HIJACKED

I hate it when something I love gets hijacked and taken hostage for political reasons.

I love language and in this (and every) political season, it seems language loses it’s complex and interesting meaning and gets simplified for political gain. I want to rescue a phrase that I think has been hijacked. The phrase is “traditional family values.”

Now I come from a family that might be categorized as traditional (although I always thought everyone else’s families were more normal).  Mother, father and five children. We lived in a small town and played little league and the piano. We went to church, sometimes 2 or 3 times on Sunday and again on Wednesday.

And these are the traditional family values I learned: kindness; love; sharing; generosity; forgiveness; welcoming strangers; keeping promises; conserving resources; recycling clothes, paper and anything else that could be used till it unraveled; telling the truth; doing justice; showing mercy; being humble; making commitments; loving in sickness and health; caring for orphans and widows; equal opportunity; open mindedness.

And I know people who are in families that some in the political world would not call traditional (although statistics show that there are more of these kinds of families now than the kind I grew up in). These are families with a single parent; with two fathers; with two mothers; no parents; children raised in extended families with aunts and uncles; grandparents raising grandchildren; one biological parent and one step-parent; adopted parents and children, etc. And the values I learned are being taught in these families. These social groupings are the laboratories where we learn how to live with others and how to create complex and caring societies.

So, I want the phrase back. In my family, the values I learned create a compassionate and merciful society for all. They help form a generous place of grace and equality.  I want these values in the society for my children and grandchildren—and for your children and grandchildren (whoever you are and however you structure your family.)

SHAG CARPET

As I hiked through the forest today, I was overcome with a sense of peace. The hillside rolled out in front of me and the brown, gold, yellow and red leaves covered it like a shag carpet. At first I wondered if my sense of contentment was nostalgia, remembering that shag carpet that covered our family room years ago.  But as I pondered, I realized it was more than that. 

I realize that hiking in the fall brings me a sense of peace because of the changing seasons. Spring brings the wispy green, summer the heavy canopy of shade. But fall is a season of endings. The leaves have done their summer work and are now letting go their tenacious hold on the fingers of the tree. They are singing their colors as they shower the earth. There they lie, pelted with rain, decaying with death, soon to be swallowed in the earth.

But what gives me a sense of peace is that they do not disappear. They simply morph into the stuff of which life is made. They take their nourishment and mingle it with others to empower the future of life.

Life is lived one leaf at a time. We speak words, we act. We love, we hate, we nurture and we undermine. We share and we grasp, we give and we hold on. All of these moments in our lives do not last. They finally fall into the” ground of being” and they nurture what is becoming. They empower what can be. They are not gone. They are transformed into energy for a new future.

So, I don’t think it is shag carpet that makes me smile as I shuffle through the dry leaves. I think it is the peace that comes with the hope that our lives continue to bless the future, long after we have acted or spoken.

GLORY DAY

Some days my hike finds me lulled to a meditative zone by the gentle arms of mother nature. Clothed in multi-textured, subtly-shaded green gown, her warm breath calms my rattled mind. She holds me in her sanctuary of summer.

But, lately, she has been rehearsing for a new role.  She has been trying on shades of red and gold. She has been drying the leaves for their autumn concert on what is called the “peak” week-end.

Today mother nature began her peak week-end by dancing  a joyful symphony of color.  Reds, golds, mauves, yellows, rusty greens, ragged browns. High in the trees the leaves clap their hands as pre-winter winds whisper through their arms and fingers. The leaves glided and pirouette into the still stream. The leaves lingered this year as the rainy summer has secured them in place long enough to intensify in their shifting colors.

I walk the trails and my boots provide the cadence. The drying leaves under my feet sound like the brush on the symbol or the snare drum. This season mother nature is not in the  business of being a cradle for me to mull my thoughts so I can write them in a blog. Today she is shouting, “LOOK AT ME—LISTEN TO ME—MY SOUL IS JOY AND I AM DRESS TO PARTY.”

I sat on a bench beside the trail looking and listening. A man in shorts and a ball cap with a gray pony tail sticking out the back of his head strolled by and said to me, “It’s hard not to smile today, isn’t it?”

Yup! A smile is about all that seems adequate—and a whispered “Thank you” to mother nature’s autumn concert of joy.

 

ODE TO THE ORDINARY

Headlines howl, “The Best”, “The Worst.” “Number One”. “First Prize”. We love the most horrible, the most beautiful, the most intelligent.

It doesn’t seem to matter if it is something good or bad.  We are drawn to the extraordinary. It may be the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. It may be the football star who threw 5 touchdown passes. It may be the marriage that ended in a murder-suicide just hours after it began. It may be the one who made the most billions of dollars.

Because we are drawn to the extraordinary, we tend to diminish the value of the ordinary. We look around us in cultural value machine of media and data communication and the people who are doing things that “fantastic” or “amazing” get the most “likes” on their Facebook page.

I want to present an ode to the ordinary. I want to lift up the 99% who make up the population of the globe who never make the top ten list. I want to celebrate the millions who get up each day in their modest huts or houses, their tiny or noisy apartment and head off to their daily tasks and work their ordinary jobs. I want to honor all the ordinary relationships where people love and struggle to figure out what that means, where t hey get bored and share quiet conversation with each other.

One of the reasons I think so many people may be depressed is because of the expectation that we can all be extraordinary and so we feel like a failure when we are just average people living life under the radar, doing what little good we can with the limited gifts we have. Many people feel like they have done something wrong if they have not accomplished amazing things or made a lot of money.

Don’t forget, if it weren’t for all the ordinary ones of us, there would not be such a thing as extraordinary. 

 

GRATITUDE AND DISCONTENT

I have often wondered why it is so hard to hang on to gratitude. I mean, why is it that the first response to every minute of our day isn’t, “Wow. Just think of all the gifts of life that I have?” I mean, when we stop and think about it, each breath is an incredible collection of biological gifts. With each breath, the body assimilates the various components of that breath and distributes them to the various parts of the body to keep us going.  And that is just one little thing among the many things that keep us alive each minute.

But, even with these and thousands of incredible gifts of each day, we are sometimes overcome by discontent. We look around us and there are many more things we lack than what we have. We look at those who seem to have life together better than do we. We look at all the gadgets advertised incessantly and think how good life would be if we just had more of them. We look at the lovely people in the media and think how many things would make us look better and have the gifts that they seem to have.

So, maybe because we always lack more than we have, we will always have a level of discontent.  We will always look out and see what else we might be and either work to become more than we are or just be distressed because we do not have all the attributes that we would like to have.

And if this is true, maybe that is why we need to stop and worship regularly. For worship is the regular reminder that we are recipients of grace beyond our own deserving.  It is a reminder that while there is much that we don’t have, what we do have is incredibly amazing. And if we regularly stop to remember that, maybe what we lack won’t be so powerful in shaping our attitude toward the life we live.