Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In which I make an admission and think twice

Time to tell the truth. When I first heard the story (many moons ago) of the Romney's dog going for a ride on the roof of the car I thought - "That is odd. I'm troubled by Mitt Romney's decision-making ability."

See what happened there? I heard about something out-of-the-norm and quickly labeled it bad. And it has been there lurking in my brain as a general misgiving about Mitt Romney ever since. Even though I have no conscious memory of the story until something or someone reminds me of it. How many of those little snap-decision subconscious briars are in my brain right now I wonder?

The recent political dog wars, however, have forced me to take a second look at this incident and purge the nettle from my mind.

The Romney's went on vacation. Obviously, they had some disposable income. I bet they had plenty of disposable income. In fact, enough to either board the beast or pay someone to be a pet sitter. I've done both and I doubt I've ever had the same income as the Romney household. I've also taken my dog on vacation with me. I love taking my dog on vacation with me and I hate boarding her or leaving her needs to a part time care giver. If I had limited room in my vehicle I might strap a dog kennel to the roof and take my dog along. Heck, I remember moving with my parents and taking our dog in a kennel strapped in the back of a truck with the rest of our belongings. Mitt Romney's decision-making ability isn't troubling. He's just a pet lover like me.

Thanks, liberal ideologues and main stream media outlets for your obsession with painting your political opponents as weird. Forcing me to really look at this story has cleared my mind of one more troublesome thorn.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The all consuming desire for knowledge

Yes, all consuming. Voracious readers of newspapers. Avid History Channel watchers. Genealogy devotees. Knowledge is the apex of human endeavour, or so we are led to believe.
Yet, what is knowledge's use if it isn't wedded to action. How many people pride themselves on their knowledge of US policy and politics but the use of that knowledge takes them no further than voting for a democrat, a republican, or some other flavor.

I have read a month of Daily Lenten Devotionals from my home church and only 1 or 2 actually had a call for any action. All the rest were content to merely grasp the meaning of the day's scripture reading. Some of them were content without even grasping the meaning.

But Lent is a call to make habits. To put into practice that which was previously dormant.

Beware. All around us are invitations to inaction. To "care" without doing anything.
Have a concern? Go to Facebook or Twitter. Tell your "friends". Your duty is done.
See an injustice? Wait for voting day.

But Lent invites us to stop waiting. Start stripping away the unnecessary and start building the habits that incline us to action. How you say? I have an anecdote.

Many years ago I lived in NYC. As you can imagine, I came into regular contact with panhandlers, the homeless, the truly disturbed. I rarely gave change to panhandlers assuming I would be feeding an addiction. But one day it struck me that when I got to the end of my life I'd rather be known as a generous person than a prudent person. So I resolved to give change to everyone that asked. I always carried some change in my pocket and a couple of $1 bills so I'd be ready. Initially, I was hit and miss. Sometimes I'd be ready to hand over some change with a  smile, other times I'd fall into my habit and walk right by and say no. But when I did walk by I'd catch myself, turn around and walk back to provide some change.  I was surprised by how hard it was to decide to turn around and go back. It felt like admitting I was wrong. And the longer it took me  to overcome that feeling the longer the walk back was. I am not ashamed to say some times I walked back 2 or 3 blocks. But I built a habit of giving when asked. And over the next 5-6 months I was a regular giver.

This episode in my life culminated in a wintertide encounter in front of the Ansonia. It was a cold winter's night. And I had finished a voice lesson and was just starting my walk uptown to my apartment. As always, there was a throng of people smartly dressed going about their business. That part of town has a lot of nice stores and restaurants. The very wide sidewalks were very crowded. And right in the middle of the side walk in front of one of the finest buildings in NYC was a homeless man laying there looking up at all the passersby pleading for help. Yes, literally hundreds of the well-to-do were passing him by, studiously ignoring him. But not me. Months of building a habit made it easy for me to respond. He had a thin jacket and blanket and no gloves. He was obviously cold. I pulled the gloves off of my hands and gave them to him. He looked at me with deep gratitude and said "God bless you" in that voice that you only hear from the truly needy and desperate. I responded in kind and continued my journey home.

I'm convinced that God was preparing me all those months for just that moment. To meet the one small need that man needed right then. I've never looked into a stranger's eyes and been more sure I was looking at Jesus than that moment.

Habits. I can guarantee you that everyone that walked past that man was in favor of a better social safety net. But until you put your heart into action it is worthless to the man laying in the street in front of you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lenten hunger

This Lent has been an experience for me. I gave up media for Lent. No papers, no tv news, no blogs. I wanted to divorce myself from caring about politics and refuse the invitation to disagree and be disgusted with people who have different policy preferences from me. All in all I have been pretty successful at avoiding the news of the day and have had a concurrent opening of my eyes and heart to the everyday needs of the people around me. I have certainly read more on spiritual matters and contemplated God more frequently without the background noise of politics taking my attention. My understanding and respect for Lent has grown. I've been toying with the idea that Lent should be our permanent state of being until we meet Jesus in Heaven. I've been struck by the modern Christian's inability to live in Lent and the rush to Easter. Really, a refusal to submit to Lent. A determination to understand Lent only in the context of Easter.

And I think this is a serious mistake.

We are full of food, material possessions, spiritual wisdom, good works, etc. But we are missing the emptiness that learns to rely on God alone. We are missing the emptiness that brings truer faith. Faith that has no security, no illusions, no ego. Only hunger for Jesus. Only knowledge of our sinfulness. Only understanding of the true measure of God's grace.

My pastor preached last Sunday and brought up Jesus' temptation in the dessert. And what did Satan offer? A full stomach, knowledge that God would save Jesus, respect and admiration from the world. This Lent has taught me how much I want those very things. How much I pursue them as though they were a good thing. Did you get that? The devil doesn't have to tempt me. I pursue these temptations.

I pray, God, that at the very least I don't do the devil's work for him.