We Still Need “Thoughts and Prayers”

In this digital age, whenever sad news is posted or a tragedy happens, we all feel compelled to comment. Typically, we have good intentions to show sympathy or give comfort by letting the person or group know they have an online community with them. But these sad events seem to happen too often, and too often our words of comfort come up short on originality.

This is even more challenging for famous people or politicians – those with a blue checkmark next to their Twitter handle. Not only are they expected to say something, their response must be to the liking of any potential reader. If not, prepare for an onslaught of them getting ripped to shreds for not saying enough, or doing enough, or saying too much, or missing the point, or having the audacity to misspell a word when death is on the line!

So the safest route for a while was to simply play it safe and offer a generic phrase to acknowledge the event and show concern but not risk saying the wrong thing. Thus the phrase “thoughts and prayers” was born. And then it was used by others and repeated and copied/pasted.

Unfortunately, too many tragedies happened. And what do you say this time that’s different than last time but still emphasizes your intent?

My thoughts and prayers are with those affected.

“Oh!? You said that last time and what good did it do???”

Nowadays, “thoughts and prayers” are the low-hanging fruit of a go-to comeback for any critic. (Nevermind how unoriginal it is to repeat overused one-liners to really stick it to that guy you despise on Facebook.)

Personally, I’ve had enough with debates online so I tend to just not say anything unless it’s a funny gif. I’d rather not type a single word for fear of saying the wrong thing from someone else’s perspective. But what’s the alternative for someone who is actually sad? For someone who is actually thinking about the people involved, and might actually be saying a prayer for them? Should the burden be on them to word it in such a way to not trigger the cynic? Or can we all lower our keyboard weapons and let people have their harmless, albeit generic comment?

The logic behind “thoughts and prayers” criticism is reasonable from one vantage point: there are problems in this world that may be fixed if certain action was taken, and by their perspective, simply saying “thoughts and prayers” is equivalent to no action at all. I could make the same argument for ANY digital comment made, including their critique. No comment is considered action unless someone acts on it. So the criticism is really invalid.

Let’s give the benefit of doubt to the the one making the comment and assume they might actually be taking the time to stop and think about the situation, as well as lifting up a prayer for those involved.

What good does it do? I have a few suggestions.

– Sympathy

Of all the people who know me personally, even those who never stepped in a Sunday morning church service, they have always shown appreciation if I pray for them. Whether you believe or not, there is an element of appreciation for someone to be willing to pray on your behalf. Take, for example, you’re in need of a job, and I say, “well, I know the head of a company who’s hiring. I’ll put in a good word.” You’d be delighted. Prayer is the same. I consider it an honor, privilege, and obligation to take the things that concern me and put them at the feet of a higher power.

There are millions of things not on my radar. I don’t care about them, and as a result, I don’t pray about them. If I actually took the time to comment “thoughts and prayers” on a post, I care about it. I really do! If a story has made it’s way through the noise of the rubbish out there to the point someone sees it, thinks about it, and makes a sympathetic comment, they shouldn’t be ridiculed for it.

“Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is”

Rollo May

I suppose we should at least appreciate that there is someone who cares, AND another one who cares enough to criticize. There are probably millions of others who simply do not care enough to do one or the other.

But when you’re the one who’s hurt, a little bit a sympathy goes a long way.

– Motivation

Have you ever had that little voice in your head nagging you to do something? Have you had a passing thought but you keep letting it pass by? Have you had this disturbance in your gut that has nothing to do with food and you can’t shake it?

I had it for a while with broken down cars on the side of the road. I told myself “next time I won’t be in such a rush and will stop and help.” Time flew by and I probably passed by dozens over weeks, always too busy to stop. Finally, the day came where I was on my way home, with no particular plans, and saw a car stuck in the turning lane. I turned my hazard lights on, and as I walked over, a guy from church comes to help, walking from the other side. We laughed about the coincidence and pushed the car out of the way.

I wasn’t super proud of myself for stopping. More than that I wondered if this is an every day task for the other guy. If his heart was just that generous in general and didn’t need months of convincing to do it.

We’re not all the same. Motivation to do good can take time. It took years before I ran out of excuses to volunteer for a youth mentoring program, but I’m glad I finally did. Maybe people who comment on unfortunate news often enough are one by one motivating themselves into future action.

– Power

Kierkegaard said “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” I’m not sure of his context, but I would change it: “prayer is to influence God AND change our nature.” For the one who prays sincerely, they believe there is power in the act of prayer for changes to occur. There are stories upon stories that would seemingly prove the power of prayer, but I suppose all of them could be disregarded as coincidence. There are even statistics I could present to show the effectiveness of prayer with medical patients. But the intent of a prayer is not necessarily to convince the world of it’s effectiveness, but to lift up to God the prayer itself.

Even though movies might represent prayer as a last resort action, many of the strongest people of faith go to prayer as their initial reaction. They’ve had a life full of answered prayers and the best thing they could possibly do for you, is to pray. The best thing I would ask them to do for me, is to pray.

I’ll be the first to preach one of my favorite verses “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” But in the same letter he says “pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

If I could do one thing, and only one thing, I would offer up a prayer. If I truly believe what it is I confess to believe, then I believe God has the power to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, far outweighing anything I could do on my own. And offering “thoughts and prayers”, might be overwhelmingly more than you would ever think is possible.

Absolutely No Reason

This morning I actually got out of the house a little early to make it to work on time. I thought if I could get an hour’s worth of work in before our standup meeting, then I could basically do the grown-up version of finishing my homework the morning before school. I headed to the interstate since it looked like “normal” traffic.

Then I broke rule #1 of Nashville Traffic: don’t veer off the path you’re on. I know I should always take either the Interstate or the Highway; never try and mix it up to avoid a wreck because so does everyone else.

I head down a side road all confident (like a fool) where I’m met by a train which has come to a complete stop right across the street. People are standing around, looking at it like someone just hit a cow and they don’t know what to do about it. So now I spend another 30 minutes just meandering around side streets like Pac-Man in Nashville. I arrive… defeated.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason.


After having had a rough morning already, I decided to treat myself to a coffee. It’s warm outside, the rain hasn’t started yet, and I’m walking with a little excitement in my step. (This is the grownup version of going to the candy store). I head over to The Well Coffeehouse. It’s been a while and they donate to provide clean water in impoverished countries. So extra kudos for me.

What I should’ve said was “One decaf latte, please.” I’m not supposed to have caffeine; trying not to do sugar. Instead my eyes went blurry over the menu and I picked the first thing that didn’t appear sweetened: “a Cortado!” It’s a double espresso drink with an ounce of milk. Comes in a little dixie cup. Not quite my jam but lately I’ve been headed in the direction of black coffee. A far cry from my days of only being able to handle coffee-flavored melted ice cream a decade ago.

It starts to rain. I head out the door to make it back dry, but stumble a little. Coffee sloshes out and smears over my hand. Probably lost a dollar of good espresso right there. And now my heart is racing cause I forgot all about this stupid decaf thing.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason.


All I can think about now is getting home. The past couple years the best thing I get to do is see my toddler scream “DADDY!” and run to me when he hears the door open. I grab him tight and tackle him to the floor and we wrestle and hug. Sometimes he asks questions like “Did you go to work!?”  and “Do you still have a beard?” For a moment I forget whatever else was bothering me an hour before.

Then my pre-teen daughter finally realizes I’m here. She’s also excited but takes her longer to notice these days. “Oh! Hi Dad! You have GOT to hear what we did in class today…” I eventually weave my way to the kitchen where my wife and I hug. It’s a simultaneous emotional flush of all the bad and a recharge of all the good. We attempt to recap everything that happen since last we were together, but usually get interrupted by something.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason…

Except to say this.

Life is full of these little moments. Some good, some bad. Some worth telling about later, some not. I’m busy. I’m distracted by all the things.

Distracted from what? – From the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

What am I supposed to be doing? – I guess all the things!

And around and around we go till we all fall down.

If I’m not careful, this becomes the story of my life. It’s not the worst life to have. But in the end, my eulogy states “He loved a good coffee on his way to work in the morning and was pretty nice to his family.”

I feel in my gut I should have more purpose in my days. Even in my moments. Taking care of my family is one of those. So instead of just wrestling my boy for fun, I do it knowing I’m creating a strong bond between us. And when I listen to my daughter, I give her undivided attention so she feels important and becomes confident. I hug my wife knowing she needs it as much as I do, and if through the chaos we can at least make that moment happen every day, we’ll be alright.

But all the little moments shouldn’t be distractions from what you’d rather do, they should be a part of your daily purpose: to love and good works. You can turn moments of traffic into opportunities to appreciate music and scenery. And getting coffee into opportunities to show genuine interest in people. But more importantly, you can and should insert effort and time in your life dedicated to a higher calling. So when the day is done, you have a good story worth telling.

We can live our whole lives busy and full of activity and have nothing to show for it. So busy that we never even realized there was something to be missed.

Don’t live your life for Absolutely No Reason.

Awaken in Prayer

This past month a few people organized an event where churches all around the area would pray for every person in Nashville. To participate you got a packet with instructions, pamphlets for guidance, and a list of 15 first-names and their address. The instructions were to pray for each name everyday and send them a note to simply let them know they had been prayed for. I don’t know the official numbers, but if I’m just estimating that there are possibly 750,000 names and 15 names per person, that could be almost 50,000 people praying…

for every person
by name
every day
for 30 days.

That’s amazing to me. Tens of thousands actively praying in a positive way for strangers not knowing their demographics, circumstances, or backgrounds. Faceless people.

Using some pretty basic googling skills, I could have a picture of every person on my list within a few minutes. (Welcome to the digital age!) I chose not to, but it wasn’t hard to assume the race and class of the people on my list judging by the sound of the first name and knowing the zip code. My list had addresses from a more affluent side of town. But even then, my first thought was all these people could be in any number of circumstances at the moment. They could be undergoing loss, or health problems, or stress, or hopelessness. Or… not.

I didn’t realize there was a booklet in the packet that provided you with a daily prayer example, ironically I did a very similar thing. I came up with something to ask for that would fit anyone. In many cases, what I would want someone to have prayed for me that day. A few examples:
Soften their hearts
Give them guidance
Give them a Stronger faith
Bring someone in their life to bless them
Health
Them to see God at work in their life
Stay pure in heart
Give them peace
To forgive and be forgiven
Give them daily bread
Find their Purpose
Bring them joy
Lay their burdens down

It wasn’t weird to me at all to pray for people I didn’t know. I would take the paper and stare at each name, one by one. I felt like I was getting to know them. Often I would get an image in my head of what circumstance they might be in, and that maybe this prayer was something they really needed. Who knows if any of it would’ve been accurate, but it just proved to me more and more why doing this was so important.


Our church hosted a time of prayer on Wednesday nights during this period. Just a dimly lit room with soft music, papers with guided prayers or lists of more names were available, and some blank cards to write letters to people in our congregation. This was something I didn’t know I needed. It was so refreshing and relaxing to have a period of dedicated time to simply sit with my thoughts. I prayed for some people in my life and wrote a card.

When it was almost time for it to end, our minister walked over to me and my wife and prayed over us. He spoke words of encouragement, validated our efforts as parents and foster parents, and asked for God to be close to us during these stressful days. Whether he knew it or not, this past month has been excruciatingly stressful, having had an uncle pass away, losing many of my co-workers to outsourcing, having to work extra hard and extra long days, on top of the normal busyness of a life with kids and foster kids. All of this boiled up and overflowed in the form of moisture in my eyes.

Now, I’ll cry at a movie or sometimes when telling a really personal story, but not simply by someone talking to me. Like a facade falling off a building, the false sense of strength and composure I had been presenting to the world came crumbling down. I was exposed and thankful. For a moment I could breathe again. I realized in all of these days of praying for other people, I neglected to pray for myself. You would think that’s a good thing, but that’s not what we’re called to do. We’re called to love others AS ourselves, not instead of ourselves.

I really appreciated being prayed for. Maybe the people on my list did too. My guess is the creators of the project knew the double-meaning of Awaken when choosing the name. The initial thought being that we would Awaken the people of Nashville to a life with Christ. But just as important, that we, the Church, Awaken to become Christians who desire to pray for others. Christians who want the best for our unknown neighbors. People willing to take time to bring a name before the God we believe has the power to make a difference.

If we believe in an all-powerful God, and that He has called us to love and good works, then we should be inspired to pray. Those prayers will then compel us into action to treat each stranger we encounter as if they may be the person we just spent 30 days praying for.

Food and Music Therapy

Currently, our foster kids are 13 and 11 years old. For an extended weekend, my wife volunteered to watch their half-siblings, both toddlers, to give their grandmother a break. My wife may whine a little in the midst of it all, but she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. See, for the rest of us, our selfishness hushes our heart before we get too attached. Her heart beats the living daylight out of any selfishness before she realizes that we’re now watching six kids for five days.

We suddenly realize that we may have an opportunity to let all four kids see their mom (whom we absolutely love) for the first time since last Spring. So we make plans on Saturday for her to take them and I will stay with our two kids.

I decide to do something different for lunch, since it’s now only three of us, and go to a new Japanese restaurant. Before getting settled in, my wife calls and tells me that the place “didn’t have the records”, didn’t really care to try, and left them no option but to leave disappointed. So now my wife’s just pleaded and balled her eyes out in front of strangers, the older kids are upset and confused, the younger ones are tired and hungry.

“Come meet me at this restaurant,” I say.

I get the waitress to get us a big table: 2 adults, 3 big kids, 2 little kids, 1 baby. I order a variety of plates and one sampling of sushi, just for the fun of it. Everything is being served just as they walk in. The restaurant is mostly empty, dimly lit, and quiet.

I can see the distress on their faces turn slowly to relief with every dish of rice, chicken, and soup. We divide everything up. “Can I try that!?” “Can I have more?” 

Then comes the sushi. Almost everyone tries the California Roll. Three of us eat the raw fish.

It was weird, and yummy, and fun.


As if that wasn’t enough for a weekend, the next day I had to drive the little siblings back to their family. The four of them have been like Velcro on each other for five days, and now it was time to separate the pieces. We meet in a parking lot and transfer bags and car seats. They’re about to leave and I try to get the older boy to come out and give hugs when I realize he isn’t because he’s trying to hold back his tears. 

The first few minutes of the drive back he was sobbing into his hands. The girl is stronger than all of us put together; she’ll hold it all in and put on a good face for her younger brother. 

I put on a CD of what is probably our favorite album from our favorite band, “Indian Summer” by Carbon Leaf. Track after track of good, catchy, poetic songs. No one was talking so I turn it up loud and let the music fill the lonely, empty air. I can sense them starting to get in to it a little. Heads bobbing. Humming. Drumming. 

Some of their songs have a melancholy tone. The sentimentality doesn’t allow you to listen without thinking. Then comes the best one with the repeated line “When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by…” Over and over and over again. Not like a nagging voice, but like a mother rubbing your back to calm you down. I’ve heard that song a thousand times and never cried. But I hear him sniffle. Then I hear her sniffle. Then I sniffle.

And by the time we make it home, the tight chest-pain of sadness had been released with a deep breath.  


Life is busy and noisy. Too busy to sit at a table without distractions. Too noisy to let an entire album play and soak it in. Too often we forget how to recenter and refocus. I, for one, am thankful that in a weekend of really heavy events, which is just a snapshot of a really heavy year, we were able to come out on the other side. Heads up, eyes dry, arms around each other.

If the world could use anything right now, I think it should be:

meals around a big table with the ones you love

and good music

In the Practice of Service

Our church participates with Room In The Inn, a program which buses homeless from downtown to local churches to give them a dinner, shower, and warm place to sleep during the winter months. We saw there were open spaces for volunteers on Christmas night, for men to stay the night as Innkeepers and for anyone to help in the kitchen. Lately, we had started to notice situations where our kids and foster kids were showing selfish or entitled attitudes. (I know… kids being a little selfish sometimes. Crazy, right?!?!) And they were a little too confident of the big presents they *might* get for Christmas.

So we signed our family up to help with Room In The Inn for Christmas night. We did it for two reasons. It’s definitely not because we’re simply wonderful people; every bone in my body would rather be at home enjoying the lavish presents I just got this morning. But if we’re going to claim that we are Jesus followers, and as such are to treat other people as we want to be treated, there should be some evidence to the fact.

The second reason was to give the kids an opportunity to serve. It seemed even more appropriate to bookend the getting of presents in the morning with the giving of food at night. What I didn’t want was to bring them in just to gawk at homeless men and say “look at these poor people on Christmas night!” Cause it’s not like that. Talking to these men, you’ll quickly find out that the stories are all over the place. Not everyone is in a helpless, hopeless situation. They more or less may just need shelter tonight. Ironically, I could tell the story of our foster kids to most of them, and they’d be the ones having pity on our kids instead.

What I want for our kids is to be in the practice of service. Service isn’t to be done because the recipient deserves it. It isn’t to be done only if you are emotionally beaten into submission. Service is a practice, a mindset, a lifestyle.

I know they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy doing this. I didn’t want this to make them feel guilty about the presents they got. And I hope they don’t resent us for forcing them here. If it all works out like I’d want it to, serving will become second-nature for them, and tonight was just practice.

The heart of giving is in the act itself. Of course, most everyone who gives willingly says that you feel more blessed than being the recipient. And of course, the recipient is blessed by what was given. But the beauty is in the action of service. I’ve heard the economy explained in a similar way. There’s not a finite amount of money, like a pie, and if someone has a bigger slice it leaves less for others. Instead it has the ability to expand with both the earning and spending of money.

Giving is the same. We’ve seen stories of people with the smallest amount, still being willing to give even in their meager situation. The economy of service grows in the receiving and giving.

The smallest acts can make the biggest of differences. One of the men tonight asked if Tom still volunteered here. I knew exactly who he was talking about. He said 20 years ago, Tom struck up a conversation with him in a store and got him a good job with the Parks Dept. He hadn’t forgotten it to this day. I went on for five minutes about all the other good things that I knew Tom does and has done for people.

Earlier my wife mentioned reading about how some have a Christmas Eve tradition to go to a restaurant and leave an astronomical tip. I remember delivering pizzas during December, really hoping for generous tips to make the holiday season a little easier. Now we’re in more of a position to be the tipper. And that’s fun!

And in telling those two stories, (Tom helping a guy find a job and leaving big tips), I see a significant difference between serving and giving. An act of service is on a different playing field than blind giving, especially anything above basic needs. Most of the men taking shelter tonight are familiar with the routine of getting a meal and a bed. Many are down and asleep as soon as they’re done eating. Tonight one man mentioned a tooth ache, and one of the kitchen helpers made him a cup of warm salt water and found some medicine to help alleviate the pain. The giving is appreciated but soon forgotten, but the serving will leave a lasting connection.

The more I acquire in life, the more I realize I don’t need all this stuff. We spend years trying to get all the things, then they quickly lose their appeal. Scarcity drives desire.

Fortunately for us, the foster care system provides a stipend that takes care of the kids’ needs. But what we appreciate the most are acts of service. A night of babysitting. Grandma being able to pick up the kids from school when they’re sick. Childcare at church, especially when we had toddlers last year. Bringing a meal, so we wouldn’t have to worry about dinner on busy days. Those acts of service take more effort and intention than a tangible gift, but they mean so much more. (Although, who’s really going to turn down a gift card?)

Receiving shouldn’t be expected, but giving seems to be reciprocal. I remember so many times people served us in unexpected and generous ways. Like when we were living in Florida out of college, ignorantly trying to make it on our own, a number of people gifted me with odd jobs. As lame as a worker as I was, I’ll never forget all those opportunities.

The main reason I serve now, is because I’m “returning the favor” by passing it on to others. It’s influential to serve (watch any number of commercials copying the pay it forward concept). There is more to be had the more that’s given.

On Christmas night, it’s not lost on me the luxury of being able to choose to be in this smelly old gym instead of at home with my family, surrounded by a choir of snoring men who didn’t have that choice. I’m also not ignorant enough to think that many may be here tonight because of poor choices they’ve made. And at the same time, I’d guess they’ve had so many things happen TO them, that had the same happen to me, I’d be exactly where they are. But good grief, it’s Christmas and they’re here. That hurts. I mourn all the events they’ve endured leading up to having to be here on Christmas.

So people in churches all over the city are serving tonight, because they all recognize they too have been recipients of great gifts.

Giving isn’t only for those who deserve it. The beauty of serving is not found in the outcome or the reason. The beauty of serving is found in the service itself.

“For God so loved the world that He gave…”

“Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…”

So in response to a good Christmas, first look back and acknowledge the times others have served you this past year, then find an opportunity to serve. Start by looking at the people around you. Do something little. Something helpful. Time. Attention. Support. Validation. Encouragement. And of course, babysitting. The opportunities are always there.

The Blessing of Choice

The single greatest aspect of our country is freedom. Of course, there are the specific ‘freedoms’ spelled out in detail in the constitution: to practice religion, to speak, to protest, to be armed, etc., but really it’s just the broad, glorious idea of freedom. We tend to think of freedom more from the angle of being free from enforcement, slavery, or a monopolized ruler. Freedom to go. Freedom to stay. “You are now free to move about the country.

Choices, on the other hand, are different. Choice is the product of freedom. The consequence. Choice is freedom in action. Choice is where we comprehend true freedom. Understand it. Feel, touch, taste, see, smell it. Choice is the greatest of blessings. The more choices we have, the more we should feel blessed.

Recently, I had some choices made for me. Changes in life that interrupted and redirected my course. I did not like this. Doesn’t mean I won’t eventually like it, but right now the instinctive reaction is to be bothered that I wasn’t given a choice.

Oddly enough, even in a choice being made for me, I had more choices as a result. The aftereffect. It made me realize even more how fortunate I am in the endless choices available to me. For example, my wife would love to move back to the beach (understatement). But because of all the outside factors (family, jobs, church, kids, schools, friends, uncertainty), we feel as though it’s not an option right now. But it is! We *could* do it still. We *could* do anything!

The choice is always there. The innumerable Choose Your Own Adventure daily life choices. I know a number of people who have gone through horrible tragedies: losing a house, death of a loved one, losing a job, debilitating sickness. But they have come out with a realization that the slate has been wiped clean and now they have a whole new set of options available to them.

I’ve heard that strong leaders have the ability to focus on the important tasks at hand because they reduce the number of insignificant choices they have to make. So they wear the same outfit everyday, eat the same food, go about a standard routine. It’s in those insignificant choices we find how many choices we really have.

To snooze or not to snooze

Business Casual or Business Professional

Strawberry Red or Pink Rosè

Which breakfast

How much coffee

To call in sick

To change jobs
– what kind of job
– salary
– where is it
– big or small company
– which benefits would you like

How to waste your time

Which app

Which social media platform

To just like or emoji

Which of (all grocery store items)

Do you want to eat in or go out
– where to
– fast food or sit down
– Meal #1 thru #16
– with or without pickles
– which of 126 drinks in the Coke Freestyle machine

To talk to someone or ignore them

To ask or wait to be asked

To stand up and stretch or push through

To smile or not even try

500 TV channels or on demand

Go to bed early or stay up too late again

Where do we want to go on vacation

Just pick a pair of earrings – we’re late for church!

 

It’s beyond comprehension how many choices we actually have. We have so many that most are decided without conscious effort. What an absolute luxury to have options, and yet we react to decisions as burdens. Make a choice to not live that way. Enjoy, appreciate, welcome every choice. Life is made up of a million little choices along the way. Step by step you are writing your story. As long as you’re headed in the right direction, let go of the stress of little choices. Be thankful for the blessing of choice.

 

Sing Me a Hateful Lullaby

Here we are in another political voting season. Against my better judgment, I decided to watch a debate online. For the most part it lived up to my expectations, but the thing that struck me was I didn’t personally like the candidate I’ll probably vote for. I wonder which candidate portrayed their authentic self? Should I vote on personality or solely on policy? Between the staged debates and endless back-and-forth commercials, I don’t know what’s real.

We’re in such an awful political climate right now, and have been for some time. Whether it ended up being Clinton or Trump, I said before the election that we’re all going to get what we deserve. The hateful rhetoric from both sides is disgusting. And both sides feel justified in their tone because they feel so strongly about the issues. YES, it’s from both sides.

John Adams is famous for predicting this problem by saying “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” But Jefferson argued that it’s the nature of man to be divided in opposition to each other. And that makes sense. We tend to be binary in most topics. Think back to arguments on the playground – how kids would congregate to one side or the other. Most questions and situations are responded to by Yes/No, Left/Right, Up/Down, Right/Wrong.

So to a large degree, opposition is natural and expected. It’s healthy, especially in government. The last thing we’d want is a single platform to rule unchallenged, without anyone questioning the logic, responsibility, or cost.

But rather than have open-minded conversations, we pick a side and sit on it. Like choosing teams for kickball – you’re either for us or against us. The President in charge gets the full support from his side and only opposition from the other. Trump actually seems to have had some exceptions to this where his party isn’t always in lock and step with him. But where his party falls short, his supporters make up in being even more solidified, blind defenders.

It’s like we enjoy the game. But how can so many people be so riled up all the time? Is it worth all the angst?

This article made me sad:

The tl;dr version is “Ten months after Inauguration Day, the trend is holding: For late-night hosts, being sharply critical of President Trump is a winning strategy.”

The author surmises that The Tonight Show ratings are shrinking because it focuses more on fun and games rather than harsh jokes. Other shows seem to be moving from monologues into lectures about the President, and from classic jokes into sarcasm and low-brow low-blows.

I’m not sad for Jimmy Fallon; I’m sure he’ll be just fine. And truth be told, if we happen to stay up and watch any late night show, it will most likely be The Tonight Show, but for the same reason this article says his ratings are going down. If I’m going to be up till 11pm (CST), I want something fairly mindless and entertaining to get me by until I decided it’s worth the effort to make it to the bed. Yes, only 11pm. Not 11:30 or later. There are only about two bands that I will stay up and risk a less-than-7-hour sleep to watch live.

What I don’t want, as I prepare for sleep, is a bedtime story about how ridiculously stupid, crazy, psycho our president is. (I could leave the name of the President out, and this blog will be relevant for years to come).

My wife insists for our kids go to sleep at night calm and happy. If at all possible, we try to avoid problems or arguments and let the kids go to sleep at peace. Marital advice commonly repeated is to never go to bed angry. One tip on how to get a better night’s sleep says not to check email late in the day in case there’s something to upset you.

We’ve all lost sleep being too upset at something. I’ve stayed awake making up fake conversations that will never happen. Why in the world then are late night shows getting ratings by people hungry for angry criticism? Is this really how people want to spend their last few minutes of consciousness for the day? Please, rock me to sleep with a snarky, hateful lullaby.

Gone are the days where politics were confined to the water cooler, barber shops, parking lots, and newspapers. Now we have Facebook algorithms creating echo chambers, and with every like and click Pavlov’s dog is asking for more. The last and first thing we see everyday is more of the same infighting.

I would like to do a better job at this myself, setting aside the first and last few minutes of the day as sacred.

To wake up like I would wake up a toddler “Good morning, sweetie. It’s time to get up. We’re going to have a great day.”

To go to sleep the same, “Did you have a good day? It’s time to lay down. Have sweet dreams.”

We should treat ourselves in the same manner. Tomorrow has enough trouble of its own. There’s no point in worrying about it the night before, or waking up full of tension. Days are full of homework, drama, politics, noise, news, disappointnents and excitements. Surely, we could reserve the bookend minutes for things more fitting.

Save the dawn for “good mornings”, hugs, slippers, peace, hot showers, and coffee.

Save the dusk for “good nights”, snuggles, music, pajamas, peace, and warm beverages.

Maybe if we all did that, our political conversations would naturally morph into ones where we cared more about the people we are talking to than the points made. Maybe I’d have a clearer mind and know who to vote for. Maybe I’d see the stark contrast between the extreme scenarios and crave more meaningful moments.

Our country could use more peace. People could use more sacred moments.

Dad Revalations: Whatcha doin?

Last fall, I was working on putting up a fence around the back patio steps where there’s a significant drop-off around the perimeter. The social worker conducting our home study left no room for misinterpretation by saying, “um, so we’ll need to do something about this.” Point taken. By using anything I could gather from around the house, and only the necessary items from Lowes (like the fence part because my wife said the chicken wire from the garden wouldn’t suffice), I managed to get something up that resembled a fence.

The last piece wouldn’t sit level so I used the closest thing within reach which happened to be the kids’ yellow duck-head-handled garden tools. As I was scraping around the edge of the patio where my 2-year-old son loves digging in the dirt, he noticed I was doing one of his favorite activities. I could hear the tap-tap-tap of his little shoes running up behind me, a pattern that only occurs when he’s excited, like for bath time or we’re getting a piece of cheese.

“Daddy, whatcha doin’?!” and laid his little hand on my shoulder. If he’s asked me that question directly before, I don’t remember it. This may be the first time I’ve noticed it because I was doing something “manly” around the house (with a yellow duck-head-handle rake) and my son wants to know what I’m doing. This calls for one of those “Well, son….” type of responses. And now I totally sound like my dad.

My kid watches me. When he copies me doing something nice, it’s cute. When he copies me doing something less than admirable, I become hyper-sensitive to everything that I do.

Lately, I’ve been noticing how he picks up on what other people do. He’ll sing the songs his sister sings. Something about a robot from a Pinkalicious show. Maybe I spelled that wrong; I’m purposefully trying to not show interest in a show called Pinkalicious.

He also has picked up the habits of our foster kids right now and their favorite word, “No.” Supposedly, as a parent you’re supposed to ignore “junk behavior.” Maaaan, that’s hard to do when a toddler straight-face tells you NO, like a boss.

It’s the bandwagon tendency in all of us – to do what we see, what’s around us, what others are doing. Sometimes completely mindless, as in the clothes we buy from the store because it’s what they’re offering this season. Sometimes it’s a little intentional, like fixing our hair just a little different or the shows we watch. Sometimes we hear the singing of the Sirens and we float through the air following the scent of the next best thing.

Image result for cartoon follow scent

When I was a teenager there was this trendy saying that was used often, maybe you remember “what would Jesus do?” It was typically used as a litmus test for the various situations teens got themselves in. “Would Jesus pick this girlfriend or that girlfriend?” “Would he cheat on his midterms or would he…. not cheat on his midterms?” 

As popular of a phrase as it was, I’m sure it was very helpful to many people. But I think there’s a better question to be asked. Not what Jesus would do in the situation we put ourselves in, but what would He be doing? How would he be spending his time? 

If we want to know what it is He would be doing, we need to look at what he did:

  • He cared about people on a very personal, individual level
  • He spent time resting and in prayer
  • He was forgiving of those who knew they had failed, and critical of those who proudly said they had it all together
  • The woman at the well who, even with a past, was the catalyst for a whole community after having a conversation with Him
  • You have the woman caught in adultery and he protected her from attackers and showed her mercy saying “Go and sin no more”
  • The poor widow with the two coins he said was the greatest of givers
  • He challenged people to be better and have a stronger faith
  • He cared for the sick and hurting
  • He cried with His friends
  • He willingly gave His life and His life’s work
  • He prayed for others
  • and countless more examples…

We do what the apostles did, like when they said, “”Lord, teach us to pray.” We ask questions like,
“What should I be doing instead?”
“What am I capable of that I’m not currently taking advantage of?”
“Who needs me?”
“How can I help?”

Instead of navel-gazing, waiting for someone to fix us, we can have a broader perspective. We can look at life with a wide-frame lens from a higher vantage point and wonder what’s possible. We can take a moment to look around at the good things already happening and ask “God, what are you doing over there? I can tell something’s going on. I see You’re up to something. What is it? I want to be a part of that?”

Hopefully, it will be like the many times my kids’ shoes will tap-tap-taps up to me, lay their hands on my shoulder and say, “Daddy, whatcha doin’?!” I hope they find me doing great things. I hope they want to do those things, too.

Be What You Want Them to See

Since Google and Facebook know me so well, they know that I ‘like’, watch, and listen to Speaking pages and podcasts. So, of course I’m going to get presented with marketing posts on that topic. One showed up on my newsfeed the other day, and as a… prudent investigator, I took the bait, clicked on his page, and searched around.

prudent investigator, aka effective evaluator, aka skeptic, aka critic

One of the first videos was “10 Steps to Create a Great Presentation”. Awesome. That’s right in my wheelhouse. *clicks play*

Side note: I’ve heard before that Praise should be given in public and Criticism in private. So, maybe if I don’t have anything nice to say I shouldn’t say anything.

It wasn’t THAT bad. It was just blah as far as presentations go, especially one supposedly teaching me how to give great presentations. No exciting opening, no hook, no passion, zigzagging direction, among other things. I was bored four minutes in before he even got to the first point.

A common comeback on American Idol was when Simon Cowell would deny a contestant, they would say “Well, you come up here and show us how it’s done!” He doesn’t have to. He’s the judge, not the talent. And to his credit, he has a resume to prove it.

So, I’m not claiming to be the best presenter myself. But we all know greatness when we see it. We all know when we’re bored to tears. And our instinctive reaction isn’t intended to be lavish praise or hateful criticism; it’s raw honesty.

Maybe the video I watched wasn’t intended to be his best, but it certainly didn’t encourage me to look further. I closed the screen. I didn’t give him a second chance. I didn’t buy anything.

One of my shortcomings is to hang my head and have an “aw-shucks” demeanor around certain people. It makes me wonder how many opportunities I missed because I wasn’t showing my best all the time. Was I being considered for something and my lack of enthusiasm wrote me off? Would a better attitude have initiated an interest that wasn’t there before?

We should be our best all the time. But. (isn’t there always a but). The extreme view of this is to stress over constant perfection. Well, that’s not the goal either. In pursuing perfection, you lose authenticity. Still, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”

I’ve realize how much I’ve failed at this. I’m way over-involved. My day consists of working a triage of priorities and playing catch-up. My results are just enough to be acceptable. The list of things I’d rather do keeps growing and now I resent the things I am required to do. Trying to do everything limits my ability to do anything.

So, this year I’m attempting to go all Weight Watchers on my schedule. (Weight Watchers is probably a bad analogy, as in I’ll say I’m going to start and never follow through). Soon enough I’ll be able to choose what I want to do and do it well.

The guy in the Facebook video didn’t intend for me to have that opinion of him. But I’m not sure he put in the effort for me to think otherwise. This blog post isn’t going to be as good as I want it to be, because I don’t have the time to make it that way. But I’m trying. I’ll get there.

My advice to myself: look at what you’re doing and ask if other people are going to appreciate for what it is. Does it compare to the level of effort put in? What do you need to do to make it better next time? Be what you want them to see. Without excuses. Own it. Rise to the occasion.

Maundy Thursday

The cross: the single most pivotal moment in all of history. Even the cross by its design, or in thinking of things crossing each other, there’s a moment of impact where things change. Before it everything was one way, after everything was different. The cross is the only thing you’ll encounter that demands all of you. Nothing else — work, sickness, marriage — demands your entire being. This cross is significant only because of the one who bore it. The name that is known above all names. The person by which we tell time, is the same person who created time, is the one who knows all time…

and Jesus knew this time was coming near. He knew his purpose all along, but on this Thursday he knew it was ending tomorrow.


We have moments in our life of significance, ones where we know something huge is about to happen. In the moments before our children were born, I knew I was really excited, but I didn’t want to mess anything up. So I just tried to hover in a “what can I do?” anxiety.  The morning of my daughter’s first day of school, she was totally cool about it. No big deal. But something in me wanted it to be a tear-jerker of a movie moment. In either case I don’t remember saying anything poignant or doing anything mind-blowing.  

But we have these pivotal moments, these rites of passage, these opportunities for a life lesson. We’ve all had a few, sometimes we can see it coming. Jesus is in his final hours. And John records his words and conversations with the apostles in grand detail. And this is how John prefaces that moments before the cross…

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,

This is the pivotal moment. It’s coming down to the hour where the world for all eternity changes. Everything was lined up and ready to go. Jesus has just a few hours left, before Judas betrays him, to spend with his apostles, the ones to carry this legacy. This is where a coach gives the big pep talk before the game. This is kneeling down to give my kid encouragement before the first day at school. This is the foyer before you walk her down the aisle. This is being blessed with a few minutes beside a deathbed. This is all those things…

but infinitely more.

So what does Jesus do…

got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

That’s it. That’s what He chose to do. Now they talked plenty after this moment, it wasn’t like He did a mic drop and left the room. But Peter is obviously confused and doesn’t know what to do about it. “Don’t Wash my feet, No, Wash all of me!” But Jesus knows this and even says, “you don’t understand what I’m doing, but soon you will.”

If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.

He tells them to serve each other. Over in Luke, he doesn’t mention the feet washing, but the apostles are arguing over who’s the greatest (of course they are *sigh*), and Jesus says

For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Which do you remember more: words or actions? I can’t think of my own words to use most the time, let alone what other people have said. My parents have said wise things to me I’m sure, couldn’t tell you one of them. But I know they love me and can give you dozens of example when they served. I can tell you story upon story of things people have done for me, and not a word of the conversation. 

By doing this act at this time, Jesus elevates servanthood to a new level of importance. But like speaking to toddlers, you can’t just say it, you have to show them. “See? Do like this, yes, be nice…”


This is Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin derivative, which means “commandment.” Jesus says…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another,

Then the apostles could’ve said “New Commandment? No, this isn’t new. We already know this one! Love one another. That’s old!”

But there’s a world of difference between what was already said and how Jesus phrased it here. If you read the original verse in Leviticus:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s a really specific law regarding love. We would tend to skim the love part and just remember to not hold grudges.

Well then we also know this from the Greatest commandment story in Matt 22 and Mark 12. “Love God. Love others as yourself. On this hang all the Law and the Prophets.” This sounds like a much broader interpretation, but some would say this simply encompasses the 613 commands in Jewish Law. So still limited in some ways. Whether Jesus intended that to be more than the laws or not, Jesus says it specifically here.

that you love one another.  Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God in loving us so much, didn’t just tell us to love, but brought a part of Himself down to our level, to show us what true love is. What it looks like, What it does.

But there’s a big difference between loving others as yourself and loving as Christ did.

Loving as yourself is: Well, I would want my feet washed. *snap snap* “Hey Servant, wash my friend’s feet!”. Loving as Jesus, is picking up the towel and doing it yourself.

Loving as yourself would be to send someone a card. Loving as Jesus would be to go to the grave site and mourn.

Loving as yourself is to hand out a dollar. Loving as Jesus would be giving the blind their sight back, maybe not in a miraculous way, but in physically caring for needs.

Loving as yourself is to give an answer. Loving as Jesus is to seek for a better understanding.

Loving as yourself is to not retaliate. Loving as Jesus is forgive indefinitely.

Loving as yourself would be a portion of these proceeds go to feed the hungry. Loving as Jesus feeds the hungry.

Loving as yourself is being nice to others. Loving as Jesus is to recognize the value and worth in children, women, men, widows, and orphans.

 

This amplifies love. It magnifies love. It encompasses what it truly means to love. To lay down your life for each other, just as Jesus did.

Sunday we’ll Praise the resurrection, Saturday is a day of reflection, Friday a day of mourning, Thursday – might it be a day of Service. I would encourage you to take time today to start, not just a single act, but to begin a life of loving service to others.

Not out of obligation. Not just to fulfill a commandment, but in response to already having been loved yourself.