Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Blessed

There are moments when I am really reminded how blessed I am.

  I am blessed with a marriage that, perhaps not always all I wish it to be, is not a source of contention in my life - instead of fighting with an ex-spouse over child support or undergoing severe duress.

I am blessed with children that are eager to learn and self disciplined and motivated.  I have never had to face a student unwilling to learn, a child completely unwilling to obey, or a school visit that was anything but pleasant.

I am blessed with family and friends that, although often far more distant than I like, are available and willing to talk and support on a moment's notice.

I am blessed with a job that, while extraordinarily busy and often feeling like it is above and beyond my abilities, is a place where I have grown and continue to grow.  I have not, in my time there, had to face a layoff or an unwillingness to let me achieve or the sense that I am "less" than others because of my different background.  

I am blessed with a house which, although maybe not the ideal layout and suffering from a small series of setbacks, is ours.  I do not have to confront the fear of having to find a place because of rent increases or relocating my family to different places chasing housing that we can afford.

I am blessed with activities that, although I am not always the best at, provide me with physical and mental stimulation.  I am not a slave to video or electronic media and can happily entertain myself.

And finally, I am blessed with the knowledge of my salvation.  I do not constantly have to wonder whether I will meet with God's approval or even if I measure up to those around me.

Life has felt a little dim of late.  But if I really sit and think about, how truly blessed am I. 


Monday, August 21, 2017

Our Ill Compressor

Saturday night our air conditioning went out.  This is not really the thing you are holding out for, especially in the middle of summer.  I went outside and checked the unit - the breakers had not tripped (I reset them for good measure - nothing).

We fired up the fans overnight and, in the morning I gave it another try.  Sure enough, it came back on.  I left the house feeling okay - although I was not sure what had happened.

Later on Sunday our air conditioning guy came by.  Bad news and more bad news.  The compressor is failing.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB asked what our options were.  Not good, was the reply: we have about two months (possibly) left.  Replacing the compressor was, in his opinion, not the best option: it would extend the life, but we would probably be back where we were in not too short order.  His recommendation is replace the unit.  Price tag for that runs between $4000 and $6000.

Not really the Sunday I was holding out for.

It makes a certain amount of sense, of course:  the unit is the original one that came with the house so it is approximately 21 years old.  And units (where we live, anyway) get quite a workout during the hot season, which seems to run between as early as April and as late as October.  It was really only a matter of time.

The options are not great.  We do not precisely have that amount of money just sitting there, ready to be used for such a thing (although our budget has already gotten another round of scrutinizing).  First the first time in a long time, I am confronted with something I cannot neither pay for nor readily fix.

My solution, for it is worth, is two fold.  On the first hand, economize where we can and hope the unit makes it to the end of October - if we make it that long, we are good for six months (and a lot can happen in six months).  On the other hand, in a tall order of exercise of faith, I am going to pray for a new air conditioning unit.  I have no idea how God might work that out but that is His business, not mine - and I have learned over the years God can move in ways that I never would have predicted.  

I wish I had something more upbeat, and of course in the scope of things this is not the worst thing in the world - we still have so many many blessings.  It is just the sort of thing that gives you pause for a moment and wonder (all worldly like, of course)  "Did I do something to merit this?"

Friday, August 18, 2017

Innocent As Serpents And Wise As Doves

Today, as I was meandering about in my mind about another thing I thought the Church had somehow managed to get something completely backwards, doing one thing and hoping for a certain result and getting precisely the opposite.  "Innocent as serpents and wise as doves"  I thought to myself, quoting Mathew 10:16.

And then caught myself.  That was not it at all. The actual verse reads "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents as innocent as doves."  Odd little substitution, I thought to myself.

Think about it.  To the Jews to whom Christ was speaking to, the idea of the wise serpent would have been easily identifiable from Genesis 3:1  "Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made." And the serpent often has a reputation for being crafty and wily, tricking its way into capturing its prey.  The dove, on the other hand, was a symbol of purity and innocence.  A dove brought back the olive branch to Noah (Genesis 7:8-12) and a dove was the one of the sacrifices that the very poor could offer under the sacrificial system (for example, Leviticus 1:14).  Sheep in the midst of wolves would have been a well known idea to that agricultural setting, so when Christ communicated this to them they were very clear.

But too often we reverse the whole thing. The dove, if you have never known it, is not the wisest of birds.  It is slow and fairly interested in food. I have never seen a bird of prey smack into a window; I have seen plenty of doves do so.  And the serpent could hardly every be seen as innocent:  predators always have a hint of malice about them even in the best of nature shows, and the serpents ability to camouflage itself, its quick strikes, and its often virulent poison make a poor poster child for anything but crafty and dangerous.

But too often people get the two reversed, somehow thinking that showing the wisdom of doves (and by wisdom, we mean foolishness) and the innocence of serpents (a sort of non-innocence that everybody recognizes and avoids or attacks ruthlessly) is somehow the way to go about being in the world.  Somehow, the thought goes, if we just "blend in" and use their words and their ideas they will come to accept us as their own.

They miss the first part of that statement, of course, "send you out as sheep among wolves" - a fairly critical context (and one I forgot in my initial remembering).  Christ knew the world into which He was sending His servants.  Too often others seem to forget that, thinking that somehow good intentions and a sincere desire to be liked will be enough to get the door, where their "wisdom" and "innocence" will win the day.

Make no mistake:  wolves are always quite happy to have the sheep in for a visit and perhaps a discussion.  While their innocence may be questioned, their wisdom in providing themselves a ready food source surely cannot be.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

On Silence

For the last two nights everyone has been out of the house.  It has been me, the two rabbits Midnight and I-Bun, Poppy the Puppy, Sam the Guinea Pig, and Kiki the Parakeet.  It has been an amazing experience.

The silence is remarkable.  It is so quiet when I walk in the door and get through the puppy greetings it is amazing. The sound of air conditioning working.  The outside sounds of birds and the occasional car passing by.  The dappled sun wanders through the leaves and hits the windows, making shadows on the panes. But silence lays like a blanket over everything.

Oddly enough, the silence seems to act as a shield when I get home.  There is a sense that the four walls enclosing me are impenetrable to the outside world - ridiculous I know, but very real.  The world outside seems as a thousand miles away.

I grasp again that underlying need to have this sort of silence, unburdened by the ways I seem to get it now:  in the car to work with the background noise of traffic, in the house early in the morning when the presence of others is felt it not there, in the brief moments when everyone else is away.  It is nothing like this - a long extended period of quiet, surrounded by the things in my life that give me joy.

I understand the attraction for some of the silent monasteries and retreat centers - for many, a thing which would be difficult to incur two hours of, let alone two days - but for me a chance to reconnect with soul and mind, to do deep thinking, to merely be.

Silence becomes the security blanket with which I envelop my soul.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Silent Running

The message I had thought to write - that I did write -for this morning's post was actually written in the throes of last weekend.  I looked at again and thought it was probably a bit more than what was actually needed.

There was a point in it where I mentioned the idea of effectively being non-remarkable - that, I think still stands.  Especially in the age of social media, it is all too easy for unwanted attention to be driven to us for the least of reasons - or updating the words of an old saying, I never had to explain away something I never posted.

I also, for myself, am finding communication with others to be a much more difficult thing.  And it is not so much that is in the communicating; instead, it is in the very effort of communicating.  It is becoming difficult because the effort of communicating with those who one disagrees is so, well, disagreeable that one would simply rather avoid the whole thing entirely.

There has come, in the last few weeks, much more of a concept of staying within the four walls that I live (or maybe venturing out occasionally to a book store).  The world outside of them has less and less to offer me in terms of interest or opinions or goods.  The important work, the writing and the pondering and the thinking, all happen right here.

So my advice, friends, in a more measured and less panicked tone than in my original post, is to realize that the times are savage.  Do not kid yourself they are anything but, and that more and more people are looking for reasons to attack and destroy others.  Do not give it to them.  Live quietly, live humbly, and let the inner life and the life you share with those closest to you be your focus, not the wide world beyond whatever four walls you live in.  It may not preserve you from a flood, but it will at least settle your mind and keep you focused on what is truly valuable.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Christ's Message

  Dear Friends:

It occurs to me that based on current events and trends there may some confusion about Christ and His message.  In the last 72 hours I have seen a good deal posted in meme and on-line rage by people who otherwise name the name of Christ and probably would (on the whole) present themselves to be "good" Christians proclaim interpretations of Christ's messages as they understand it.  Just in case, in the welter of noise, you have missed what Christ's actual message was:

1)  Christ was against racism.  He was also against sexual activity in any form except in marriage between a man and woman, lust, rage, actual murder (as well as figurative in our hearts murder, including [undoubtedly] on-line invectives and belittling turns of phrase), lying, retaliation, pride, self righteous judgment, hypocritical self serving charitable deeds, "evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew: 15:19), cheating on your taxes, unforgiveness, and rebellion against governmental authorities.  He had a simple word for all of this.  He called it - all of it - sin.  And He spoke against all of them equally, as He viewed all of them as equally abhorrent.

2)  God's expectation of us is perfection - which we cannot achieve.  "Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches me so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you, that unless righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:17-20

3)  Christ paid the cost of our sin by dying in our place.  His Resurrection proved His claim that He was the Son of God and had the ability (alone) to do so.   "From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day." - Matthew 16:20; "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should no perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." - John 3:14-17                                          

4)  Christ's command to church was simple: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." - Matthew 28:19.  Otherwise called "The Great Commission".  Note well was is not included here:  governmental revolutions, social crusades, even rising up in "righteous anger" (also a fairly risky venture in self justification).  The saved are commanded to present the message of Christ - His Death, His Resurrection, His payment of the dead we could not pay - and encourage the baptism and discipleship of all believers.

The conscious decision I have made for myself is this:  if anyone I know of who is in a position of Christian leadership or professes to be a mature Christian does not pull themselves in short order to the message and purposes of Christ (as spoken by Him), I have little time for them and little respect for their opinion.  They have replaced His will and purpose with their own, having thrown aside the altar raised by no human hand and replaced it with idols of their own making.

No wonder the world ignores the church.  We are nothing but a pale reflection of their methods, their words, and their ways.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Monday, August 14, 2017

1981 Predicts The Future

"Early in the 24th century, mankind's existence was unparalleled.  The rape of the earth's beauty and resources in the late 20th and early 21st centuries had been halted and reversed, due to man's tools.  Man had reached for the stars and attained them, with the help of his tools.  Yet, in spite of these tools (or perhaps because of them), the idyllic life of the 24th century came to an abrupt end.

Having conquered the rigors of simple survival, man was able to turn his energies to more esoteric considerations - theology, political ideology, social and cultural identification, and development of self-awareness.  These pursuits were not harmful in themselves, but it soon became fashionable to identify with and support various leagues, organizations, and so-called "special interest groups".  With the passage of time, nearly all the groups became polarized, each expressing and impressing its views to a degree that bordered on fanaticism.  Demonstrations, protests, and debates became the order of the day.  Gradually enthusiasm changed to mania, then to hatred of all who held opposing views.  Outbreaks of violence became more frequent, and terrorists spread their views with guns and bombs."

- Introduction to Gamma World 1st Edition, James Ward and Gary Jaquet, TSR, 1981

Friday, August 11, 2017

Opportunity Thursday

My boss walked into my office yesterday afternoon.  "It is Opportunity Thursday"  he started out.

Opportunity Thursday, in case you missed this in the Hallmark aisle at your grocery store, is apparently the day when big things are decided at work and you find out about them before they start - thus the "opportunity".  Lesser beings might call it "Challenge Thursday" but really, in every challenge there is an oportunity.

The big thing, in this case, is maybe tripling the amount of work that we are doing and thus tripling the work I am doing. The difficulty, of course, is that I cannot single handedly triple that amount of work no matter how much I try (and I am realistic enough to know this).

Not that I am being directly asked to, of course.  There are resources to be made available - read "live bodies" - which is rather exciting (and far different than my previous place of employment.  And certainly more work is more chance to succeed and do good things.

But I have to say I like the sound of "Opportunity Thursday" in general.  There does not seem to be a darn thing wrong with having a day dedicated to opportunities.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

It Has Been A Week....

...and I have virtually no idea what is going on in the world at large.

It started out quite accidentally of course:  I just got too busy to follow the goings on of the world and continue on with the things that I needed to do so.  And so I stopped hitting the websites I usually went to on a regular basis.  And then I stopped listening to the news on the radio as I went to and from work.

Guess what?  Turns out that life goes on anyway.

I vaguely have some knowledge that apparently there are continuing difficulties with North Korea - although as I recollect, we were having problems a week ago when I was actually paying attention.  I assume the two political parties are still casting stones at each other?  And apparently the economy is still toiling on - at least, my paycheck cashed and I can still buy things.

I have not missed out on the important things on the Interweb, of course.  Most of my favorites are all posting, and instead I get read about gardens and sailing and food pics and religion (and what I was doing for the last six months by Preppy).  There is plenty of news - actual, interesting news that I care about - still out there.

Perhaps it is not so much that I am not following the news.  It is just that I am following the news that really matters.


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Not Self

Lord,
make me more aware of my own failings
than the failings of others.
Make me more conscious of other's selves
than of my self.

Give me eyes to see the unseen hurts of others
instead of the inward burning gaze of myself.
Give me ears to hear to silent cries of others
instead of incessant buzz of my own self talk.

Help me not to seek the inward righteousness of self
but desire the righteousness of others.
Help me to desire not the glorification of self
but the raising of up others above myself.

Let me not be made in the image I imagine for myself
but rather in the image You have for me.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Friday, August 04, 2017

Happy Belated Failure Day

So sadly in my rush to get about the week I failed to commemorate one of my own personal Holidays:  Failure Day, August 2nd.

Failure Day, if you are not familiar, is the day that The Firm, the real estate firm I was part owner in, dissolved some 12 years ago.  That was such a hallmark day, such a landmark in my career development - having left what I did to pursue a dream only to come crashing back down to the sharp rocks of earth - that I have chosen to commemorate it in my life as the day I remember all my failures.

Most of them, ultimately, have been purely and completely linked to myself and the point of Failure Day is never to castigate or speak of others, but only to recall my own failings.  With the Firm, it was me not being willing to ask the hard questions of business (the "where is the income going to come from" question) and being willing to accept the answer ("No idea really") - and make a choice based on the hard facts rather my desires, feelings, and fantasies.  With a work friendship, it was me wanting to get the quick laugh  from people I did not value and destroying the relationship with the person that I did.  Or taking a meaningful relationship and ultimately laying waste to it because of my own weakness and inability to look at reality as it was, not as I wished it to be.  Chances not taken, goals missed, relationships that broke apart and never came back - all celebrated and and remembered on Failure Day.

In a way, it is like the Festival of the Dead in Japanese culture, where the dead return for one day to the presence of the living.  It is quite like that actually - these dead dreams and goals, the deceased relationships, the might-have-beens that never were, all float in front of my face as insubstantial wisps of memories and hopes and aspirations that all came crashing down around my head.

There is value in the remembering.

The remembering helps me to think about the decisions that I made in those circumstances (looking back, one sees so much more) and where and how I went astray.  It reminds me of the transience of so many of the things that were considered important at the time.  It informs me of the cost of decisions, especially ones that involve the emotions of others (Dear Lord, the emotional harm I have undoubtedly caused over the years by my insensitivity, pride, and greed).  It recalls to mind that the cost of hopes and dreams without planning and thought is far more than simply choosing to let them remaining hopes and dreams and continuing on in the present - which although staid, sometimes offers the benefit of at least doing no harm.

It becomes that one day of grief in the year, the fast where we recall Jerusalem before it was sacked by Babylon ("By the waters of Babylon, we laid down our harps and wept"), the day to recall innocence lost and the passing of so many things that seemed wonderful at the time but in just as many cases turned into the moonlight and ash of Dulcinea, never to take form or return but only to dust our face with remembrance.

It is not just the physical dead that can haunt us.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Support and Success

There is nothing so difficult as success without support.

In a way success is simple:  do something, do it enough, do it well, and you will succeed.  But that implies commitment and time and resources.  And none of these come easily to the most of us:  we seldom have as much time or resources as we would wish and sometimes commitment can come and go 

Which is where the support comes in - maybe not so much with time or resources (although a good friend or coach or sensei can help us to see how we are spending our time and energy and money and ways we could perfect it) but definitely with commitment.  They will push us when we feel lazy and encourage us when we feel that we cannot go on.  

Can such a thing happen without such support?  On one hand yes, ultimately it is the individual that succeeds or fails - and there have been plenty of examples throughout time of the great and the unknown that have done so.  But knowing the nature of us as people, how many did not make it because that support was not present for them?

More importantly, what do we do when that support is not there for us?

This can be the hardest thing of all, Especially when the support seems to be lacking from the places that we would typically expect it appear. How do we compensate?

For a long time I would curl into a ball and surrender.  After all, if no-one else was interested in it the fact that I was (and not succeeding) was obviously a sign that I should not be doing it either.  But then I learned a valuable and important lesson:  if you cannot get the support from where you might expect it, go and find the support you need.

And so you learn to go and find the support.  It is out there - now (with the advent of the Interweb) more than ever.  And communicating in such an environment has now never been more easy than ever.  The only thing that prevents it from happening is our unwillingness to do so.  

It creates some issues, of course, with the other side of things - the places you expect it and it did not come.  But I have come to understand that it is better to live with that tension and work to succeed than let that tension overwhelm you - and fall into the twilight of those that might have succeeded if they had only had the support that would have assisted them in the midnight hour.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

XOXOSeoulmate

Hi Friends!

Today, I am posting not about myself but about my daughter, Nighean Gheal  - who, as you may recall, is going away to college this year.

She started a blog for herself - well, really a few years ago - at XOXOSeoulmate  (https://xoxoseoulmate.com).  And I am not sure how often she updates that. But she also posts on Instagram if you do that (which she may very well be more likely to update), and she had these two posts which I thought worthy of your time:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BXQPPkQAOeb/


https://www.instagram.com/p/BXD7VkEAQHU/

(If I was a clever technological dad, I would figure out how to give you more than the link.  Alas, my luddite tendencies are showing).

Enjoy!  And follow her (I am pretty sure she will have some amazing adventures).


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Falling Apart in Your Hands

What do you do when something start falling apart in your hands?

We all know the drill at some point in our lives - the job, the relationship, the dream - that starts to come apart.  The  fractures were perhaps there long than we had realized and only began to be revealed in the moments of stress - usually, of course, when things fail to be going quite as planned.  Almost before you know it, the whole thing starts to crumble away, like a sand castle hit by one too many waves, slowly collapsing into an unrecognizable shapeless mass.

Our initial reaction, usually, is to try to cobble the thing back together.  We rapidly move, trying to gather together the pieces a push them back together as if a relationship or a dream or a job was a ball of clay, needing only pressure to push it back together.  That seldom works in these cases of course - it is far more complicated and far too many strands have been broken to pull the thing back into alignment. And so we find ourselves with a half made, half destroyed thing in our hands, a project that looks as if we were trying to put it together, not prevent it from coming apart.

What is the secret in moments like this?  Is it to try to push things together even harder, hoping that force and mystical gravitational forces will make the the whole?  Is it to simply let the thing continue to dissolve in our hands?  Is it to try to repair the thing with the resources we have available?  Or is is it to cut away the debris, look at the reminder, and determine what to do from there?

Sadly, it feels I have had far more things fall apart than I ever held together.  And I can hardly think of a time that the thing could have been rebuilt.  

Too often we believe things to be strong when in fact they are bound together only by moon ash and gossamer threads.