Tree of Knowledge

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There is a new Facebook advertisement on television that speaks to the fact that less than half of the globe is connected to the internet and how it is Facebook’s mission to connect the other half of the world. While I can appreciate the technological achievement that is set to bring the 21st century to the rest of the world, I cannot help but feel a pang of jealously for those who remain unattached to the digital world and wonder if they really want to be dragged to where we are.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love many things about technology.

I love the fact that today I can write my silly little thoughts out on this vast inter-web-y thing and maybe someone else will read it and enjoy it.

I love the fact new technology has allowed us to solve crimes that might otherwise have gone perpetually unsolved and has provided us medical solutions that have been used to save the lives of many individuals that otherwise would died.

I love the fact that there are so many people from my past that I have been able to re-connect with and that I have been able to initiate friendships with people who I otherwise would never have known. From that sense, I love connectivity. But as our world has shrunken significantly, there is a “yang” to the “yin” of good things with the internet.

Think back to the time before the internet; to the late ’70’s and ’80’s. Okay, yes, the fashions of these decades should not be discussed nor should at least some of the music  (lets not discuss a good deal of the disco music, shall we?), but let’s focus on our lives in general.

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These were times when kids were still allowed to go out in the neighborhood to play until dark; when the fear of potential injury didn’t keep kids from being kids and experiencing life in ways that seem in hindsight to be more full. A time when neighbors more often than not knew each other and there was more of a sense of community – of caring for and about one another – in the average suburban subdivision. A time when we were far less afraid of the unseen germs flying around in the space around us and inspired about the tremendous wonders the world had to offer us instead of fearful of the incessant “what if’s” of life. A time when innocence was not a dirty word but something to be cherished.

It’s not that there wasn’t anything to be afraid of, but somehow we dealt with these fears differently. The lessons our parents learned from the members of The Greatest Generation were still clinging to the way we looked at the world around us and we had not yet begun to blame everyone around us for the misfortunes of life or to look at one another with such critical, unloving eyes.

Now, as we have become more and more afraid of all that surrounds us, we have locked our doors and entered into worlds that actually doesn’t exist in order to satisfy our human need for relationship.emery-quote

Instead of sitting at a table in the living room to play a game with friends or family we sit facing an electronic gadget to play a game in a world that doesn’t exist against people we have never met and likely never will.

Instead of meeting people in “real life”, hundreds of thousands of people create unrealistic personas for online dating and networking sites because the unending criticisms of the online world makes us all ashamed of who we are both externally and internally. Being online has given people the ability to focus on what may be wrong with someone – the opportunity to look for skeletons in the closet – rather than opening the door to possibilities.

Instead of learning how to engage with one another on a personal level, teenagers today are plagued with loneliness and depression they have not been taught how to work through challenges, find resolution to disagreement, and creatively come up with ways to entertain themselves without structure.

In this space we each feel as though we have the right to say whatever we want to in whatever way we want regardless of how our words may affect others. We point fingers, create division, and encourage violence. The vast capability of computers has given us so much in the way of information and interaction that we have all been driven apart from one other and we are intent on dragging those who have been free from the terror that is the bullying of the online world down the rabbit hole with us.

disconnecting-3I can’t help but think how nice it might be to go to one of the places that has not yet encountered the behemoth of the internet and live in that simplicity again. To live in a place where social media doesn’t drive the decisions of the group; where people do still sit together over a cup of tea or coffee to share stories and laugh with one another without their faces buried in an electronic device; where the idea of “the people’s right to know” doesn’t drive every action and perhaps the idea of grace, humility and respect still permeate the way individuals treat one another.

The more I think about this, the more I see the information we glean from the internet a modern equivalent of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.

Think about it. Rather than respecting boundaries put in place by those who do know “all” about given situations, we continually attack boundaries to get to the last tidbit of information on a given situation , shoving microphones into the faces of those who have suffered unbearable tragedies (forgetting, of course, that the political and social leanings of the microphone holder significantly affects the questions asked and the editorial process) just so we have become voyeurs into their grief but are then shocked and offended when other people want to nitpick our lives in the same fashion. We scream for freedom and privacy while crushing the freedom and privacy of everyone that isn’t us.

I don’t begrudge the people who are not yet connected their connectivity. I’m just innocencesuggesting that perhaps forcing this new, wilder, connected world into their otherwise quiet lives may not be the humanitarian effort it’s presented to be. Perhaps more of a humanitarian effort would be to allow these places to remain happily unconnected – living the life that has proven successful for them for generations.

Or maybe that’s just me.

 

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Finding Thin Places

istock_000013602538mediumKierkegaard once stated that life is best understood backward but must be experienced forward. I think this may be particularly true about travel. While I am not “globe trotter” by any definition, I can say that as I look back on the places I have been blessed enough to visit, it is clear to me that those places that left an indelible mark on my heart – those places I long to return to and hold a special place in my memory – are places where I felt inspired and at peace; where I felt as though the hold this planet had on me was not as strong as the connection I had to the home waiting for me in eternity. Such places, it turns out, have been identified for years and are known by the Celtics as “thin places”: places where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine.

Finding ourselves in these thin places does not necessarily lead to life-changing spiritual breakthroughs, whatever that may look like, but they can disorient us; confuse us. We can find ourselves jolted out of old ways of seeing the world and more readily accept the world as God sees it.

I believe many of us seek these “thin place” experiences over and over once we have experienced them and are often disappointed when we can’t find them again. We go back to the same place at the same time of year and day but somehow, it’s just not the same. The connection to something beyond us has disappeared and we can easily become disappointed with God as a result.

Thinking about these times of wonder and disappointments, I find myself wondering what is it that truly creates those amazing moments? Is it truly the place? Is it a rip in the fabric of time that is only visible at exactly the right time in the right place?

To me, I think that these moments occur not because of the physical location or time, but because of the condition of our heart at that moment; that we find these thin places in times when we are thoroughly focused on God and His will for us instead of being distracted by our personal wants and needs. I would go so far as to say that the “thin places” are times when we land on that narrow road that Christians and others of faith are called to walk upon.

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That road is, as you have probably come to know, very difficult to find let alone stay on.

I personally imagine this road to be almost as narrow as a tightrope; a place we need to truly focus in order to stay balanced upon it and a place where, more often than not, we simply stumble upon rather than encounter purposefully. The forces of materialism and selfishness pull us from side to side and we tilt, stumble and often fall. But occasionally all the pieces fit together and we find ourselves centered, focused on God and His path for us.

We’re able to do this when we love as He does; love one another without boundaries, accepting all of the people God places in our lives for the individuals He created them to be regardless of their thoughts, beliefs, words or actions; when we love them despite how challenging they may be from our human, selfish and judgmental perspective.  When we have those moments of truly loving those around us, the desire to get stuff or reach for the next rung on the ladder falls away and the distance between heaven and earth narrows.

Finding ourselves in those thin places is a gift to us from God; an intimate reminder that there is a purpose to our time here and a connection with Him that is both eternal and can be glimpsed here on earth. But as I mentioned previously, the harder we try to find these thin places, the more elusive they will likely become because our focus becomes skewed because we are no longer simply focused on God and finding ourselves in this special place, but focused on the experience. The thin place becomes more of a consumer event – a “what can I get out of it” time – rather than what it was originally – a “God thing.”

The thing we each need to remember – or at least I need to remember – is that in order to narrow the gap between heaven and earth, we have to focus purely on God and His will for each moment of our lives.

This is, to say the least, challenging.heels1-418284

We are fed a non-stop barrage of the things we “need” to be truly happy. It seems that no matter where you look, we are told our lives are empty, unfulfilling and a disappointment to us and those around us. We get caught up in the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of having to make more money to buy the right stuff to fit in with the right people and live in the right place. It’s not just exhausting, but it is truly a never-ending process. The reality is there will always be someone else who makes more or has something that looks really cool or that lives in a house that is what we consider to be the epitome of success and continuing to focus on the things we don’t have not only takes our eyes away from God, it furthers the frustration, bitterness and anger that is so pervasive in our world today.

As people of faith, we need to remember to change our focus from the material to the ethereal. When we do this, we may indeed find ourselves in one of those special “thin places” more frequently, but even if we only find these places once or twice in our lifetime, working to separate ourselves from the worldly negativity and focus on reflecting God’s perfect love to those around us will keep the memory of these times alive and help us find balance in the more difficult moments in life.

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We Have A Choice

0c990678e5433d22f334f4ac921c1e98Wow! That escalated quickly, right?

This election season was so full of hatred and vitriol that was spewed back and forth, it’s no wonder our entire nation seems to be suffering from PTSD in its wake.

As we all know, however, the end of the election did nothing to actually stem the hatred, but rather has given fuel to it. Marches, riots and random beatings are rampant. What is odd – at least to me – is the side that professes to want peace and unity is the side that is promoting and engaging in the violence. This is not only contrary to everything they profess to believe in, but is doing nothing to solve the problem.

The more information I get about the election itself, the more disheartened I am by the entire thing. I am shocked that this outrage exists when only 51% of registered voters actually participated in the election.

I am heartbroken by the level of anger and hatred that is continuing on my Facebook feed by members of the losing party even though their chosen candidate has been nothing but gracious in her concession speeches and posts.

Perhaps most of all, I am saddened by the fact that the information that people are a information-quotes-2majority of people participating in this violent behavior are basing their actions on the things they read on the internet and the sound bites they have been given by the media – an entity that is far from unbiased and fair in it’s depiction of any of the candidates that participated in this election.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the media thrives on fear. They seek out the frightening and horrifying items that happen around us rather than those things that are positive and loving. They incite fear of our neighbors, our leaders, and our country as a whole. I’m sure there are many of you who are shouting at the screen now, angrily saying that the news provides information that we need to know to keep ourselves safe and protected from the horrific world around us. I get it. I’m all for information, but all information must be vetted. We must understand the biases of the given source and do our own research to understand fully what is happening rather than taking the 30-second tidbits of information that are given to us from others.

The problem isn’t that we aren’t intelligent or learned enough to vet the information given to us, but rather that the information given to us is so targeted to enhance our fears that we become paralyzed by fear, unable to do our research because we are afraid of what we will find.

e4c1c4cdbf06a1e74a77ee18e6b48b88The reality is that fear, not hatred, is the opposite of love. Fear drove Adam and Eve to hide from God in the garden of Eden and fear drives us each into hiding from one another because, ironically, hiding makes us feel safer. As I watch the coverage and read about the outcries of those angry about the election results, all I hear are fears of what may come with the new presidency. We don’t actually know what will happen, but are acting out in fear of what could possibly happen – fear of losing healthcare, fear of losing freedoms, fear of losing money, fear of being seen differently or being treated differently because of who we are.

But we have a choice to act differently.

We could – and are called, as members of faith – to choose to act in love instead.

05-22-15-better-together-love-drives-out-the-fear-in-your-relationships_miniChoosing to act in love toward one another doesn’t mean that we think the same way or that the differences we have are wiped clean. It just means that we allow God to direct our actions instead of allowing our human nature to get in the way.

Scripture tells us that love bears ALL things and that we are called to love ALL people. Neither of these statements means that we are to love only those things and people we like and believe in. Anyone can do that. We as members of faith communities – Christian and otherwise  – are called to love even those with whom we significant issue.

Let me give you a “for example.”

Recently, a member of my family moved back to town. He is a person that abused me sexually, verbally, and physically. There are many in my life that told me I should have nothing to do with him; that I should not even be speaking to him let alone have a relationship with him. I get it. I really do. Loving this person is painful and challenging. Spending time with him brings back memories I don’t wish to recall. It would definitely be easier for me to slam that door and nail it shut so I never have to go down that path again, but the thing is that in order to be the person God desires me to be, I don’t really have that option.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are strict boundaries and safety nets that are in place and need to remain. Being loving doesn’t mean I put myself in harm’s way, but if I am to be a truly Godly woman, I am called to love this person and all persons who God places in my path not because of who they are or who I am but because of who GOD is.

information-quotes-2Loving those around us is not a consumer event. It’s not about what each of us gets as a result of the activity. To truly love someone the way God intends us to means that we don’t get the luxury of keeping score or holding back because it feels better or is more convenient. We as people of faith must be willing to stand as witnesses and participants in loving the way God intends us to love because we are the only ones who can show others the way to peace and the way to joy.

The bottom line is this. God is love. Period. Not God is love except….or God is love but….no. God is love. End of sentence.

In this time of uncertainty and change, being God to our hurting world is even more important that it has ever been.

Love must be at the center of all of our actions if we are to move forward. We can’t say, “yeah, but look at what he/she said or did! How can I love them?” That is not love.

Love is being merciful and generous despite what the other person said or did. This is how God is able to love us despite the despicable things we say and do and it is this unconditional love that we are called to show one another.

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Fly the W!

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nbcchicago.com, GettyImages

I never thought I would be alive to say that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series! I mean, honestly. Who’da thunk that after 108 long, painful years, the lovable losers would end the “curse” and finally get it done! While there may be “no crying in baseball”, there were certainly tons of tears shed at the end of the series – myself being one of the tear shedders.

 

Perhaps one of my favorite memories of the hours of coverage that has been plastered on the internet over the past couple of days is the video of Bill Murray, a lifelong Cub fan, standing in the dugout and simply giggling with sheer joy over the success of this team that he has never stopped believing in. His effervescent laughter was – at least from my perspective – not just about his beloved team winning this coveted award, but the overwhelming sense of happiness and thanks that pours out of our hearts when something that we have been reaching for and believing in finally came to fruition.

Now I realize there are many people who don’t follow baseball and really couldn’t care less about the Cubs winning the series, but to me, the fact that they not only stunned the fans by making it to the series but were able to take it all the way to the W is such a testament to the resilience that each and every one of us has within us; to our human ability to keep our eye on the prize and not let the roar – or silence – of the crowd sway our determination. Unfortunately, it’s the tuning out of the crowd that often proves impossible.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine about the fact that after many months of searching for a new job, I was blessed to have 2 strong opportunities in front of me and the challenge to select the right job for me was proving to be difficult. As we talked, my friend made the statement that if she were in this situation, she would most likely made the “wrong” choice.

This statement honestly broke my heart. In one single sentence, she reflected the complete sense of failure she felt about herself and her life in general. In the shot 10 seconds it took for her to make this statement, she showed  me the toll that the silence of the crowd had made on her self-image. She was defeated by that perceived curse. While it took everything I had not to launch into some sort of cheer-leading speech for her, I knew nothing I could say or do was going to change her perception. I also knew that her sense of failure is something I have personally struggled with and have watched many around me struggle with as well.

The t9f444d6dc5d9c350c3dd452655474a4dhing is, there really are no “wrong” choices. Life isn’t a “one game opportunity”. It’s a series of successes and failures that build upon one another. There is no such thing as an overnight success or even an overnight failure. Each moment if our lives  builds on the others, our unique gifts and talents help us shape our understanding of these moments, and we create a life. To me, the difference in the life that appears to be successful and the life that doesn’t isn’t about the moments or the choices, but the way we choose to respond to those things.

I know what you’re thinking. You and I both know someone (or several someones) that seem to be always trying to move forward but life just beats them down. There just never seems to be a break for them. I get that. I used to be one of those people. It seemed that at every turn, whatever could go wrong did. Much as I prayed and begged, I just couldn’t catch the break I needed to get my head above water. There were health concerns, job losses, relationship issues, car troubles, and on and on. This struggle probably started when I was in grade school and continued until very recently.

I’m not saying that all of the struggles stopped; that my life suddenly became some magical wonderland. There wasn’t a sudden “viola” moment, no sudden lottery win that turned things around for me. Instead it was a slow shift in my mindset; a turning of the Titanic, so to speak.

I came to the realization that the things that ran through my mind on a regular basis about myself and the world around me had a significant impact on the things I positive or negative things that came to me. The more I focused on negativity, the more negative things came into my life. If I grumbled and complained about my job, my job became less and less satisfying. If I focused on the things I felt were ‘wrong’ in my life, I became a depressed, negative person whom nobody wanted to be around let alone someone who people flocked to help.  But if focused on remembering each day that I am blessed beyond measure; if I took the time each day to list just one or two things I was grateful for, my perception of my life in general would be more positive and more positive things would begin to happen. Bottom line, if I chose to be more like Bill Murray, my joy about my life in general could be more like his as well.

As I watched the joy and laughter on the faces of Cubs players and fans alike, I couldn’t help but think of how those rookie ball players felt the moment they were told they were going to play in Chicago. Maybe they were disappointed that their dream of playing for a winning major league team was never going to come to fruition; that all of the years of hard work and practice they put into this dream simply didn’t pan out and they were destined to be a part of a losing team. Each of them could also have decided that they, like the previous players, would be continually haunted by the “goat curse” that had plagued this team for over a century.

But they didn’t.

Each of these young men did something entirely different. They decided to take each moment for what it was – an opportunity to do whatever they could to achieve something great. They reveled in the joy of being able to play a game they loved and get paid to do it, and they put all they had into overcoming a century-old image. They enjoyed the journey, celebrating the wins and losses with not just the other players, but with those that supported them all along like Bill Murray and even me and my fellow Cubbie fans. And the fact of the matter is, each of us has the same opportunity each and every day. Sometimes we will fail, sometimes we will succeed, but if we can just pick ourselves up, learn from the errors and move forward, we will succeed more often than we fail and live a more joyful and blessing filled life through the journey.

The fact of the matter is this. Each of us has our own “curse” to overcomWorld Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Sevene. We have the voices in our heads and the memories of epic fails that come to mind every time we reach for something new or seemingly unattainable. Sometimes the road we have been on has been plagued with epic fails and we begin to feel as though we will be that faithful Cubs fan who waited their entire life but only felt disappointment. The challenge is to see beyond the painful moments and keep that light that is the success we are seeking glowing in our heart; to be the Bill Murray for our own lives and find the joy in every moment and be ready to overflow with happiness when the end we are seeking finally arrives.

As I sit here and think about the Cubs winning the Series, I cannot help but feel bolstered
in my own life. I have been the “cursed” one; the defeated one. I have been the one that everyone always bet against. If you are there now – if you are feeling beaten down like my friend, I pray that you will reach out. Let’s chat about how you’re feeling and hold one another up as we walk this road together. Together, we can be the team that persists and wins and all the scrapes and battles along the way will merely be fodder for stories for the generations; stepping-stones we took to get to the end.