Immovable Versus Change

The sermon text was 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Paul, in verses 51-52 says twice that we shall all be changed. Then, in a totally unexpected concept – after telling us we will all be changed – he tells us in verse 58 “Therefore, stand firm and be immovable.” I was so caught by the unexpectedness of being immovable as a response to the call to change that, even though I understood Paul was talking about the resurrection, I still thought there was more to be learned from the juxtaposition of those two seemingly opposing thoughts. You see, God has told us we WILL be changed – it will happen to ALL of us and yet way too often we hear that as a call to dig in and stand firm and be immovable. No matter how much God wants us to change we refuse to be changed.

Beth Moore, in her August 2009 simulcast, mentioned the psalmist (Psalm 37) saying, “Trust God and do good.” She said we sometimes interpret that as “do right” but it says “do good.” I was caught by the current political illustration of that “do good – do right” scenario: the conservative Christian political view seems to be that Obama (Democrats) are wrong and we (Christian conservative Republicans) are right and we will prove ourselves right at all costs. No matter what he (they) wants to do, we need to dig in, be immovable – undermine him at every turn; eventually, when he fails, we will be proved right. In the meantime, we have done nothing good for our country or our economy.

In that same vein – do good, and we say do right – God says be changed and we say dig in and be immovable. The pastor said the word immovable is a word that means settle in. That reminded me of the story from Joshua about the Israelites crossing over into the promised land and one group said, let’s settle in right here. Joshua said, “No, All you who are fighting men must continue to fight until everyone has received the promised rest and land.”  Yes, in the midst of the call to change, it would be a lot more comfortable to dig in, settle down and become immovable.

Another illustration of one who became immovable: Lot and his wife and family were told by God’s angel to move on to safety – to walk looking only forward to the future – to change, but Lot’s wife couldn’t; she looked back and became immovable.

When Jesus brought his first message it was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent is a word that means change. It doesn’t mean stand firm and become immovable; it means turn from walking in the way you were going and walk the other way – in this case, toward the kingdom that is near – and not the kingdom that is far. I believe too many of us live as though the kingdom is far, far away – over there, but I believe we were called to live changed lives with the God who is near. George Bernard Shaw said, “Beware of the man whose God is in the skies” and C.S. Lewis in “The Screwtape Letters” illustrated the distance aspect of our faith life by having Screwtape counsel Wormword to, during prayers, have his human focus on a specific high corner of his room – by so doing he would see only the corner while missing the evidence of God’s presence with him. So many of our Christian, and particularly gospel, songs stress the distance aspect of eternity. One of my favorite songs about heaven is the spiritual, “I Heard of a City Called Heaven*,” with the following phrase, “I’ve started to make it my home.” Jesus didn’t focus on the distance of heaven but rather on its nearness; he told us “This is eternal life, to know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

The Christian life isn’t about being immovable or waiting for resurrection but it is a constant and daily walk [anything but immovable, but ever changing and growing] with God who is near.

* a YouTube link for the song [the Leontyne Price version is my favorite but I thought I’d post one that might be more popular]:

Mean What You Say – But by all Means, Say What You Mean

Good evening! How is everyone?

I love language. It has the power to inspire, educate or entertain us, but it also can be confusing or amusing, depending on how we read it or hear it. As speakers or writers, most of us choose subjects that are meaningful to us and we are very sincere in expressing that we mean what we say. However, because of the possibility and even probability that someone will misinterpret or misunderstand what we’ve written or said, we need to be careful to actually say what we mean. To illustrate, for the past year or so, I’ve noticed a large percentage of speakers walk into a meeting or onto a pulpit or platform and begin by saying, as I did –

Good evening! How is everyone? That question always fascinates me. I wonder if anyone was asked ahead of time to query, prepare and present a summary of how EVERYONE is? And, of course, the question of whether  the report will cover the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional and financial status of everyone or only one or two aspects of EVERYONE’S status? Or perhaps there might be an appointed psychic who can ‘see’ the group’s aura and give a concise report. A typical presentation has a limited time period so I’m also curious how much time has been allowed so EVERYONE will feel validated and that I don’t come across as totally self-centered and uncaring. [pause to reflect] At this point, it might be simpler if I just begin with you and let each person, in turn, tell us how he or she is – at least that way we will have a first-hand account of the individual’s status rather than some second or third-hand impersonal report.

No, as I think it over, that won’t work. In a group, even of this size, there are too many personality types. The extroverts in the room will be only too happy to have the spotlight on them and we clearly don’t have time for them to expound on all the details while the introverts will be so overwhelmed they not only won’t be able utter a word, they wouldn’t even hear about how you’re doing because their minds are going crazy trying to figure out a way to avoid having to be both seen and heard.

I know, some of you are thinking, “Good grief, it’s just a casual greeting. No one expects a response to it.” I agree, but if you say what you mean, why would you open with this empty question?

Thinking through all these possibilities reminds me of another of those things leaders say in group gatherings. How many times have you been in a meeting where the leader begins by saying, “Let’s all go around the room and introduce ourselves’? Have you ever thought about what chaos that would be? Each person getting up and walking about the room saying, “Hi, my name is Donna; what’s yours?” Except that everyone is up walking around and there’s no one waiting for your introduction; unless, of course, we do this sequentially. You (other side) get up and walk all around the room telling who you are and when you return to your seat, then it’s your turn. But then, again, I now only have 4½ minutes left for this talk, so by the time EVERYONE has gone AROUND THE ROOM, my time will be over. Clearly, that won’t work either.

I know by this time you’re thinking, “This woman’s a nut,” but I believe we all have those areas of brain playground that have us skipping off into territory the speaker or writer never intended. Again, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in church and the music minister said, “Let’s all turn in our hymnbooks …” Once again, my mind is on fertile soil and I’m busy visualizing myself inside the pages of the hymnbook turning – and, of course, I can’t just stop with turning. Cartoonlike, I’m dancing and skipping and leaning over the page to peek at what’s underneath.

Or what about the woman talking about the singer she heard at a preshow for another performer. She said this singer was so into her performance she was swaying from side to side of the stage. Oh, my! The visual is just too entertaining. I don’t know whether to see a stage that is a 24-inch square or a woman whose girth measures 30 feet across.

Then there was the Florida vacation hotel described as being ‘directly on the Atlantic Ocean.’ And no, it wasn’t an ocean liner. I wonder if their mattresses serve as floatation devices.

Just last week a funeral home was presenting about pre-arranging funerals so loved ones wouldn’t have to take care of those details in those first hours of their bereavement. One of the funeral planners identified himself as a prearranged funeral specialist. Even in so serious a subject as funeral planning, I’m chuckling while wondering what parts of him were prearranged – just hair and clothing or are we talking about arms and legs or maybe his head spins and you never know where it will stop.

I’m not sure if there’s any hope to keep me out of my brain playground while you’re speaking, but I would encourage you to give it a try by not just meaning what you say, but also by saying what you mean.

Listen to Your Inner Grandmother

“Listen to your inner grandmother. She’s got a little more wisdom than your inner child.” Loretta LaRoche, in Life is Not a Stress Rehearsal.

I often read things that impress me or move me or encourage me  (for a moment), but way too often I move on to the next thing and that moment is lost. I read this some months back and started to blog about it, stopped right after the first sentence, but saved it as a draft. The good news about that is, it stayed on my blog posting page to keep reminding me of its wisdom. Today seems a good day to reflect on it again.

I never had the benefit of grandparents: my maternal grandfather died in 1915 (my mother was 19 months old); my maternal grandmother died in 1922 (my mother was not quite 8); my paternal grandmother died in 1938 (my dad was an adult but it was still before I was born); my paternal grandfather died in 1941 (although I had been born, I was too young to know him).

I suppose most people who don’t get to experience grandparents at least have the benefit of the trickle down effect of whatever training their parents received in their childhood but, though both my parents were decent, loving people,  daddy left home by the time he was 16 because he apparently didn’t like or respect his father very much. He apparently loved his mother a great deal (according to his sister, it was reciprocal), but he felt a strong need to get away from the negative aspects of his home. He never spoke of his parents and rarely spoke of his siblings either.If there were aspects of wisdom passed down from his parents/grandparents, I was unaware of what they might be. I imagine most people would have assumed daddy lived out of his inner child, and they may well have been right.

Although mother provided an incredibly supportive environment for my early years, she seemed to sometimes operate at the emotional threshold of time of her mother’s death (approximately 8 years old) – in other words, she sometimes lived out of her inner child rather than her inner grandmother because she never had one of those either (maternal grandmother left and apparently died in the late 1800s; maternal grandfather died in 1912; paternal grandmother died in 1896 and paternal grandfather died in 1916 – six years before she moved to Virginia where he was from). Most of the trickle-down effect I received came from the movies my mother loved so much – love was idealized, people burst into song frequently and danced on the streets, cleaned house in high heels, makeup and, sometimes, with white gloves on, and generally things worked out nicely by the end of 90 minutes.

So, the question blares at me: How do I develop an inner grandmother on my own? I certainly don’t have all the answers but I can suggest seeking out (and listening to) wise people, reading a lot, reflecting on and setting goals from the wisest things I cull from each day’s experiences (that includes chance comments, news reports, movies, books, sermons, relationships with friends and acquaintances or teachers, preachers, writers, etc.)

I would suppose I’m fortunate because most of those come pretty naturally to me. A man I dated many years ago (about 25) said to me, “You were born wise.” I laughed because no one had ever said such a thing to me before and because I know I live a lot out of my inner child – and that’s not all bad (the inner child allows us to enjoy the moment and look forward to the future in the face of ‘real’ life). Additionally, I know none of us are actually born wise – we have to work at assimilating and applying each day’s wisdom until we do amass a little bit of that inner grandmother to guide us.

Bottom line is: cultivate, develop and listen to your inner grandmother, but by all means, take time to enjoy your inner child as well.

Week #26 Genealogy Prompt – Visit a Cemetery

Amy Coffin at We Tree has a writing prompt for every week this year. This week’s suggestion is to write about a cemetery visit and particularly an unusual grave monument. On Memorial Day 2009 I went with my brother & sister-in-law and my daughter and son-in-law to visit the IOOF Cemetery in Noble, Oklahoma. We visited the graves of my grandson as well as those of my mother, father and paternal grandparents. After that, we went to the directory and searched for graves of other paternal family members. Three of my father’s brothers and two of their wives (the third wife is 102 and still quite perky in a rest home) are buried there as well.

As we walked the cemetery, I found two monuments that were either unusual or interesting.

2009 Mem Day Int Inset Dr. ParkerThe first monument marks the grave of Dr. F. L. Parker who lived from 1876 until 1914 (though his birth date is clear, the month of his death is not – it actually looks like the abbreviation for Monday). His rank (Sergeant) in the regular army is noted on the monument as well as his title of doctor. Because of the 1914 date and military rank, I assume he may have died in action during World War I, though there is no direct reference to that.

Monument Inset

This monument is both unusual and interesting; it is a pillar-type monument with an inset toward the top of the pillar. The inset appears to be an oval-shaped photograph transferred to ceramic tile (in excellent condition), inserted in a metal frame and inset into the monument.

The inset picture is of a covered two-horse-drawn carriage and a man, apparently on prairie land. I wonder if the man in the inset is Dr. Parker. Although is is not very clear, it is possible there is something – perhaps a medical bag – in the left hand of the man in the inset.

The second monument was probably not so unusual as interesting – at least in the sentiment expressed on it. Because I am a musician and always appreciate the impact music can make on and in a life, I loved the thought:

How Sweet the Music Was

How Sweet the Music Was

It’s interesting there are no full names or dates of the lives of the people represented – only the sentiment, “How Sweet the Music Was.” This thought is accompanied by the carved picture of a couple on a tree swing overlooking a home with shrubs and what, based on the clarity of the rays of the sun (as well as the fact that as you look at the monument you are facing east), I assume is a rising sun rather than a setting one. There are also music notes scattered across the monument. All in all, this is a monument of hope and joy – a shared life well lived with the hope, even expectation, of more to come.

Week #13 – Sharing My Expertise

In response to the Week #13 Blogging Prompt, I decided to write a little about researching and using music in fleshing out the lives and characters of our ancestors. Though it’s never been my day job, my education/avocation has been music, and specifically vocal music. For most people, enough information can be gained from relatively brief Internet searches. In the past couple of years I’ve noticed movies and books where music of a wrong time period has been used and, for me, that indicated a lack of research diligence or even a “who cares” attitude. A movie illustration was a John Wayne cavalry-type picture that had the military guys marching while singing a ditty that wasn’t written until a later war.

A book illustration is Rilla Askew’s Fire in Beulah, about the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots. This is a very well researched and written fictional account of that ugly time – except for this one little musical misstep. In describing a worship gathering in a small black church, Ms. Askew said they were singing Victory in Jesus. Having been raised as an Oklahoma Southern Baptist and a musician, I knew this had been written by Eugene M. Bartlett, Sr. and, though I was unsure, I strongly suspected 1921 was a too early time frame. A minuscule Internet search by song title revealed it had been written in 1939. Obviously, Ms. Askew assumed the song had been around longer than it had.

After my daughter and I began to put together some basic information about my grandparents, I began to fill out their lives with my own imaginings and it wasn’t long before I started writing a fictional story based on the facts we’d been accumulating. We had heard from my Mother that my grandmother, Eva Keithley, and her sister, Violet, had sung duets. When I arranged, in my fictional account, for my grandparents to meet, it was natural for me to utilize singing as a part of the story. Because they must have met sometime in late 1899, that entailed doing some music research to find an appropriate song for Eva and Violet to sing.

One of the first websites I found was Oremus, which has a number of hymnals available. The one that included 1899 includes the hymnal song texts and midi files. There is also the cyber hymnal, which has a searchable listing of hymns with brief composer notes and dates as well as lyrics and midi files.

Because I wanted to know how my grandmother might have obtained music for performance purposes in 1899, I had to do a little background research. For popular music, one of the sites I used was History Matters. Here’s a quote from that site that gave me a background on the transmission of music in the era in which my grandmother lived: “American song in the second half of the nineteenth century underwent a tremendous commercial expansion, which extended into the twentieth century and indeed has not abated today. Initially, sheet music and pocket songsters were the primary means of circulating songs, since many Americans played and sang music in their own homes. The music publishing industry was increasingly concentrated in New York City’s famous ‘Tin Pan Alley’ by the 1880s. After that point, however, songs also came to be bought, sold, and preserved in a succession of new media: sound recordings and player pianos in the 1890s; radio in the 1920s, movie sound tracks in the late 1920s…”

A fun website for finding music in the public domain (meaning you can use the lyrics and melody without permission) is Public Domain Music. Though searchability is limited at this site, you can find music by some specific American composers or examples of types of music as well as examples by time period.

YouTube can also be a fun source for inserting performances into your blogs. In a tribute to my Mother, I found and inserted a video clip from a 1929 movie she had seen and then, by her own account, performed the music at her grade school.

By utilizing the websites above in selecting music for my grandmother and her sister to sing in church, I was a little surprised to discover a Christmas song I particularly like, O Holy Night, had been composed by the mid-19th century (both the lyricist and composer had died by that time) and was therefore an appropriate choice to use for my fictional account. Utilizing the lyrics as well as vocal characteristics allowed me to flesh out the characters of both my grandmother and grandfather.

For those of you who would like to see an illustration of adding music to a fictional account, I’ve added a page to my blog site of the chapter where I’ve used O Holy Night as a part of the development of my grandparents’ characters. Much of the thought processes in my grandfather’s mind was based on letters he wrote to his brother, Leander Lineberry, from 1895 until his death in 1915. Those letters can be viewed at my daughter’s genealogy website, My Tree House.

Easy Reads That Make an Impact

In following a few clicks this morning from my daily email from the positive news source, Ode Magazine, I came across Meryl Evans’ blog on “short books that helped me get my reading groove back,” where she asked others for input on books that made an impact on them. As a nearly constant reader [see my daughter’s blog on my reading], I was compelled to blog about some of the more impactful but brief books I’ve read.

A few years back, I took a parttime job in a small office that included a small library. I always picked up a book during lunch to read and found two really excellent ones I wholeheartedly recommend. The first is The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall. This fiction story follows a young man through the steps he must take to qualify for his inheritance. The final gift was, of course, not the money but the lessons learned. The book has been made into a movie which, although somewhat different (having fewer lessons) than the book, is also excellent. Because of the differences, I would recommend both the book and the movie.

The other book I read while on that job was Andy Andrews’ The Traveler’s Gift. This is, again, a fiction book with lessons to be learned. The main character has suffered a number of losses and after being involved in a car crash is transported to visits with people of history who impart some life lessons to him: Abraham Lincoln, Anne Frank, King Solomon and Harry Truman, to name a few.

Last year, an advertising agent mentioned a book very worth reading. It is Mentor: The Kid and the CEO, A Simple Story of Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Significance by Thomas Alan Pace and Walter Jenkins. Once again, it’s a fictional story (strongly based on fact) of a CEO who regularly visits the county jail in the hopes of offering a lifeline to anyone of them who would grab it. The story is about a specific ‘kid’ who takes the CEO up on his offer and the life changes that ensue, to both of them, because of the arrangement.

One of the most valuable books I’ve ever read was written by Benjamin Zander and his wife, Rosalind Zander, called The Art of Possibility. Mr. Zander is the conductor of the Boston Symphony and his wife is a family counselor. They bring different gifts and experiences to human potential and the insights from this book are both simple and amazing – insights on teaching, communicating, learning, performing, personal relationships and even parenting. Would that all teachers, spouses, parents, managers and bosses read and apply the wisdom from this book.

I read a lot of fiction and though I enjoy that type of reading, it rarely has a  life-changing impact on me. Other types of books, such as biographies, books on leadership, Christian living and Bible studies, have had impact on me, but often they have neither been easy reads nor less than 200 pages, as was the criteria for this list.

Parallel Monologues

Back in the 80s, in an episode of the TV show ‘Greatest American Hero,” the hero and high school teacher, Ralph Hinkley, and the FBI agent, Bill Maxwell, were walking along the beach talking about the huge and growing problem of drugs. For me, it was one of the best depictions of the art of conversation – or lack thereof – I’ve ever seen. Bill saw drugs from the perspective of crime – in other words, catch ’em and put ’em all in prison – while Ralph saw the problem in terms of the young lives drawn off course and lost to potential – in other words, rescue them. The fascinating thing was observing their sentences running parallel to one another but never intersecting – though they were together and talking about the same thing at the same time, at no time did they ever actually meet in conversation.

In April Oprah had a guest on her show who put a name to this; he called this syndrome parallel monologues. What a great term – parallel monologues – two people carrying on monologues simultaneously with neither really hearing or even acknowledging the content of the other’s words. No change can be effected in lives or perspective because no true communication ever occurred between them.

Parallel monologues may not only have an impact on our one-on-one conversations with friends and acquaintances, but may be one of the biggest dilemmas we face in our world today. We are faced with so many problems in our world – in business where corporate greed and the bottom line trump people issues every time, in families where divorce and latch-key kids have almost become the norm in a world described by a similar phrase [at least to my ears] to parallel monologues – serial monogamy – in government where the direst economic situation we’ve faced for most of our lifetimes is upon us and our politicians still can’t stop spending billions of dollars on silly things – even in the name of stimulating our economy.

A few days ago, I read an opinion piece in the Oklahoma Gazette on the right to life/choice issue in which the writer called the issue “black and white” – between a woman and her body and the health insurance/medical community only. I was so struck by that label that I finally wrote a post on my blog site in response to it. This complex issue is anything but black and white – nothing with such financial, emotional, medical, relational and spiritual ramifications could possibly be labeled black and white, particularly when trying to include the points of view of the mother, the father, the grandparents, the child and society. In my post I tried to look at all the possible ramifications (though briefly, of course – it was an Internet blog). Someone apparently read my post and sent a comment that said something to the effect of, “pregnancy is a time of joy for the mother, and prenatal health and vitamins are very important.” Though I would say her statement is true most of the time; in this instance – based on the subject matter of my blog – her comment was an illustration of parallel monologues – she was responding out of her own experience without regard to anyone’s else’s experience.

We’ve likely all participated in those parallel monologues. For example, the DHS attorney telling an absent father he has an obligation to provide financial support for his children and his response is something like “ain’t no way that ‘expletive deleted’ is getting’ a dime out of me.”

In Toastmasters, evaluations are a way of getting immediate feedback on our presentations; those evaluations aren’t designed to be conversations and so can’t truly be parallel monologues, but I do believe there should be some evidence of at least attempting to develop listening skills. However, I couldn’t count the number of times evaluations of my speeches have included comments on content that made me wonder whose speech they were evaluating because it certainly had little relevance to the one I had just given.

Although I think this is important and I’ve given it some thought, it isn’t an area I’ve tried to solve on a global basis so I don’t know what the answer is, but I can, off the top of my head, suggest a few beginning changes to try to develop better communication skills:

  • Actually pay attention to what people are saying, instead of formulating your response during their discourse;
  • Investigate some of those areas of gray on issues – actually think through as many possibilities as you can – instead of just looking for support for your own position;
  • Reflect on/think about things you’ve heard or seen in sermons, speeches, movies, songs or books. Ken Gire in his book “The Reflective Life” provided a sample page to record your thoughts. The sections of the reflective sheet include Reading the Moment, which is the place for you to write the specific thing you saw or heard or felt. Reflecting on the Moment is the place where you record what you thought or researched. Responding to the Moment is the place where you set goals and begin to allow change or growth in your life because of this experience.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.” Just think how much we could learn and grow if we just followed his example and thought – even once a month or so.