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]:

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.

The River of Life

I was listening to Bedrich Smetana’s symphonic poem entitled Die Moldau about a river running from the mountaintop down through Prague and eventually to the sea. I have always been moved by the melodic beauty of the song but on that day I just sat and let the beauty of the music wash over me as I experienced the music of the river as metaphoric truth – the truth that our lives resemble a melody.

Listen as Smetana creates his story musically: the Moldau begins as two little springs in the mountain, bubbling and trickling, join together to create a living, moving, growing river. Soon the bubbling develops a voice – a beginning melody, not totally defined, that winds its way down the mountain. Every time the river goes by a city or village, the music and activities of the city hide the melody of the river; then as it gets beyond the activities, the bubble begins again and the melodic song returns. As the river continues on, the rocks in the river create an area of rapids and the melody’s place is taken over by tension and rolling timpani and clashing cymbals. Of course, it’s exciting, and has its own kind of beauty, but it’s not the melody. As the rapids dissipate, the rolling bubble is heard again and its melody erupts in a joyous song. Finally the river gets quieter and quieter, more and more at peace as it approaches the end of its journey – to meet and join with the sea. As the sea rolls in and the river rolls out they meet and the river is united with the whole body of water in a great and satisfying clash of cymbals.

That’s the way it is with life and with us. We, too, have a voice – a special melody that is our own. But sometimes a loved one, or a job, a crisis or a national calamity comes along and our voice gets hidden in the circumstance – and we’re left with just a nagging sense that something is missing. My mother expressed what was missing for her when she talked about remarrying after my father’s death. Her new husband asked her, “Why do you love me?” and she said, “Oh, that’s easy; because you listen to me.” It is such a deep need within us to be heard and yet sometimes the very voice with which we speak isn’t even our own voice – it is the voice of all the people and responsibilities and circumstances around us.

I read a book once entitled, “Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved by You?” It’s a book you don’t have to read – just spend a little time with the title and you’ll know that’s what happens to our melody as we wend our way along the river of life. We give away little bits and pieces of our song – one of life’s barters that takes a heavy toll on who we were created to be – in fact, for many of us, our song may be completely covered over. As Norman Cousins said, “The tragedy of life is not in the fact of death, but in what dies inside of us while we live.”

Another song flowed into my mind from the Gaither musical, Alleluia, A Praise Gathering. The musically accompanied narration depicts the life of Jesus and Christianity as a song – a melody – as the narrator tells us, “It was a … simple lovely song for every man.  Right from the first, some tried to ignore it.  They said, ‘There’s no song!  It simply doesn’t exist.’  Others just tried to change the tune.  They made laws to stop it.  Armies marched against it.   They killed some who sang the song.  They screamed at it in fury, they tried to drown it out.  Finally they nailed that song to a tree.  They said to themselves, ‘There . . . that should take care of that.’” Then a subtle ding, ding, ding, ding, ding grows audibly – the melody isn’t dead – they couldn’t kill the song – the Song Goes On!

There it is again – the truth of life as a melody and not just any melody – your melody. Everyone of us, at one time or another, like the river, has allowed activities or people around us to drown out our song – so much so that at times we may not even remember our own melody. In forgetting our melody, we may hear someone else’s song and think, ‘that’s a pretty song.” For example, I watched a 17-year baritone practicing a solo – the last note was just too low for him. He tried and tried and it just wasn’t there. Finally, he decided to have the choir director, a bass, sit on the front pew with a microphone and when David got to the very last note, George picked up the microphone and sang the low note. But that just won’t do – it has to be our song. I have my melody and you have yours. Make your own kind of music. As Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil said, “Even if nobody else sings along.”

In this river of life, your mission is to uncover your song (not discover it, because it’s been there all along) and once you uncover it, sing it for all you’re worth. When the river of life joins with the sea of eternity – the sea will not be complete without my melody or without yours.

Black and White Thinking

I read a Point (liberal) and Counterpoint (conservative) opinion page in the Oklahoma Gazette on pro-choice versus pro-life. The liberal viewpoint was written by a philosophy professor whose main point was that it’s a “black and white” issue with no gray areas – all women deserve the right to make their own decision about their own body and health care must provide that for all. The counterpoint was written by an attorney.

As a woman who was raised during the time when a woman who chose to get an abortion likely had to choose either a back alley abortion or some person with a clothes hanger, I believe women who KNOWINGLY choose to have an abortion should be able to have it done by a physician under optimal conditions and it should be available to more than just moneyed women.

However, I also believe that referring to this huge issue as a “black and white” issue without areas of gray is to be oblivious to all the consequences of that choice.

At the very least, I would suggest that a baby [know that no woman who’s sharing the first ultrasound photo or video of her as yet unborn baby walks up to a friend and says, ‘look at my fetus’ – to that mother, it’s a baby] should also have some rights as to the decisions regarding its own body – when a woman claims the right to control the health issues of her own body, there still needs to be someone standing up for that baby’s rights to choose the health issues of its own body.

When I went to the doctor in 1976 feeling extreme discomfort every day in my stomach, I was fearful of cancer or any number of unknown and possibly tragic possibilities. When I arrived they sent me to the restroom with a cup to provide a urine specimen and then out to sit in the waiting room until I was called for my appointment. It wasn’t long before the doctor’s assistant called me back for my appointment, or so I thought. We walked into her office instead of an examination room and she said, “Congratulations, Mrs. Brown. You’re pregnant. Do you wish to carry the baby to full term?”

I could not have been more surprised by any of her words. It had been 15 years since I’d been pregnant and we had hoped for many years to have more children but my husband had an almost 0 sperm count, which the doctors said was deteriorating, so pregnancy was not even on my radar screen when I viewed the possibilities of my stomach distress. But to go from ‘congratulations’ to ‘do you wish to have the baby’ was a giant leap I would never have expected.

Because those words came from my respected physician’s staff, I assumed there must be a problem with the pregnancy. I actually weighed those words and worried about my decision to continue with the pregnancy throughout the remainder of the term. My son, David, is a wonderful young man, a blessing and delight to my heart and his son, Aaron, is equally wonderful. I am so grateful that my value system allowed me to choose to walk through the pregnancy instead of around it.

I wonder how many wonderful children have been robbed of life because of the fear of a mother that she would not be able to meet the present and future obligations of a pregnancy. How many brilliant minds, fabulous musicians and artists, gifted orators or even how many grandchildren have been lost because of our fears and our insistence on instant gratification. Statisticians are saying MILLIONS of babies have been aborted since Roe vs. Wade.

Another area that is not black and white to me is that some of these women make the choice to abort without adequate preparation and counseling and spend much of the remainder of their lives in emotional agony over their choice. I believe that if a woman has looked at EVERY option as calmly as possible and with personal intelligence plus supportive and encouraging professionals to guide her in her decision and still opts to have an abortion, the medical community should offer her a proper medical environment in which to do so. We should definitely be out of dark alleys with women risking death, dismemberment or the inability to conceive or have a pregnancy at another time in order to avoid the consequences of a current pregnancy. But, in my opinion, a world in which killing babies becomes a method of birth control should be unacceptable to everyone; one of the old sayings I grew up with was, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – probably never more true than in the case of pregnancy.

Living in the Bible belt is also not an area of black and white to me where too many religious groups have stopped adequate sex education in schools so that our young people are inadequately prepared to meet the sexual encounters they experience. Our rate of teen pregnancy in Oklahoma is one of the highest in the nation. In fact, unwanted pregnancies in divorced women are equally high – presumably because it would be unseemly to be prepared ahead of time for such an encounter, so women are willing to risk pregnancy rather than to seem immoral by planning ahead. Living in a time where a substantial number of teenagers are sexually active before high school is over is not a time to put our heads in the sand and hide information from them that could protect them from not only unwanted pregnancies but sexually transmitted diseases as well.

And speaking of hiding information, we have people in this city who try to inhibit our libraries from providing information on sex education. They want any books with any reference to sex in them to be placed on shelves that are too high for short bodies or behind the check-out desks so they can’t be seen by our youth. They also want the libraries to allow parents the right to see any books their children may have checked out – in case some of them decide to fend for themselves. They have written editorials and scheduled interviews with reporters to express their views that the library carries pornographic materials available to children. When I saw a newspaper article that listed some of the books they were claiming were explicit in their sexual depictions, I wanted to see for myself if my library system was guilty as charged. When I didn’t find the materials I was looking for, I asked one of the librarians about the materials; I was told they were unavailable because the people who were fighting the library had actually removed some of them from the library. I did manage to find and check out a couple of the books and reviewed them myself; I found them to be clear, unbiased, sane, educational accounts of sexuality. I handed them to my son, who was about 16 or 17 at the time, and one of his friends to get their opinion. I explained the news reports of pornographic materials in the library and waited for their response. It was quite funny and revealing. They each quickly and, obviously hopefully, flipped through the pages and then handed the books back to me with the comment, “where are the pictures.” These were, in fact, textbooks.

Whatever else the prolife/prochoice situation is, it isn’t black and white and we need to be willing as a democratic nation to address all of the ramifications of this complex issue in order to come to a rational public policy to deal with the physical, emotional, spiritual, familial and financial consequences of unplanned pregnancies.

In the Moment

The police tell us, to avoid the risk of becoming a crime victim, we need to be aware of where we are – know where you’re going, keep your purse and packages held securely, have a mental plan in place of where to go for protection. In books from business, to the personal, to the sacred with such titles as “The Power of Full Engagement,” “Be Here Now,” and “The Sacrament of the Present Moment,” we are encouraged to live moment by moment in full awareness.

How many of you have experienced driving someplace and all of a sudden it dawns on you, you can’t remember the specifics of the driving process. Your mind was somewhere else the majority of the drive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say, “Thank you, God, that I’ve arrived at my destination safely because I certainly wasn’t paying enough attention to have gotten me here on my own.” This is so universal, I assume a 100% response to some similar experience.

Because I apparently live way too much of my life on autopilot, I’ve thought about people who perhaps live more in the present moment than I do and I have extrapolated some keys for living a more aware life. My example is primarily my daughter in a recent shared experience. I wanted to make a trip to the Joplin area for research on a novel I’m writing based on genealogical truth. I wanted pictures in my head to help me visualize the place. I asked Kay if she would like to go with me and she agreed. You need to know, it she hadn’t gone, I would have just hopped in the car the next morning with camera and paper and been back that night. Kay made me make a plan for how to best utilize the time so we spent four fully planned days and reaped benefits I would never have expected. Addresses and property owned from probate files from courthouse records, newspaper articles on the wedding of my grandfather and grandmother as well as a picture of life in the community in 1900 from the genealogical society, and four pages from the library archives of front page news of my great grandfather’s death, services and business community reaction. The information we got allowed us to take pictures of actual home sites and business in multiple cities, as well as photos from visits to their grave sites. We saw countryside and beautiful scenery to incorporate in my novel, but the result was purposeful rather than random, due almost exclusively to my daughter’s ability to live life with awareness.

My great-grandfather's store and home lot next door.

My great-grandfather's store and home lot next door.

Here are my conclusions from the experience:

First, as Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind.” Kay knew what information she had as well as some of the holes she would like to fill in and she had a working knowledge of possible places to go to get answers.

Make a plan – both broad based and specific. My plan was only broad based, but Kay’s included the specific and it was the specific that netted the best results. Keep the whole picture in your mind – if not, you may miss pieces that would fit that you weren’t looking for in the moment.

Stay open to the spontaneous and serendipitous. All of the newspaper articles were serendipitous. Reading the article my grandmother wrote to put in the newspaper about her leaving Missouri to come to Oklahoma to get married was totally unexpected and a great pleasure. It was the taking the time to read newspaper archives that netted that great benefit.

My grandmother's 1902 marriage announcement.

My grandmother's 1902 marriage announcement.

Keep all your senses open – God gave them so use them. Remember there’s more than just the surface to the senses – explore the possible meanings to the sensory input – ask the 5 journalist questions – who, what, when, where and how and allow your mind free reign to explore the answers.

Bring all your education, experience, and skill to the moment – all can be useful. Kay is a librarian and she utilized all those in the service of this trip. She’s also a manager and she used her ability to delegate, plan and implement the details as well as to integrate the information we got into the whole of her research. In addition, she’s also a daughter, wife and mother and she brought all of those experiences and responsibilities with her to maximize the experience in terms of the research as well as relationship building.

Enjoy the moment – if life is just a task to be gotten out of the way, what’s the point?

New Year’s Resolve

In common usage today, the word resolution has more to do with compromise than with the backbone and spine required to make permanent change in our daily lives. We use it to say something like, “We’ve come to a resolution of our differences,” meaning we’ve each given away something of ourselves in order to agree.

Resolve is not a word most of us use often, probably because we have become accustomed to choosing words that allow us an out. To avoid stepping on others’ opinions, we’ve been told to use phrases like “I feel ,” because people can’t disagree with what we’re feeling, though they could disagree with our opinions. That is probably effective when what is meant is something like “I feel hurt when you…” What has happened in our language is that the phrase “I feel” is often not  connected to an emotion but has become more frequently connected to a thought or a belief in order to hopefully stop people from disagreeing with us over those thoughts and beliefs. You can know you have moved away from the true language of feeling when you have to say “I feel that…;” that phrase with the added word ‘that’ will always lead not to a feeling/emotion but to a thought or belief.

That language has so permeated our speech patterns that no one seems willing any longer to take responsibility for his or her thoughts by stating, “I think,” “I believe, or “I know.” I believe it is that unwillingness to take responsibility for our actions, thoughts and beliefs that causes us to make resolutions (hear and feel ‘compromises’) rather than actually resolving (hear choices, backbone and will) to take the necessary steps to accomplish change.

Because of the difference in those words, I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I know those will be forgotten and set aside within a few days of the new year. If something is truly important enough to make me deeply desire change, I must resolve to implement the changes that will be necessary.

This morning I was reading yesterday’s “My Utmost for His Highest” and the opening scripture and Chambers’ comments read like a New Year’s resolve: “My eager desire and hope being that I may never feel ashamed, but that now as ever I may do honour to Christ in my own person by fearless courage.” Philippians 1:20 (MOFFATT)

Chambers quotes Paul, “My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest” [emphasis mine]. He goes on to say, “To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender on that point.”

If I am going to “be my utmost for His Highest,” I need to be aiming with resolve and determination toward all those ideals most of us merely apply the label “New Year’s Resolutions” to. I know resolutions will not be implemented and will be lost to my mind after a few days not to be recalled until I reflect on how I did in 2009. But my daily resolve and determination can guide me to “be my utmost for His Highest.”