

In the past, when reading the story of the rich, young ruler, I thought the key statement was, “How difficult it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God … Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” I know now that there are two weightier statements. The first is that Jesus loved him. The second is Jesus’ response to the astonishment of his disciples, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Mark 10:23-27

I cannot joyfully give up my idols for him. And yet, he loves me. That’s crazy. And because he loves me, what is impossible with me is possible with God. I was convinced that God would stuff that camel through the eye of a needle. I believed that I would treasure him in my heart. Love him above all else.

Right around this time, I began to sense that all this was about joy.

 

Five Year Conversation Part 2

August 1st, 2016 § Leave a Comment

I work to save myself.

So, what I found interesting was this: When told I wasn’t to do anything, the thing I most wanted to do was work. “Wanted” isn’t the right word. I felt most uneasy about not being able to work. It was the itch that begged to be scratched.

Once I had sufficiently experienced this oddity, the next piece was shown me.

In a conversation with a person who was at the time assigned to me as a professional mentor, this guy said something that made my compulsion with work less of an oddity than I’d initially surmised. Speaking of himself, he said, “I work to save myself.”

Instantly, the statement took me back to the basketball court in my backyard. As a thirteen year old, I spent hours upon hours on that court. Working. Working. Working to get better at something that I wasn’t good enough at. To be better. Better.

I remember coming in through the sliding glass door one night, drenched in sweat. My Dad was at the door. He asked, “What were you doing back there?” Not that he couldn’t see what I was doing. It was the right question. Indeed, what was I doing back there? To his keen eye, he saw me cross over from good hard work to something else. It must have looked strange to him to see me frantically playing against someone who wasn’t there. Chasing something, neither one of us could see.

I wonder what he would’ve said if I had told me, “I was out there trying to save myself Dad.” I get the feeling he would’ve known what I was talking about.

“… In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it …” Isaiah 30:15

Self-awareness

August 9th, 2015 § Leave a Comment

A great quote on self-awareness.

“I learned early in my medical career that the doctor you should worry about isn’t the one who doesn’t know anything. It’s the one who doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does.

Not having the answers isn’t fatal if you at least have the self-awareness to know what you don’t know. ‘Often wrong, never in doubt’ is no way to go through life.”

Rany Jazayerli from “Teardown Artist” Grantland.com, July 15, 2015

Limited Allowance

May 1st, 2015 § 2 Comments

My kids are more than I could have ever hoped for. Seriously, by any measure, they’re great kids. Simultaneously, they can be complete disasters. Parents among you know that these are not mutually exclusive realities. An hour into any given day, I can correct them a half dozen times. “Hey, get out of bed. You’re going to be late.” “Don’t get on your phone while you’re eating.” “Really? You’re going sprinkle sugar on your Fruit Loops?” “Hey, don’t give me that look.” You get the idea.

When my kids were quite a bit younger, probably as I was correcting them for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me how difficult it is to receive correction.

I’m forty-five now. I’m hardly ever corrected. I go about most of my day without a single person pulling me aside and saying something like, “Hey, you might want to walk a bit faster. You know, have the look of someone who’s got somewhere to go.” Yes, true, I do walk slow. But regardless of how accurate the info, my initial impulse is to react defensively. I like to think that I’m mature enough to measure my response, but hard to say for sure.

The point is even for a relatively mature adult, who is infrequently corrected, receiving correction is tough. When I realized it, I decided to put myself on a correction allowance. Three. That was it. I could correct each child three times in one twenty-four hour period. This little exercise in self-restraint had a couple unintended benefits. For one, it helped me prioritize. I found myself asking, “Do I really want to burn one of my three on this?” The second thing it did was help me store things in my mind for an opportune time. The goal isn’t personal satisfaction; the goal is instruction. The heat of the moment is not always the best for delivering or receiving correction.

 

Teaching a child to respond well to correction is part of a parent’s job. It’s not easy. A limited allowance makes a tough job easier … especially for your kid.

Indignity

April 8th, 2015 § Leave a Comment

It was one of those times. Somehow, I just knew that what I was hearing needed to be stored away for safe keeping.

Two older men, both in their sixties were talking. One was asking … well, really more complaining to the other about a child who had long since stopped listening to him. The child in question was a daughter who had moved away – clear across country. While there, she fell in love with a man. Naturally, the man was not one who met her father’s approval. They got engaged anyway, and were planning their wedding when the subject of an open bar came up. And that was it. On this, he wasn’t budging. It was the proverbial straw buckling the camel’s back.

As the father went on and on, the other older gentleman carefully listened. Finally, he got an invitation: “What do you think?” I don’t remember his exact wording, but in essence what he said was that no matter what it took, as much as it was in his power to do so, a father needed to stay connected with his child. As long as the child didn’t bolt the door shut, he was going to be a part of the child’s life. Then he recounted a trip he took, across country to visit his daughter who likewise had years before left them. She had moved in with a man he didn’t even know. They took a road trip together, just him and her. No demands. No efforts to redirect. Just spent time with her. Let her know, no matter what, he was going to be around. She was always going to be his daughter. She was always going to be loved.

Then he asked, “Do you really want to close the door over an open bar?”

 

There’s a certain indignity in going to a child who’s out there because they decided they weren’t going to listen to you. It’s something to suffer speaking to a child in and about the place that is their rebellion. To pay for an open bar of a wedding you never approved. I think the man’s point was that a father committed to love his child at all costs had little use for dignity.

I’m pretty sure he was right.

 

Ray Rice

September 11th, 2014 § Leave a Comment

Monday, TMZ released the “in elevator” video clip of Ray Rice knocking out his then fiance, Janay Palmer. Hard to watch is putting it mildly. I’ll spare repeating what has been said and said again. All descriptors warranted … and then some.

What we saw on that video demands thorough, unqualified condemnation. It’s exactly what it got, but it didn’t end there. The vitriol has now spilled over into that most dangerous of mob moods – self-righteous indignation. Did I hear this right? Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI is to lead an independent investigation of the handling of this abuse case. Former director of the FBI! This being about Ray and Janay Rice is long over. They’ve unwittingly been swept onto the poster as the new faces of domestic violence. And everyone is stepping up to scrawl their take.

Aside from the very real possibility that this thing was mishandled from the word Go, what I’m finding difficult to stomach is everyone coming out, dressed in white to wag the finger. I found particularly rich Ray Lewis and Robert Kraft’s pronouncement of judgment.

Lewis pushed forward amongst other current and former NFLers to hurl this bit, “There’s no comparison … there’s no comparison between me and Ray Rice. It’s night and day.” Yeah, you’re right Ray Ray. You were implicated in a double homicide. In exchange for rolling on your homies, you got to plead down to a misdemeanor obstruction charge. Night and day, Ray Ray. That ESPN analyst gig must be heightening your powers of analysis. You nailed it; double murder is not domestic violence.

And then there was Robert Kraft sitting smugly on the set of a nationally syndicated morning show. When asked if he believed Rice would ever play another game, responded that he thought Rice was done. Then went on to say that his Pats would not pick up Rice if he were ever reinstated. That’s rich Bob. You who presided over an organization that housed a dude currently awaiting two separate court dates on three murders is too good for Ray Rice. That was you, right? Yeah, that was you at the helm of the biggest criminal scandal to rock the NFL since OJ. With Hernandez yet to even be tried, how do you get in front of a mic, Bob?

Does Ray Rice left hooking his wife deserve condemnation? Certainly. A man hitting a woman is as wrong and as ugly as it gets. Should there have been heavier punishment levied? Yes. Jail time? Possibly. A year suspension? Hard to argue against it. But don’t we have to take into account Rice’s remorse? It seems genuine to me. Judging by his now wife’s response, they were working hard toward healing. If it’s a reasonable possibility, don’t we have to pull for rehabilitation, hope for restoration?

Judging by the faces and words of his current teammates and his head coach, I’d say that’s what they were hoping for. I guess in a world of TMZ and Ray Lewis, it’s a bit too much to ask.

 

Long Road

August 19th, 2014 § 4 Comments

Back in the old country, corporal punishment was permitted in schools. Teachers doled out the pain in various ways but the preferred technique was the ruler across the hands. I’m not talking a flimsy, 12 inch ruler; I’m talking the big, honkin’ yard stick variety. Or am I remembering through my seven year old, terror filled eyes? Whatever. Either way it hurt. I can still hear that thing woosh as the little lady wrapped it into my palms. The thing to do was boldly open your palms up so that ruler caught all flesh. Of course, I was never very bold. My timid, flinching hands would cup to take most of the force on the thumbs. If you were one of those repeat offenders, you’d get the ruler to the back of the hands – right over your fingers and knuckles. I never got that; the palms were enough to straighten me out.

Most of my classroom experience in Korea lies disintegrated in the recesses of my mind, but one event remains pristinely preserved. I was late to class … about five minutes. When I walked in, my teacher, a woman I can’t even remember called me to the front. I got that “Oh no” hollow feeling in my gut that seems to sap the strength from your extremities. I’m pretty sure the most intense version of this is where we get the term “shittin’ in your pants.” When I got up to her, she slapped me. Really, it was more an open hand swat over the entire side of my face. I remember stumbling to retain my balance. The shock of it got me so disoriented, it was all I could do to keep from peeing in my pants. She said something about not ever being late again. I turned to walk to my seat; the classroom blurred. I kept my head down to hide the tears flowing down my cheeks.

I’m pretty sure I was never late again.

As fathers, we must figure out a way to motivate our children. We need to teach them to obey. Instill values. Build character. Most of this is at least initially an uphill proposition. Kids don’t naturally mature. This part of fatherhood takes focused, patient persistence. In the midst of it, you’ll be tempted to use “devices” – things that you know intuitively will get you an immediate response. In the end, these will be their undoing. If behavior modification is all you’re after, shaming your kid will work. Threats of abandonment will get them up and moving. Asking why they can’t be like so and so will get them so angry that they may actually do the work to prove you wrong.

In the immediate, yeah, you’ll get what you want. But at what cost? Take the long road. Love them. Tell them of all the good you see. Take the time to properly discipline without cruelty or shame. Push them to live up to who they are meant to be. Take the long road. Light that thing in them that will burn pure … pure and clean.

Getting Through

August 12th, 2014 § Leave a Comment

I remember this one time my Father was so pissed, he chucked a football at me. And it wasn’t like he was planning on chucking a football. I’m thinking it was probably the first and last time he ever threw one. Just prior to chucking it, he did that spastic search for something within reach to clobber me with. To his disappointment, the only thing within arms length was this foreign, oblong ball. It was either that or try to contain whatever it was already blowing out sideways. He opted to make due.

If my memory serves, I believe the thing that got him unhinged was my less than average academic performance. By the 5th grade, I was a C student with a couple Ds sprinkled in. Over three years in the States meant the immigrant grace period had expired. Fluency achieved; no more excuses.

I don’t recall most of the conversation, except his last appeal. It embedded in my memory, I believe because of the unusually revealing nature of it. It was uncharacteristic of my Father to show me his heart, not even a little bit. The statement I remember was that he’d put himself through all this work, not so we could have a decent life but so we could have a better life than he. He wanted me and my brother to exceed him – go beyond him. Isn’t this every Father’s dream?

As he showed me his heart, I gave no sign of hearing. I sat there with my head down as I’d done countless times before. No movement. No gaze upward. Nothing to assure him that this desperate, out of character plea had penetrated. As far as he could tell, nothing was getting through. I think that’s when he snapped. Helpless and hopeless, he blew.

As a parent of teenagers, I must accept that I cannot make my son or daughter believe anything. I can talk incessantly, reason, stand on my head, present photographic evidence, whatever … nothing’s guaranteed. They can even agree with what you’re saying, but not get what you’re trying to get through. We don’t get that power. Learn to accept it or you’ll be chucking footballs.

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