Yes, 2020 Is a Dumpster Fire – We Don’t Need to Toss in the Sofa

Yes, 2020 Is a Dumpster Fire – We Don’t Need to Toss in the Sofa
Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

It’s been said that right now the media world – especially social media – is a dumpster fire – a raging cauldron of junk that entices and mesmerizes onlookers until they too are throwing anything and everything into the bin to see how the flames catch and destroy.

There is a war of ideas being waged, many of which are truly important. Sanctity of life. The inherent value of every person regardless of color, faith, creed, sexual orientation, or any other delineating factor.

But have you noticed the prevalent tone that’s taken hold?

Anger.

We’re seeing a ton of it, and it’s making our hearts pound every time we look at a screen.

A 2014 article for Smithsonian Magazine entitled “Which Emotion Goes Viral the Fastest?” said that “Joy moves faster than sadness or disgust, but nothing is speedier than rage.” Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and one of his colleagues analyzed 7,000 New York Times articles published during a three-month period to see which ones were most frequently shared. They “found that users reacted most angrily—and quickly—to reports concerning ‘social problems and diplomatic issues.’”

Makes sense, especially in the current climate.

But if we’re honest, we also know that the problem is not just with reports coming from other people.

Sometimes we want to insert ourselves – maybe throw a big, fat, sofa into the fire – the TRUTH that will smack stuff down and burn for longer than the other arguments.

Right?

Wrong.

A nasty, vituperative quality can invade our words when we start to claim the moral high ground, even if our cause is true and just.

It is possible to have righteous anger, to act out of that space, but it requires a level of self-control that, I would submit, none of us have on our own. The minute I start to argue vociferously, I sense an inner change, a shift away from equilibrium because I was designed by the Creator to rely on His peace. I must remind myself that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) but without Him I can do nothing (John 15:5).

In a time when the world needs loving, kind voices, people of faith have so much to offer. When there’s tumult all around, it’s good to ask, ‘How do we share our concerns honorably and charitably? In ways that aim for unity and understanding? Bringing hope and light into spaces churning wildly with hurtful discourse?’

First – a simple acronym that’s posted in multiple places in my kids’ elementary school. Maybe you’ve seen it:

Before you speak …THINK!

T – is it true?
H – is it helpful?
I – is it inspiring?
N – is it necessary?
K – is it kind?

Pause and speak first to the Spirit, contemplating these things.

And second – let’s consider the fruit of our words to make sure we are consistently moving in accord with God’s will.

St. Paul explained in Galatians 5:22-23, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control.” Look at the ‘fruit’ in your life – the relationships that matter most – and see if over time they don’t reflect the efforts of your consultation with God. Our hearts change the more we talk to Him and ask for His guidance.

Why? Because God loves every single one of us as if we were the only human He ever created. His love is unconditional and eternal. There is nothing like it.

Today, we go on, leaning into the goodness of God.

We allow the Spirit living in us to more fully infuse our hearts and minds.

We speak with great, gentle, and tender love.

And we wait for better times with the hope that surpasses all understanding.

$250 for Christmas Joy!?!??

$250 for Christmas Joy!?!??

Photo by Mike Arney on Unsplash

On the radio yesterday, a DJ reported survey results. People said they would pay $250 to find Christmas joy – the kind they knew when they were kids. (Apparently, most people surveyed would also be willing to fork over $145 to have someone else wrap their gifts.) Now, I know many people hate gift-wrapping, but $250 for Christmas joy!?!?? Craziness.

I once knew a Jewish man who had tremendous Christmas spirit. When his three sons were very young, they had a devout faith in Santa Claus. They knew all about Santa’s generosity and good cheer, so naturally, they wondered if he would stop at their home come Christmas Eve.

To honor their own holiday traditions – while also sharing the spirit of the season – the man and his wife hatched plan. On Christmas Eve, the family did a little art project, and then the joyful father climbed out a window and onto his roof. As the little boys stood watching in their pajamas, their dad placed a decorated poster next to the chimney. It said:

Dear Santa,

Just a reminder: We are Jewish. You don’t need to stop here tonight. We wish you a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Love, The Jacobs Family

Friends, this is the Christmas spirit. And it cost virtually nothing but time and love.

It demonstrates the largest Truth of season: It is NOT about us.

It IS about caring for others and spreading joy because we see that we ourselves have been loved.

But maybe you don’t feel joyful. Maybe you think you have nothing to celebrate because you’ve had a rough year or you’re not with the people you think make your holidays complete.

If that’s the case, try these three steps – now or starting tomorrow – to reignite your Christmas or holiday mojo.

1) Close your eyes and begin a mental gratitude statement. If you believe in a higher power – talk to that power. If not, imagine all of the people closest to your heart standing in front of you.

Express thanks for as many things as you can think of, starting with the immediate and going from there. “Thank you for the fact that I’m breathing. Thank you for my beating heart. Thank you for my hands and feet and brain and muscles and my capacity to feel the ground beneath me.”

Move out into your surroundings, the people in your life, counting each thing consciously and with the understanding that even the trials you face are building character in you. Be grateful for this. Be thankful for what you have learned. Don’t stop your list until you simply cannot go on anymore.

2) Get out of your head. Think of a holiday song you enjoy and sing it out loud. Whisper if you must, but verbalize the cheerfulness you’re starting to feel.

3) Decide that you will give every person you meet today a free gift: your smile. Look each one in the eye – especially the annoying, angry, impatient, or rude ones – and smile, with good intentions. Imagine the individual as he or she might have looked as a child. See each person’s vulnerability and humanness. Pray or simply ponder the following over them: Grant this person peace and comfort.

Why do I recommend these steps?

Because gratitude, hope, and generous actions yield joy.

And true Hope is not wishful thinking, but instead it is the firm expectation that something good will occur based on a pattern of goodness that is now present and has come before.

Hope is open to everyone.

Joy can be yours.

I pray you will find both – free and overflowing – this holiday season.

Will the Real Captain America Please Stand Up?

Will the Real Captain America Please Stand Up?

img_9661The man in the suit wagged his finger between my white teenage son and the 30-something black man standing next to him in line at Jerry’s Subs.

“Hey!” he yelled, making us all jump, “Which one of you is the real Captain America?”

The two guys looked down at the stars on the t-shirts they were wearing with surprise, and at exactly the same time, they looked up and pointed at one another.

Everyone within a 10-foot radius got a good laugh out of that one.

And I got a glimpse of hope for this – Day One of my Month of Good News 2016.

Let’s back up for just a second and talk about who Captain America is. He’s a patriotic Marvel Comics superhero who first appeared in 1941 and often fought the Axis powers in World War II. As Wikipedia explains:

Captain America wears a costume that bears an American flag motif, and is armed with a nearly indestructible shield that he throws at foes. The character is usually depicted as the alter ego of Steve Rogers, a frail young man enhanced to the peak of human perfection by an experimental serum to aid the United States government’s efforts in World War II. Near the end of the war, he was trapped in ice and survived in suspended animation until he was revived in the present day. Although Captain America often struggles to maintain his ideals as a man out of his time with its modern realities, he remains a highly respected figure in his community….

I’d like to think that so many of us are ‘men and women out of our time’ living for ideals such as respect, dignity, equality, and freedom for people of all races, religions, genders, income, etc. Basically, Captain America could be any one of us, because we are all ‘Steve Rogers.’

And we have ample opportunities to be “Steve Rogers” (minus the experimental serum, thank goodness). Who hasn’t been in school, sat on a sports bench (or on a bleacher watching their kids), in a workplace, or in a community group within someone “different” from us by any one of the previously mentioned definitions?

I bet you can think of 5 people right now.

Now here’s the harder question – What did WE do to get to know them?

Are we all working for a nation that embraces our differences and cherishes what we have in common (which, I would submit, is so much more)?

Ask yourself – For every one of the people you just thought of – that you have in the past or do currently associate with – do you know…
Where they live?
Who they live with? (And some personal things about their family members? Those people’s names?)
Anything about their personal lives?

Let’s go further. Have you…
Invited them to your home in the last 6 months?
In the last month, eaten lunch or had coffee with them for a non-business reason?
Shared with them something personal about yourself? Allowed them to see you vulnerable?

These are tough questions. And they’re even tougher to act on if you’ve never stepped out of your comfort zone before.

But it takes intimacy to build trust – the kind of trust that tears down walls and replaces them with indestructible shields of love – tender hearts that are ready to help a neighbor in need at a moment’s notice.

The good news about two guys wearing Captain America t-shirts is that at our core we all believe in the values of American community because the human heart seeks Love and connection with others. Some of us are misled, and think we can forge our paths all alone, foregoing the brilliance and input of one another, but we know that’s wrong. The Truth of our inter-connectedness is always there, buried in the mess somewhere.

Let’s cling to that Truth. Let’s become Captain America. Each one of us. And cling to the Hope our forefathers had of a great nation. In God We Trust.

Holy Moments – Day 25 – Meg Turns 40

Holy Moments – Day 25 – Meg Turns 40

From my vantage point – about 36 inches above the ground – I could see a mass of blankets preceding Mom through the back door and into the kitchen of our little Cape Cod home in Gales Ferry, Connecticut. I was two weeks shy of 3-years old, and I knew there was a treasure inside those warm white fuzzy folds. Her name was Meghan. And she was my baby sister.

I pawed at Mom’s arms, trying to see, but was gently led into the family room and seated far back on the olive green sofa with my right arm supported by a pillow so that…. I could meet her.

I wish I could remember her face on that day. But I do remember holding her. Holding her. Feeling for the first time that emotion that is privilege to older siblings (and the bane of youngers!) – ‘I will look out for you.’

She was my only sibling, and my protective instincts were sometimes appreciated – like when Meg was falsely accused of slashing mattresses at Girl Scout camp and I knew this wasn’t possible. She didn’t even own a pocket knife, for goodness sake. I was more than happy to go to the troop leaders and tell them what was what.

But more often than not – my compulsion to force on her my 3 years’ worth of advanced wisdom was met with resistance or outright rejection. Go figure.

To her credit, at a young age she understood how to use my bossiness to her advantage. For example, Mom asked me to help Meg learn to make her own bed. I got so frustrated by Meg’s ‘inability’ to straighten her green Sears ripcord bedspread, that I pushed her out of the way and declared that I would “just do it myself.” I ended up making lots of beds.

IMG_2898
Meghan and me, 1983.

Like so many sisters, we’re perhaps more different than alike. But it’s funny how every time Meg’s birthday rolls around, I feel our kinship reconnected in a special way, and in the last day or so, perhaps I’ve found the reason.

Meg and I were both born during Advent – a word which means “coming.” It is, by its’ very definition, a season of anticipation in which we keep a look out for the greatest gift – Christ, the Light of the World.

So many of my fondest memories with Meg are centered around moments of waiting for something.

Sitting on packed boxes in various houses, waiting for the moving van to arrive for our military move to another state.

Holding our bags in our laps (before the stewardess told us to put them down), waiting for the plane to land in Seattle, home of our beloved grandparents.

And my favorite – waiting side by side at the foot of the tree on Christmas morning for our parents to wake up. My sister and I never dared proceed with opening (or shaking!) gifts before ‘it was time.’ We didn’t even run into Mom and Dad’s room to jostle them awake. Why? I don’t know. I’m just so thankful now that, for whatever reason, Meg and I had this quiet special time together every Christmas.

In my childhood mind, the month of December – marked by her birthday, then mine, and ending in Christmas – was magical because for most of it, we were looking forward together to the largest celebration still ahead. Intuitively, we recognized this month for what it is – The season of Hope. The season of anticipation which rejoices in the fact that the best is still to come. And to think – that this is when we were blessed to be born.

My beautiful sister is a searcher. She digs deep and asks thoughtful questions. She looks for the Light.

So, today I celebrate Meg on her 40th birthday. As much as I’d like to think I could still ‘look out’ for her, I know she’s in the very best of hands and loved beyond measure. And though she’s doing well in life, I still believe her best season is up ahead. I’m eagerly waiting to see what’s in store for her.