On Summer Nights in Hartford

Summer nights can never be as good as they were when you were young.

Especially in the confines of our sleepy little town in NorthwesImage result for oak harbor ohio historyt Ohio.

The feeling of freedom after the last day of school that stretched across three blissful sunburnt months doesn’t quite have an equivalent in adulthood.

When I reminisce about my childhood summers, I think of the smell of sun and sweat on my skin after playing outside all day long. I think of the sizzle of sparklers and the big colorful explosions of fireworks with their sulfuric scent lingering in the air on July 4th celebrations at Veterans Park. 

I think of the smell of chlorine and blood-shot eyes from swimming  in Teagarden’s pool.

I think of cupping my small hands around fireflies and dropping them into mason jars, little pieces of summer I wish I could have treasured forever.

As a young child, the highlight of each summer was marked by the annual county fair. For several days in July, kiddie rides, games of chance, concession stands, and fun houses were erected in the heart of our county.  Unlike some of my friends,Image result for Amusement ride swings that would go to the fair every day,  I usually was only able to get to the fair one day during that week.  I looked forward to it for months.  I look back at the time now and realize that my anticipation for the event was much more exciting than the real thing.  When my day finally came around, I spent my day shoving cotton candy in my mouth, riding the giant swing ride over and over and going to look at all of the animals.

At the end of the day, I’d crawl sleepy-eyed into the backseat clutching cheap trinkets  won playing “everyone is a winner”carnival games.  It was the highlight of my year.

Along this time in my life, the memories seem to blur for a few years.  At the age of 9 years old, I lost my older brother, my cousin and a close family friend in a tragic car-train accident.  Today, almost 50 years later, except for the details of that horrific day, I struggle with the memories of that time.  I have a very clear and distinct memory of having an older brother.  But the thing is, unless I see a picture, I can’t remember what he looked like. I don’t remember his voice.  I remember him going to school every morning.  I remember him teasing me. I remember his friends he would have over and me begging him to let me play with them.  I remember the color of his hair that was always messy.  I even remember his bedroom.  I remember a few days just before he was killed that we sat in his room playing “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5 over and over until our mom made us turn it off.  To this very day, I can’t listen to the song with having  tears stream down my face.  I guess the memories of a 9-year-old never quite leave you.

I was not aware of it at that time but my path in life would forever be affected by the events of that day.  The innocence of life in a small town, although strained by tragedy, would continue for me for a few more years.  I was still wrapped up in the warmth of a community that still wasn’t hardened by the events of life.

The details of that fateful event is a story to be told another day.

As my summers accumulated and I advanced towards junior high,  summer life became all about friends. My small group of friends and I rode our bikes all over town on long summer days, creating our own adventures to shake up this small town life.  Life was filled with Little League baseball and the strange realization, but not ready to admit just yet, that girls weren’t so yucky after all.

The only fear we had in life was getting home before the street lights came on. Never had a worry that our picture might wind up on a “missing child” milk carton. We were only bound by the town limit signs and we felt like our town was ours and ours alone.  There were nights that our gaze would try to look past those town limit signs. We were slowly coming to an understanding that there was a life beyond what our eyes could see. 

We bought candy by the fistful at the W.R. Thomas 5-10 store.  All that sugar would fuel late-night sleepover conversations.  I am reminded of the arctic chill of basement floors and how we’d seek refuge from the damp heat by spreading our sleeping bags out over the floor.  The lights turned off and there was just enough glow from the black and white, three channel TV for our time of telling stories and lies to each other. 

Tucked in a sleeping bag on a friend’s cold basement floor, summer nights had the effect of a sacred place. We would talk about our plans for the next day, told scary stories and made fun of each other in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.  Usually that would always cross the line somewhere along the conversation and we would have to break up a fight every now and then. 

Midnight felt so late and so adult.

Image result for Kids gathered in the basementSometimes, as we fought to keep our eyes open to see who could stay up the latest and after we would hear that familiar yell come down the stairwell “to keep it quiet down there” would then start the conversations of our dreams of what we would become when we got older. 

Dreams of becoming a professional baseball player had not yet been dashed upon the rocks of reality. We believed they could come true for all of us.  We could, in fact, all play professionally and we all would play on the same team. Like the pick up games in our backyard, we were only limited by what we dreamed.  We would talk until our conversations drifted off into sleep.

In the morning, none of us would  dare talk about our late night conversations.  We knew that any further discussion in the light of day would jinx the possibilities.  It was a pact that we all believed but never discussed.  It all felt surreal, for now, our dreams were safe from the rocks of reality. Protected from the light of day, forever stowed away with the moon. 

Each summer day marked by the bike race to Van Atta’s Dairy Queen to get our .25 ice cream cone.  Then we would mad dash it to Yeisley’s field to play baseball until we would get too hot to play and then, if we did not have a game that night, we would make our daily trip to the pool.  We never swam on game days.  We were told we couldn’t because it would make us too tired and we would not be able to play at the top of our game. We were convinced that the lifeguards were going to call our coaches. 

On game days we would ride our bikes to the pool. Not only just to see the girls but to see the fun we were missing with our other friends that did not have a game.  We would stare through the fence for a while then slowly head home one-by-one to rest up for the game.

Baseball was life during that time. We never considered that there had never been one player in our small town that ever made it but for now our dreams were safely protected by the belief of the certainty of the young and naive.

Summer still ended with the fair. But instead of playing games and riding rides, the focus had shifted.  We now walked around the fair. We walked in packs.  We were all just walking around trying to look cool.

We weren’t.

However, there was strength in numbers.  Even though not one of us would ever admit to it, our pack walked around, hopeful to run into the group of Jr High girls that were gathered safely in their own pack.  We would walk until we grew tired.  Tired of daring each other to do outlandish acts. Tired of acting like little immature kids. Tired of trying act like we were older than we were.

Truth was… we really wanted to go ride the rides like we did when we were little.

But here we were, suspended somewhere between childhood and being a teenager.  It was all wrapped up in the security of living in a place and time where time seemed to stand still.  All the people, and all the houses that surrounded you were as familiar as the things in your own room. You believed it would always stay the same.

The dreams of life beyond the town limits of Hartford were still off in the distance.

But as much as we believed, something deep inside of us knew the truth. Slowly changImage result for Oak Harbor ohio picturese was happening. Soon enough, little league baseball would end and we were made to face the reality that only a hand full of my friends would continue to play baseball in high school. 

I wasn’t one of them.

I suddenly had the over whelming feeling that I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life.  I wasn’t ready. I wanted to stay there, in the comfort of the summer nights of Hartford. But I knew I couldn’t.  I was now fourteen.  I slept under a roof that belonged to someone else, in a bed my father bought. Nothing was mine, except my fears.  

And my growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore.

Things were changing.  I would hear some of my own friends start to talk about making plans on leaving the safety of our hometown.  I started to hear the other side of growing up Hartford.  The negative.  In my mind and memories, the place was perfect, almost sacred. 

Looking back, I know it wasn’t perfect and obviously not sacred.

It was clear that my feelings were found in a place that was caught up in the reluctance to move from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.

Before I knew it, I found myself in High School.

Going to the fair was now focused on running into other kids from school and seeing who had coupled up or broken up over the last few months, triumphs or casualties of summer.

We no longer walked in packs.  I would usually hang with just one of my friends.  It kept the competition down and I would not have to be embarrassed by that one friend that always acted like an idiot.

During fair week, when the sun went down, that magical familiar feeling of youth slipped over me once again. Those exciting feelings of not knowing what would happen next.

There was the possibility that the crush you had might see you and smile at you. 

When it looked like no one was around, we worked up the courage to go on the Kamikaze, a ride that shuttled you in giant, nauseating upside-down loops. I screamed at the top of my lungs while “Do Ya” by the Electric Light Orchestra blasted through the ride’s crappy speakers, and I felt like a badass.

I wasn’t.

At the time, there was no greater heartbreak than when the fair packed up and left town with all of your wishes still unfulfilled.

That last night at the fair, in the darkness of night, we walked home from the Image result for The moon in the distancefairgrounds. 

Our ride left us and we had no choice but to walk the 4 miles back to Hartford.  The only light coming from the moon. 

I was deep in thought and walking to the town I grew up in.  I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block.  Their kids, names of their dogs, but most of those families were gone now. 

Scattered. 

The ones who stayed were not the same.  The world was moving on. 

Only the lights remained the same.

Maybe I was starting to realized that growing up doesn’t have to be so much a straight line.  Maybe a life was a series of advances and retreats.  Maybe I was learning that I was growing up too fast.  Maybe it was the fact that I was missing something about my childhood. 

But I could not shake the feeling of loss on the long walk to Hartford. 

Eventually I made my way home.  I walked slowly.  Walking past each one of those houses, called homes, I started to realize something.  I was beginning to understand that in each home, with its Ford parked out front and its white bread on the table and TV set glowing blue in the falling night, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and the struggle to make it in life.  I was just starting out on my journey to figure out what life was really about.  After growing up in Hartford, protected by the outside world, I wasn’t even sure I knew what “real” life was anymore, but I knew I had a lot to learn and my quest to finally find it was a long way off.

Walking up my driveway, I noticed what a beautiful night it was – lit by the moon.  The world smelled fresh and clean.  I turned the handle of the front door and opened it.  Like always, there was my mom sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.  As I walked into the room, she put her paper down and stood up.  I could see in her eyes that she knew that I had a tough night.  She  gave me a big hug.  She never said a word and neither did I.  We didn’t have to, for in that moment I felt like a kid again.  Life and all of its responsibilities were knocking on the door. But for tonight, they would have to wait.

I never went to the fair again.

Summers took on a whole new level of gravity after graduation.  Now, summer was a season of returning home to a life put off to the side while classes were in session.   People stopped coming home for the summer.  Jobs replaced summer freedom–real ones, not the mowing lawns or life guarding for minimum wage of the past. The cycle of seasons felt like it accelerated a little bit more each year, like a record playing on the wrong setting.  Most people I knew had long abandoned the town limits of Hartford. The town was now different.  Van Atta’s had long since been sold. W.R. Thomas closed it’s doors.

Except for the hardware store, the familiar storefronts of Water Street were now empty.

Years have become decades, and my early memories have lost their sharp edges.  Image result for Oak Harbor ohio

But I can still recall the names of the old stores in town.  I can still remember reading magazines at the counter and ordering no better cheeseburger and fries in the world than the one I would get at Van Atta’s restaurant. Especially for $1.25. 

I can still remember the way my heart would race when I knew it was a baseball  game day.  Or the feeling of pure joy of being flanked by my best friends on our bikes. It was our first taste of freedom–to be able to take ourselves anywhere within the town limits, powered by the adrenaline pumping through our veins with each spin of our silver spokes.

I wish I could have bottled all those feelings all of those years ago, like those fireflies in a mason jar. To once again feel that youthful freedom and the delicious possibility of how any given night might end.

I’d open the lid and breathe in the smallest sample in order to make it last.

On summer nights in Hartford, it truly was a great way to live life.

 

What Will It Take?

What will it take?  Only you know the answer.

What will it take to move you? What will it take to move you from a place of certainty and towards a place of openness to evidence, to a place of possible changed opinion?https://i2.wp.com/www.hss.gov.nt.ca/sites/default/files/styles/medium/public/rotators/4979/what-will-it-take.png

We live in a world where everyone is talking and no one is listening.  Most people only pause long enough to catch their breath and then dive right back into the rhetoric.

As we stumble through this ghastly political battlefield, I keep coming back to that question.

What will it take for you to listen?

My Facebook feed is full of political memes and messages regarding candidates; their potential benefits to the nation, their views and more often, their missteps and political sins.

What do we think we are accomplishing when we post these images and words?

No one is listening.  It’s like people who just keep bringing water to those who are not thirsty.

I suspect people hope they may make someone think; that they might just offer an issue that generates pause and causes others to research and truly consider their position.http://a.abcnews.com/images/Politics/AP_hillary_trump_cf_wider_cf_160708_31x13_1600.jpg

People want to make a difference. People hope to gain another person in support, perhaps, that sways the election in the direction they desire.

It makes no difference of the lies or the actions of a candidate.  My personal belief is that almost everyone has already made up their mind.  The time between now and the election is a total waste of time and money.

I personally believe that we are an arrogant lot. We think we know; we think we understand.

I’m pretty sure we don’t understand much of anything. I suspect we get about one half of one percent of what there is to know…if that.

My opinion is not that we’re stupid, but that the body of knowledge to be known is so vast, that it’s simply outside of our grasp.

The practical side to this is, we can’t think we know all of the answers. Our minds must constantly be open to and aware of new potentialities.

Don’t be that person… that arrogant person posting things they can’t possibly understand. Don’t be the one who digs their heels in the mud during a debate and refuses to entertain the possibility of being wrong.

In wrongness lies creation, potential, and growth.

Our egos tether us to an opinion and belief.  It tethers us to political parties. Let go of the ego and consider the dream of possibility.

Image result for be open to different thoughtsHow many people are left that are open to the possibility that their candidate may be wrong? Are there people among us who would truly free themselves from ego and conditioning to critically analyze the information?

I see so much division. If you grew up in a staunchly republican or democrat home is your loyalty based more on identity and emotionality than researched ideology? That makes me sad.

But the truth is, people are so indoctrinated that words like “democrat” “liberal” the “left” “republican” the “right” are dirty words. I won’t even mention the response that comes with the  words “conservative christian”.

Neither “democrat” nor “republican,” “left” nor “right” or even the words “conservative christian” are dirty words.

In truth, alliances that are well thought out and researched are respected by me and others who are capable of exercising their muscles of critical thought. I have no respect for those that spew political hate that simple follow political rhetoric like sheep headed to the slaughter.

Are you open to evidence?

Are you willing to research and critically view the information put before you?

Are you able to resist the mob rule of the American political climate?

Can you put space between you and your ego and make a well-considered choice?

And so, it is with these words that I challenge each of us to be open, to consider, and to use our heads when assessing our choices.

But above all, be kind. Remember to love. Remember that even those candidates with whom we disagree are human with souls and an eternity that stretches before them, just as it does for us.

Love is about people, not about opinions or ideology. Most definitely it is not about politics.

What will it take? What will it take to get you to really think and not be swayed by the news media?  What will it take for you to stop following a candidate that is simply your parties candidate? What will it take to get you to consider you may be wrong about this one?

Our future and our Nation hangs in the balance.

Only you know the answer.

The Rest is Just Clutter

Welcome to life.

Life is cluttered with so many things that simply cling to us as we walk through our days.

Physical and mental clutter.

We have cluttered our lives with things and baggage.

Things we long ago stopped using or things we have clung to, like past hurts and past failures.

Sadly, the things that clutter life sometimes take possession of us. There is a fine line between what we own and what owns us.

Having this car or that computer or this house defines me to others, but all it is really is just clutter that keeps our focus away from the things that are important.

Personally, I long for a drive to the dump where I can simply purge all the clutter of my mind, my life, and my possessions.

My wife is so much better at this purging than I am.

I am working at it.  I am making progress. But I am still not there yet.

The questions I try to answer now is, “why do I have this? do I need it? could I live without it?”

Truth is… I have never needed much.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a person that longs for possessions.  I do not long for a new car, a big beautiful house or “things.”  I grew up with nothing.  Meaning that I did not grow up with all the new stuff that many of my friends had. 

In many ways, I am richer because of it.

But the dark side of being a person that grew up with nothing, is that when you do get something that you truly wanted, you tend to cling to and keep it long after it lived it’s worth.  It’s hard for me to throw anything away. 

Like a hoarder, I still cling to certain “things” that mean nothing to anyone else but me.

When it comes to mental and emotional “clutter” I still hold on to things that I should have let go years ago.  As hard as I try to move on and forget those things which are behind me, I still place them on the shelves of my memory and keep inventory of them. 

As I grow older, I believe that hardest things for me to let go of are things I never had.

Things like, the dreams and desires I had for my life and career.  The dreams and things I wanted for my children that I couldn’t provide. I find it hard to let go of dreams that I have wanted to do but I see time slipping away and I see the ship pulling away from the dock.  I am on the other side of the fence watching it drift off into the sunset without me and my wife.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to purge these things from my life.

But I am working at it.

To be able to let go of all of this, all the things that keep me from being a better person, things that hinder me from better serving God, from knowing Him, obeying Him, from letting Him work in my life, is something I long for.

I remember, years ago, reading Philip Yancey’s words as he described going to a monastic retreat.  The monk took  him to a sparse room with a bed, chair and small table.  As he left him the monk said,

“If there is anything you need let us know and we will teach you how to live without it.”

How about you?  Clinging to things that don’t matter?

May our passion be our relationship with Jesus Christ and our families.

The rest is just clutter.

Conclusions

Let me just say something that, apparently, some people still haven’t considered:

Your opinion on Facebook doesn’t matter. Neither does mine.

I have spent the last week or so on a self-imposed Facebook break. 

What a relief it was. 

It is something that I will probably continue… but on my own terms.

It surly will not be because of the reason I took this one. I took a break from Facebook because I posted a generic status that some people thought I took an “unfair” shot of criticism because I questioned of some posts that they posted.  I did not name names. I got called out because I had dared to post something that “implied” that I was talking about someone or someone they knew.  

I guess I could have understood that, had I posted names and called them out directly, I should have expected the backlash. But that wasn’t the case. I guess people feel that their opinion, comments and status trumps anything I post and that specifically my posts always are talking about them.

I guess free speech in a Facebook world only applies to those that deem it so.

So, I took a week or so of doing some research and to try to gain some perspective.  The more I read and the more I thought about it, I have come to some conclusions. But before I post these conclusions, let me say for the record, you don’t have to agree with them.  I will not apologize for them and I certainly will not back down from my right to post them.

CONCLUSION #1 

If you choose to emotionally blast out your political perspective online, I promise no one is listening and you’ll never change a person’s mind from a Facebook post.  

It is futile.

All you do when you post your political perspective is just stir the pot.  No true debate or honest reasoning can be found in a Facebook post. You are asking for a response. You are opening the door to disagreement.  Defend your own battles if you post it.  This should be acknowledged by everyone that has a FB account. 

You post something… you have to be prepared for the disagreement.  Quit being so thin-skinned that you get offended when someone disagrees with you.

Is that what you are looking for? Are you just looking for people who agree with you?  If it is your true heartfelt belief or perspective, why are you so defensive? I say, agree to disagree.  State your disagreement and move on.  Why do the defenses come up so quickly?   

For many people, this is so difficult to handle.  It is why we have heard from college campuses, where they need “safe” speech zones because people just can’t handle when someone has a different opinion and that they may be wrong.  If you want a safe zone on Facebook, edit out the ones you disagree with until your news feed looks more like an echo board of your own thoughts. Feel free to edit out the ones you disagree with until you’re surrounded by people who are just like you.

CONCLUSION #2

I will not block or delete anyone on Facebook who disagrees with me.  

I may block you for other reasons… inappropriate language or posts, but not because I disagree with you.   

Let’s face it, it’s loud out there.  It seems like everyone has something to say and Facebook is where they say it.  Our news feeds are littered with articles, posts, and images from all types of people. 

We wonder why we’re so divided.

I know what you’re thinking, though: “It’s my feed, I’ll block who I want.  I shouldn’t have to be offended.  I don’t have time for that.  Life is too short.  I only want to see what I want to see.”

So… please block or delete me if you can’t handle what I post.  It’s ok.  I am a big boy.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.  I can handle it when someone doesn’t.  I don’t offend easily. 

Apparently many people do.

CONCLUSION #3

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe!  – Albert Einstein

People are stupid.

We all act stupid at some point.  Yes… including me.

Now before anyone thinks I am calling someone specific stupid… I am not.

It’s just that, unfortunately, some people act stupid most of the time.

We live in the age of sound bites, Cliff’s Notes, tweets and slogans. We live in a world where American attention spans have been constantly dwindling for the last couple decades. This isn’t totally our fault; partly it’s because we’re constantly bombarded with more news stories and advertisements than ever before.  We have a generation that receives their “news” from Facebook.  That is the extent of their “world view”. 

One would need to be very concerned if they determined their political views from their Facebook feed.  https://i0.wp.com/www.psychalive.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/cell-phone-addiction.jpg

Yet… here we are America.

Based upon my Facebook experience, I am convinced that we live in a society that has more information at their fingertips yet people have no world view that matters. We have “smart phones” but stupid people.  As smart and educated as you may think you are, you cannot with 100% certainty believe you know everything. It’s impossible because it’s impossible to know everything. I am always amazed at the level of self-importance people place on themselves.  I read posts from people who for their entire life have never traveled as far as 100 miles from their home, except maybe for a week or two of vacation or mission’s trips. Suddenly they are experts on the world and diplomacy.  They convince themselves that they know the ins and outs of government and have a solution for all. 

So no one can call me a hypocrite, I consider myself to be a fairly educated and logical person. I have a degree and I have worked in ministry and I’ve worked in the public sector. (I have a wide variety of experience, in other words.)

Yet with all of this experience and learning under my belt, I am still clueless about many, many things, and I know it.  To me it is a waste of time to argue or make assumptions about things one cannot know for 100% certainty.  There are aspects about politics that I will never understand.  Regardless how many hours I study or who teaches me.  It simply doesn’t matter if I know all the answers.  The most important aspect of any real truth in life is what I do about Jesus Christ.  Did He exist?  Is He who He said He was? Did He pay the price for the forgiveness of my sin on the cross? Can salvation be found in Him?  My commitment is to have faith and believe that He said who He said He was and to accept Him into to my life as Lord.  Everything else really doesn’t matter. That includes all aspects of politics. I don’t need to know everything and I most certainly don’t.

CONCLUSION #4

Facebook is infested with trolls.

Attention from half-truths and shallow talking points are what these people feed off of.  They post to get a rise.  They are keyboard warriors trying to get you to bite at their click bait posts.

These people don’t deserve our attention; they’re just antagonists.

Antagonists are against the norm. They don’t want rules, or at least not rules that apply to them.  Rules for you are OK.  They just want to fight and prefer it to be unmediated.

That is exactly the platform Facebook provides. It’s a place where people feel comfortable making huge rhetorical leaps, without facing the challenge of having to back it up.

There’s no magical government agency that surveys Facebook statuses for people’s input. There isn’t any Facebook fact-finding agency that evaluates all posts to see if there is any truth to them or not.  Buyer beware.  If you make the mistake of clicking on one of these posts and you comment that it is wrong, or at least disingenuous, you’ll likely get an earful from a troll.

CONCLUSION #5

Political debate is not a function of Facebook.

Up until about mid-2009, I used to regularly engage in political discussions with people on Facebook. I enjoyed debating people. However, I stopped.

Every now and then I’d read an ignorant statement or a regurgitation of official government propaganda and I’d be tempted to throw in my two cents. I would like to say that I always held my comments and did not respond to them but I can’t. Usually I would come to my senses and exercise some self-control. (Usually)… but last week I bit the click bait and commented. I paid a price for that.

When you’re talking politics, the zealots and the gullible really come out of the woodwork. I always come across several conspiracy theorists and the “my political party is always right” party adherents.

I have zero patience for people who toe their party line as a gut reaction. To me, this shows a lack of critical thinking and a lack of consideration of other people’s viewpoints or beliefs. It’s very selfish and very lazy. This is true whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, liberal, conservative, anarchist, communist, or something else.

If you can’t even entertain the possibility that you might be wrong, why even converse with others? If you already know everything, what more is there to learn? Of course, this point of view is absurd.

With Facebook, there’s no fact checking or moderation; it has turned into a place where people come to blast opinions at each other and then walk away after pissing off their friends. They do not have to “prove” anything.

Instead, even if your friends disagree with you, Facebook should be used to maintain your friends network, not destroy it.  Coming online to burn bridges with people who are your friends is a waste of your time.

CONCLUSION #6

The most intolerant people I know are those who say they are tolerant.

Respect is a two-edged sword, I have lost a lot of respect of people who I would call my friends and I am sure several people lost respect for me, too, and I’d be dishonest to say anything different.

I am sure that some have or will soon block or de-friend me. That is fine with me.

Discussing aspects of politics can be frustrating, tedious, and useless, all at the same time. I can become very angry at people whom I otherwise admire and respect very much. There’s enough negativity in the world without adding to it. Anger can be useful, but you know what’s more useful? Is choosing to not argue and allow people to have an opinion… even if it is wrong.  That goes for everyone involved with what gets posted on Facebook.

Allowance for tolerance is needed on both sides of an issue. 

Moving forward, I will post what I want.  I do not need anyone’s permission.  If you don’t like what I post, send me a text, an email or whatever you want.  Just don’t try to suck me into the soul crushing and fruitless black hole of Facebook political debate.

Again, just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I am wrong. It also doesn’t mean you are right either.  More importantly, because I choose not to argue on Facebook, doesn’t mean I don’t care, or even that I’ve given up having a discussion.   I just want to do it in a different setting. I’ll still write about what I believe and issues occasionally on this site.

To put it simply, arguments about politics are fruitless and empty. 

Nobody changes their mind because of a facebook post.

Facebook is not the source of truth.

It should be just about friends.

 

Not Fooling Anyone (A Chronicle of Bad Conversations and Storefronts Past)

A few weeks ago, a co-worker popped his head in my office. He said “So, are you ready for next Wednesday?

I sat there going through my mental calendar and couldn’t come up with what the significance Wednesday had. I finally had to ask “What’s Wednesday?”

He then reminded me that Wednesday was the day on the calendar that I age one more year. He asked if I had any words to impart to impart the wisdom I’ve gained in my many years.

Nope.

To be honest, I was just happy that he reminded me what Wednesday was because I needed to renew my license tags.  That summed up the depth of the wisdom that was flowing through my brain. I mumbled that I would write a post about “all the wisdom I’ve gained over all my years”.  He laughed and said sarcastically that he “couldn’t wait” to read it and something about that it should be a short read.

That Saturday, as I sat at the DMV, I was reminded of this conversation I had the previous day. I thought about what wisdom or perspective I could have actually shared.  What gold nuggets of wisdom have I gained? What words can I put in a post?

I had nothing.

But I valiantly tried to post something. I spent the next few days writing a post that I published a week or so ago. I called it “Thinking Back, Looking Forward”  Click here to read

I’ve spent the days since that posting going round and round about this subject.  While I liked the article I posted, something just told me that I needed to share something more. 

What could I write that would show what I truly have learned over the years? What I have learned in these years on this big rock that I can pass on to my kids and grandkids, not to mention, anyone else that might read this? 

Then it hit me… while staring at a picture that sits on my desk.  I had actually wrote about him in my post that is linked above.  My closest childhood friend, Bryan Blakley died the day after my birthday in 2009.  I have written about him a number of times and I have always felt a part of me is missing since his passing.  We lost him all too soon. I could never deny the influence that Bryan had in my life.  I can’t say that all of the “influence” was good either.  I got in trouble with Bryan on many occasions and there are secrets of things that we did that I will take to my grave. 

But the one thing that I could always say about Bryan is that he was true to himself.  He lived what he believed.  Even if he was wrong.  He never tried to hide who he really was.  I always tried to hide and fool people into thinking I was some kind of innocent kid. 

I wasn’t innocent.

Bryan was a person that really did not care what people thought of him.  He was who he was 24 hours a day. The good, the bad and the ugly.

I always looked up to that because he was true to his convictions and to what he believed.  He never tried to fool anyone.  I thought back to the words I spoke at his funeral. A simple sentence that I still believe summed up Bryan’s life and in it a truth that sticks with me to this very day…

You can say what you think but you’ll live what you believe.

That’s it. 

That basically is the foundation of all wisdom.  In other words,  to quote Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true”.  Under all that we think, lives a life that really shows what we truly believe.

I’ve said multiple times that it is really easy to sit behind the keyboard and act like you’ve got the world on a string. For 9 years, I have posted personal thoughts and hopefully, https://itsyet2bt0ld.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/img_3064.png?w=246&h=202shared the struggles too. Life has knocked me down a few times. Those events have shown me things about myself I never wanted to see.  I believe that in those events, I caught the glimpse of who I truly was. 

It’s like really seeing yourself in a mirror.  What if we honestly just saw our character instead of our image in a mirror? In reality, that is how God sees us all the time.  Because He sees through the fake image we try to show the world. What God sees in those moments is the character that sums up who we are.  It scares me to consider what God thinks when He sees and hears the lies we tell Him and others.

I have often thought about what a book about my life would look like.  How would it read? How would it be perceived?  I have even gone as far as coming up with the title.

 “Not Fooling Anybody (A Chronicle of Bad Conversations and Storefronts Past)

What I have learned about life is that I haven’t really fooled anybody.  More importantly, I know I haven’t fooled God.  I don’t think many people understand that.  I think there are many people who think they are fooling others, they in turn fool themselves into thhttps://i2.wp.com/notfoolinganybody.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/logo.pnginking that they have fooled God.  It is not possible to fool God.  I have learned the hard way this great truth.

Sometimes, late at night, when I am trying to go to sleep. I am reminded of the conversations that I had with people over the years.  Those conversations when I tried to defend my sin. Those conversations when I tried to fool people that I had my act together and I was living the kind of life that God would be proud of.  Those conversations when I tried to fool myself that I was something that I knew in my heart I wasn’t. I have memory of more of these conversations than I care to remember.

My life has always been either honored or betrayed by the “storefronts” that I have built over the years.  The people who have known me over the years can stroll down the main street of my life and see the evidence of my life that is seen in the storefront windows that line the street.  Like in times of old, before the malls, when people would shop local and go window shopping.  The product that each store sold was placed in that window for all to see.  I have many “storefronts.” Most of them are good.  However, there are a few that I wish I could make go away.  Now before you think I dwell on these “bad storefronts,” I don’t.  I know that God has dealt with me about the content of those storefronts and He has forgiven me and has allowed me to live a great life. But I would be lying if I said that in the quiet times that I am alone, that these storefronts don’t flash in front of my eyes and I am reminded of them. They do.  Some bring me happiness and others embarrassment. 

Such is life.

At the end of the day, I hope that whenever my number is called, those that knew me personally or from afar will all be able to say the same thing. I hope they will say that I said what I thought and it matched the way that I lived and what I believed.  I know that this was not true in my younger years.  I have had to be shaped, molded, poked and prodded by God to fix many areas of my life. 

Even at 55, I am a work in progress. 

We all are.

I hope, before I die,  I can point others to Jesus Christ and the salvation that is found in Him.

I hope that I can encourage others to create a life that feels good on the inside and not just one that looks good on the outside.

I hope you’ll see that I didn’t just speak highly of my wife, I honestly treasure and honor her above all others.

I hope you’ll see that I love my kids. Even if I disagree with some of the choices they have made. I made it my goal to treasure each moment and never leave a doubt in their mind as to how I felt about them.

I hope you’ll see that I didn’t throw around the word “friend” like it’s something you accept on a social media site. I believed that relationships are important and that people – no matter who they are – matter.

I hope you’ll see that I didn’t just talk about faith to be high and mighty. I live a life filled with questions, doubts, struggles, fears and wrestled through the journey to be not high and mighty, but second and humble.

I hope that you see that I didn’t intend fool anybody.  I was what I claimed to be… a sinner, saved by grace.

That sums up the wisdom in this small brain of mine. 

Maybe this was too long to convey a simple point of wisdom but that’s the best I’ve got.

The calendar turned on another year older.

It’s another chance to say what I think and more importantly….

Live what I believe.

The Evidence

There is nothing like ripe, fresh fruit.

To be able to pick a piece of fruit from the tree and eat it is one of the great experiences of life.  

I remember, years ago, when I lived in Oak Harbor, Ohio and experiencing the thrill of picking cherries from our trees in our back yard.  I still remember climbing those trees and sitting high up on one of the branches and picking and eating fresh cherries by the hand full.  I still reflect in amazement that was part of my childhood.  I surely did not appreciate the experience at the time.

I am not sure that I can ever remember eating cherries in my adult life that were as fresh and sweet as those I picked back in those days.

Fresh fruit is the ultimate sign of life from a fruit tree. It tells you, without any doubt, this tree is alive!  And because of that life we enjoy the fruit.

There is one more thing I think about when my thoughts wander to this topic of fruit-  fresh fruit has a sweetness to it.  It’s as if one of the great evidences of fresh fruit is a sweet subtle taste that makes you want more.

So what is the evidence of life for the Christian?

What tells the world, as they walk by, that you are alive in Christ?

It’s the fruit!

Here’s how Paul describes the fruit that comes from us when we are alive in Christ,

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

The thing about this kind of fruit is that others should be drawn to it, there’s a https://syntheticgospel.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/good-tree.jpg?w=1108sweetness about our lives that should make them want to be around us.  The fruit of the Spirit coming out of our lives should draw others to us and ultimately to Christ.

It’s the same thing that happened when Jesus was here… people loved being with Him.

The fruit of his life was sweet and refreshing.

So this is what I am pondering today. In clear self-evaluation, I am wondering if the fruit that I produce is pointing others to see Christ in me?  I want to be recognized by the fruit of the Spirit.  However, I am reminded of the times that no one could see Christ in me because I was too full of myself. 

There was no room for fruit to grow.

Too often, I was caught up in the throes of the dogma of religion and not in living in the freedom that being alive in Christ brings. 

As I reflect, my challenge to you, is for you to evaluate what is the evidence of the life of Christ in you?

Does the fruit of your life have the sweet taste of God’s presence or the bitter taste of self and religion?

Is there evidence that you are alive in Christ?  How does it taste to those around you?

Thinking Back, Looking Forward

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 55th birthday. “Celebrated” is an interesting use of the English language. Because, in truth, I more “endured” my 55th birthday than any thing else.

Have you ever thoughthttps://i1.wp.com/www.meducom.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Thinking-back-looking-forward.jpg about why we even bother to celebrate birthdays? When you think about it, they’re really just another opportunity for your family to congratulate you for surviving another year.

I get it… it is scientifically proven that those that have more birthdays live longer.  Right?

So it was my birthday. I don’t have to be happy about it. Who needs to be, annually, reminded that you are one year older and closer to ‘…knock, knock knocking on Heaven’s door.’

I personally believe that after 50, all birthdays should be ignored and that dreadful question of ‘is this the big one?’ posed by well-meaning friends be confined to the scrap heap.

At 55… I hit the “BIG ONE” five years ago.

Hello, people, after 50 they are all big ones!

Like many my age, I’m thinking back and looking forward.

Life has happened so quickly, passed by so rapidly, that I suddenly look around and exclaim, “hey, wait a minute, that ride went way too fast!!”

Life is short.

I heard that said when I was young, but never believed it.

In the early years of life we think time crawls, but as we age it moves more quickly and soon it’s hard to keep up.

It seems only a few days ago that Bryan Blakely and I were riding bikes and exploring the world in our small town of Oak Harbor, Ohio.  We chased dogs, built forts, pretended https://img0.etsystatic.com/031/0/6533227/il_fullxfull.642836572_ohia.jpgto be soldiers on secret missions. The imagination is such a wonderful gift to young boys. The only requirement had been that we were home by the time the street lights came on. After that, we were confined to our block.  It was a time of great memories.

Our mother’s had no idea where we were, but it was rural Northwest Ohio, and it was the days when life was much safer.  Those days when you did not have to worry about your picture ending up on a milk carton.

School days, summer loves, college, travel, marriage, kids, diapers, a new job here, a move there… time kept passing and before I realized what was happening the kids were grown and I am left wondering where did the time go.

All that to say, at this moment in time, the most important thing I ever did in my entire life was trust Jesus Christ as my Savior and surrender my life to Him.

All the rest, both the good and the bad, have a completely different color and a different taste because of that one decision in 1970.

Again… life is short.

Enjoy every moment, but know this – trusting Christ and surrendering your life to him is the most important thing you will ever do.

There is nothing more important than that. 

How wonderful to look back and know that God has worked in my life and to look ahead and see Him at the finish line.

To be honest…  I am in no hurry to get to heaven and on to eternity. 

I’m still good.  I have a lot to live for and to look forward to.

My expiration date hasn’t come up just yet.    

 

What Is Wrong With Us?

Last week I had a long conversation with a friend who recently got “kicked out” of his church because of sin in his life.  

It always surprises me when a church, the place where sinners are supposed to find help, kicks those sinners out of church for the sins they most need help with!

https://i0.wp.com/www.blendezwoacht.de/scherer8/what_is_wrong_with_us.jpgWhat is wrong with us?  How do we think this is anything like Christ?

His comment to me was simply this, “It’s a great church, just don’t mess up or be honest about your problems.”

I laughed at his assertion that it was a great church.  Great churches don’t give up on sinners.  Great churches work with those that have issues and try to restore them in good faith.  Great churches don’t kick sinners to the curb.

I guess I could understand if he was not repentant and not willing to seek help.  He insisted that he was willing to do all of these things. 

I asked if he had talked to his Pastor. He said that he had and that the pastor just said that he was sorry but that it would be best to stop coming to the services.  I asked my friend if the pastor offered to counsel him or anything.  My friend simply said no and that the pastor and the members of the church made it very clear he was not welcome.

Now to be fair… I only have one side of the story and I did not ask nor did I seek to know any of the details of his sin.  But I will say that this wasn’t the first time I have heard of such an incident.

Something is wrong in the Church today. I don’t say that lightly, or as someone who thrives on criticizing everyone else so as to establish my own spiritual superiority, or as someone who is feeding on sour grapes because things aren’t the way I would like them. I say it because of how many people I meet on a daily basis who are discouraged by traditional church and have chosen not to attend anymore.

Seems as of late, everywhere I turn, I hear people complaining about the same thing. This isn’t something localized to a particular area or limited to a certain denomination. I hear this from all sorts of people, many with years of commitment to the church. People who are believer’s and those that are lost, they seem to refuse to attend church, not because they don’t believe, but because they are repelled by what they see.

Those who do attend church often say that their personal church is great, yet condemn other churches saying something is wrong.

No matter how you view this issue, no matter what position you have, no matter what church you belong to, you have to admit that something is wrong in many of our churches.

I am not saying all churches are this way but it is disturbing at the number that are.

We are supposed to be the salt of the Earth, as something that gives flavor to make a meal taste good. But when we are not attracting the lost, but rather repelling them, then our salt has lost its savor.

What makes it even worse is that we are even repelling the saved. Not to mention that we are kicking out people because they have sinned.

Now before anyone thinks that I do not believe in church discipline, let me give some clarity.  I do indeed believe in church discipline.https://i1.wp.com/wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/getreligion/files/2013/08/churchdiscipline.jpg

As a person who has personally experienced church discipline firsthand, I know all about it.  The truth is that in my personal experience most of the actions that took place were something different from what church discipline really was supposed to be for and at best it was a far cry from what God intended it to be.

In many examples, the church members set themselves up as the judge and jury of those that have fallen in their walk with Christ. It doesn’t take long for the rumor mill to circulate the sordid details of someone’s fall from grace.  Usually the time between Sunday School and the main service is long enough for the lines to have already been drawn and someone’s fate and future in that church to be determined.

Again… I believe in church discipline.  I believe that it is to be done properly. The goal of church discipline is not to throw people out of the church or to feed the self-righteous pride of those who administer the discipline. It is not to embarrass people or to exercise authority and power in some unbiblical manner. The purpose is to restore a sinning believer to holiness and bring him back into a pure relationship within the church. I believe the church is to do everything they can to restore that person back to Christ.  If that person refuses, then yes… I believe that the church has an obligation to break fellowship with that believer until they come back to repentance.

The finer details of church discipline are for another post and another time.

Did my friend sin?  Oh yeah, he did. But it wasn’t the unpardonable sin and it surely could have been dealt with and put away.  My friend tells me he was willing to do whatever he needed to do to be reconciled back to fellowship.  

How would Jesus have dealt with the same thing?  He forgave!  He forgave the woman caught in sin, He forgave the leper for breaking the law by reaching out and touching Him, He forgave Judas… and He forgave me!

Hey church… there are people among us, people who sin. People who are trying to deal with their sin, repent of it and walk with Christ.  But we seem to have trouble with sinners, https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/12/fa/49/12fa49b60405319fc0d7ed8b692f80df.jpgwe expect everyone to have this whole Christian thing figured out, but no one does. 

Counting other people’s sins does not make you a saint.

We are ALL messed up, we all SIN, we are all working on becoming more like Christ and no one gets it right… no one.   NOT EVEN YOU!!!

I’m forgiven, but I still mess up.  I still sin.  I don’t want to, it is not my intention to sin yet I still do (Romans 7).  

I’m forgiven, but I’m not perfect.

I will be perfect one day, but for today, I’m a work in progress… a believer, forgiven, but still dealing with the sin that I do.  One day, when Christ returns, I will be like Him, but until then give me grace, give me space.  

As a believer, I know that we all struggle, we are all fighting the man we used to be in order to become like Christ (Heb. 10:14).

So what is wrong with the church? Why does the church allow the dismissal of a believer without proper church discipline?

 

 

Fallow Ground

Great photo, isn’t it?  https://dougskinner.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/rock.jpg?w=1108

Very appealing, eye-catching.

No, not really.

It’s just hard, dry, unused ground.

Producing nothing.

Making nothing.

Helping no one.

Last night I was flipping through the TV channels because I couldn’t sleep and I listened to a preacher read this verse…

Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord.                 Hosea 10:12

I did not watch the rest of the message and I went to bed.  A few hours later, I woke up with thoughts about this word “fallow”.

Fallow is not a word we use these days, but it’s familiar to any farmer. It’s land that isn’t doing what land was designed to do. It’s just sitting there. It might have potential, but until the farmer does something with it. It is simply fallow.

And, if it sits too long it becomes hard and unproductive, not producing anything, not doing what land was meant to do.

My heart is like that too. When I’m not breaking up the fallow parts of my heart with the Word of God, with prayer, with time with God, it becomes hard, sterile and cold.

“Break up the fallow ground” demands that I am aware of my dry places and that I have to do something about it! 

If I don’t… if I let those fallow parts of my life alone they become hard. Hard to God, hard to his Word and hard to others.

It would be easier if God said, “Let me break up the fallow ground of your life” but He didn’t. He told me to do it. So if I care at all about growth, being of value to God, making a difference in the world and eternity it means I have to get involved!

I have to get out the plow (God’s word), find those hard, dry places in my life and break up that soil with God’s word and time with God in prayer.

Self-examination consists of looking at your life, considering your motives and actions. It means calling up your past and seeing its true character.

It takes time with God, time in prayer, time in His Word and time to listen to Him.

And, to be honest, when my heart hardens, prayer is the last thing I want to do!

Hard hearts and fallow ground. Not exciting stuff. But watch a farmer as he takes a plow to that ground, turns it over, breaks it up and plants the seed. Then come back a month later, two months later and see what happens.  All you see is growth.

The same is true for the fallow grounds of our heart when we let God plant seeds of growth in our lives.

All you see is growth.

Spiritual growth.

Growth that will change your life forever.

Even hard hearts and fallow ground can be places of great blessing if we refuse to let our heart stay hard, dry and fallow.

And what a difference a little work makes in the fallow grounds of our hearts!

 

What Can I Say? It’s Part of My Story

I’ve read where a few people have questioned why people would honor Prince.

He was, after all, controversial, edgy and so on.

I’ve asked myself why I was saddened last week when I heard of his passing too. It took me a few days to process why and I have finally come up with the answer.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself.

It boils down to this – Prince is a part of my story.  Now before you fall off your chair from laughter, let me first clarify something. While I liked some of his songs, I am not nor have I ever been a purple rain loving, party like it’s 1999, little red corvette driving, let’s go crazy, raspberry beret wearing, sad when dove’s cry crazed fan.

But to say that Prince wasn’t part of my story would not be telling the truth.

I have written about it before but I have based almost every lasting memory around the music that I was surrounded by at the time of the event.

For me, the music memories are so vivid that at times they overtake the memory itself. You see, music, invokes such memory that at times I can even remember the smells associated to those memories.  A simple melody has the power to burn a memory in my mind—engraving its memory on me so that every time I hear it I return to that emotional place.

I love that—the power of a song.

I first felt the impact when I was nine years old. Listening to CKLW out of Detroit and hearing the song “I’ll Be There” by Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five.

Over 45 years later, when I hear that song, it invokes memories of my brother Bobby.

It was such a big song… #1 from October all the way through November 14th 1970.  My brother was killed on a Thursday, November 5th. Normally, I have always struggled to remember my brother.  I was five years younger and he was too old to really play with me when I was really little and at the age of nine, I was just a pest to him and his other fourteen year old friends.  He was taken too soon and I never really got to know him.  I was devastated by the loss but this song brings him back to memusic memories.  I only think of him every time I hear it.  It invokes good memories and softens the hurt that came so many years ago.  It is when I remember him most.

I could tell every story that is associated to a song that is burned into my memory.  But that would be a really long post so I will just leave it at that.  I am sure you understand what I mean.  I will write about those memories and songs as I continue to write this blog.

Music influences every post I ever write. No matter how well I map out what I am going to write, I can’t catch my flow of words until I have music playing in my headphones. And almost always it’s the music that reveals what I need to write about.

While I always have music playing when I write, I can’t stop myself from singing along with it.  I envy the writer and the way lyricists can tell a story in a few stanzas.  I struggle to put a sentence together, let alone a song.  It is one of the great mysteries of life that I ponder. The whole process of writing a song is one of the great mysteries in life.  I do not have the talent to write lyrics and for me, someone who can write lyrics has truly a gift from God.  My favorite artists are those that sing and write their own music.

So, basically, for as much as I love music, I’m locked out of the process of making it. I really can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument, and I can’t write lyrics. But the artists who can?  They rock. I wish I could do it.

So there you have iMusic Storyt.  Music is what I use to define periods of my life.  Music tells my story.  It’s that important to me.  It allows me to write pages of my life and my music will tell you more about me than I ever will.

I’ve learned that until you fully embrace your story, you can’t move forward writing new pages. The story will include good and bad. There will be wonderful memories and times you wish you could erase. Removing those memories, removes pages from your story. It minimizes what made you who you are.

So now back to Prince. Prince was big in the early 80’s and at a time when I was in my college years.  I was going to a Christian college and trying to hide the fact that I loved music.  Most of which was banned at that time when I was in college.  Rock wasn’t allowed and I had to be very discreet with my music. I was a young man trying to figure things out, in time when legalism flourished in the church.  Anything with drums was taught as being evil and I tried to hide it as best I could.  It was a time of friends and dates.  It was the age of excess with big hair, fluorescent clothes and the music.

Oh… the music.

I could go on and on and tell so many stories from those years. They are treasured. Sure, there were broken hearts and scars. There was puppy love and having no clue how to treat our dates. But we were writing our story. We were learning the mistakes to teach our children to avoid at all costs. The habits, the trials and the things our parents said we should avoid.  These memories are locked into the music from that time.

I’ll leave you with one last thought.  My parents bought a VCR in the summer of 1984. Not everyone had one. We finally got ours. I had just returned from a summer of travelling across South Africa.  I came home to find that VCR hooked up to our TV.  I made my first trip to the movie rental place.  The first video I ever rented and watched was one I have never had the guts to admit to until now.

The movie?

“Purple Rain” by Prince. Not exactly the way to bring confidence to the purchases you make. It was edgy. It was a little raunchy. It wasn’t a highlight for me choosing movies for sure.

But now you know the rest of the story.

What can I say? It’s a part of my story.

I embrace it. I lived it, loved it, recovered from it and at times, miss the simplicity of it.

That’s why I mourned Prince last week. I mourned another reminder that my story, my songs and my history is slipping away.