Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mother Nature

I remember seeing the Chiffon margarine commercial growing up where Mother Nature gets angry that this new invention is not real butter and causes a storm. She exclaims, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!"  She actually kinda scared me some.  This week the East Coast has experienced the biggest earthquake in history and as I sit here typing we are waiting for Hurricane Irene to get to us in Philadelphia.  Many wonder ... Who made Mamma Nature so angry?

Others think it is something more divine and celestial. The inevitable "God is punishing ____________ for something" statements have been flying fast and furious. They are often related to storms.  They seem to come regularly when bad things happen. But they are not confined to natural disasters, even though they seem to come most often after these events. Divine punishment for evil has been proclaimed after Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Haiti Earthquake, and the tsunami in Japan. I have to say that this drives me crazy.

For my entire career I have taught about a divine, graceful, and loving God. Yes, there are images of an angry God in the Bible, but Jesus' life and love bring a new understanding of God that moves beyond this. But the image persists of an angry, retributive God who punishes humans for "bad or evil choices." The interesting thing is the groups that get portrayed as causing these punishing events. It is usually blamed on those already on the margins of culture ... thus moving these groups even further away from acceptance and understanding.

I believe we - as humans - have adversely affected our natural world and some of the storms we are suffering from are the result. But I do not believe that God chooses to hurt huge groups of people to as punishment for a small group.

I believe God loves us and mourns when we hurt. I believe God is a merciful God who forgives our short comings and bad choices. I believe God wants the bests for humanity. I believe that God is with us in the storms - not sitting back causing them.

And I believe storms will continue to come and people will continue to say God is angry. But I believe they are wrong. God loves us too much to do that. That's what I believe.  And I am sticking with it.

Now ... Mother Nature? She' a whole nother story.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Does My Technology Hate Me?

I am on my 4th Kindle since Christmas 2010.  Some have crashed on their own and one because I dropped it.  And so I sat waiting as each one was shipped out by Amazon to me one by one.  My smartphone has been replaced at least once.  And it always required some sort of wait until the new one arrived.  My Plasma TV went out last month and since it was barely out of warranty, Samsung replaced it for a small exchange fee.  We sat and watched a little bitty TV for over a week waiting for the new one.  I have already had to have Dell replace a dud laptop once.  Now my new laptop (the replacement I got from them in November of 2010) is heating up and acting strange.  I got a box from Dell today for me to ship it off for service.  My technology woes are legendary on my Facebook page.  Every time I post something about a tech issue – folks comment that technology and I do not seem to mix.  But we have to.

My job is to teach young ministers to preach, to engage social media in their ministries, and to utilize imagery in their multi-media sermon preparation.  I teach using PowerPoint and media displays.  So using technology is something that I do every single day – it is part of my working life.  Add to that my personal use of technology for Facebook, email, news, blogging, etc.  It seems that tech is a big part of my life. My phone keeps me connected and my TV helps to entertain me.  I read a LOT and have found my Kindle to be an amazing gift for ease of access to all kinds of books.  I am on my laptop almost every evening and sometimes during the day as well.  I need my tech.

But once again I will be without my laptop for a week to ten days.  I do not want to do it.  I know I have an old back up to use but it makes me nervous that I might be disconnected for a while.  Or that I might be connected slowly … that my old computer will be so slow it may not be worth being online at all. 

When I discovered how nervous I was feeling about sending my computer off again – I had to stop and think about my addiction to tech.  I feel like I need to check my Facebook, process my email, and read friends’ blog posts on a regular basis.  I don’t think I am alone in this.  Many people are connected too much to their technology today.  Families sit at dinner and never speak as they play games and surf on their mobile devices.  Teens sit in the same room and text each other rather than risk being overheard by others.  Parents sit at their computers and fail to be there for their kids.  Not everyone is like this – but it is easy to get sucked into the cycle of gadget addiction.

So maybe this imposed vacation from my laptop will be good for me.  And maybe it will drive me over the edge.  Either way – it seems I need it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Civility is Hard But Necessary!

I am part of several Facebook discussion groups, follow a number of blogs, and read a lot of political and religious websites on a daily basis.  And one thing I have gotten extremely tired of lately is the lack of civility.  Folks on several of the Facebook discussion groups I am part of ask questions and then blast anyone who differs from their opinion.  The discussion on several topics has gotten downright ugly at times.  Now, a disclaimer – I have participated in these discussions but have tried to stay civil.  I believe I have played nice but others might see my participation differently.  I am, after all, a very opinionated person who is not shy about sharing her beliefs, political stances, etc.  But I have tried.  And one glance on political websites or at cable news shows and your “lack of civility meter” will be on full overload.

It is really nothing new.  Even though folks have been talking about the lack of civility a lot lately – (especially before and since the 2008 election) it is nothing new.  In the 1870s political cartoonists used their voice – sometimes in very uncivil manners – to bring down Boss Tweed in New York.  In the 1960 election, the Catholicism of John F. Kennedy was discussed by some in clearly uncivil ways.  Attacking political opponents is a long standing tradition around the world.  But it does seem that civility has taken a decidedly negative turn of late.  Some of it seems politically based, some seems racially based to me (in presidential politics right now), but mostly it is simply differences in ideology and how they view the role of government.

I remember growing up in Texas being told – never discuss religion or politics around the table.  The reason was that arguments would likely erupt.  But my family always encouraged these types of discussions.  And today, the result is politically savvy children and grandchildren … folks who vote, work for their candidates, and make their voices known.  And children and grandchildren who are greatly involved in their churches and know what they believe.  We do not always agree on any of these things, but we try to be respectful of each other.  Even when my son was younger and found out his grandparents were Republicans we took a moment and he called to talk to them about it.  He respectfully asked if they knew the candidate they were backing was against something important to his family.  They talked about how they did not agree with everything their candidate said but overall agreed more with them than the others in the field.  They applauded his inquiry and interest.  And he learned to ask intelligent questions of others about their beliefs and to discuss it in a civil way.

But that is not what I have experienced in some of my web based discussion groups.  There has been some real animosity and lack of civility.  I want to have important discussions and to do that with a variety of people.  I want to have important discussions with folks I disagree with and be respected in that discussion – while I am at the same time affirming their right to be wrong.  Whoops … I meant their right to have their own opinion.  But I seldom get that.  Is it me?  Am I not affirming of other’s opinions?  I think I am.  But I also would guess we all believe that about ourselves. 

So here is my advice to myself and to others.  STOP yelling at each other.  Stop being so entrenched in your own views that you cannot even listen to other people.  Stop  being disagreeable.  Stop being so rigid.  Stop being so mean.  Stop assuming the other person is wrong.

Listen to each other, disagree in love, discuss in a civil manner, and for goodness sake be aware that how you treat each other in these discourses is being watched by the next generation.  I am so grateful that my son learned one good thing from me – to be civil in his discussions and disagreements with others.  And I hope to echo that behavior in my own life – on the web or in person.  

Being civil is hard work – but it is also necessary!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Home Sweet Home!

I just returned from a 10 day vacation with my family.  It was amazing, fun and restful.  (I actually shared some of my trip in earlier posts.)  We spent time with friends in Ohio then spent some adult time in Chicago.  It was a blessing and a treat.  We drove 1840 miles and visited 5 states.   I know some people would consider being in a car with their family for 1840 miles in 10 days to be a nightmare – but we had a blast.  Part of the reason it was fun was that we are a family that enjoys spending time together.  We like each other (most days).  So it was great to be away with the people I love.  We talked, sang, played games, and just took our time being together.

But by the time we were heading home – I was very ready to be home.  I wanted to sleep in my own bed, sit in my own chair, control the remote to the TV, and have my own space.  I wanted to be home.  We have only lived in Philadelphia for a year but it is home for us now.  It is where our family makes its life, worships and plays together, goes to school, and it is where our stuff is.

I grew up as a preacher’s kid – a PK- who moved around all through her childhood.  From birth to High School I lived in 6 places.  Since graduating and going out on my own – I have lived in 5 states and in a number of apartments and houses (I tried to count but I couldn’t come up with a number).   My Mom, a United Methodist preacher’s wife, used to say, “Home is where the Bishop sends us!”  When we would move my folks would have our rooms set up by the end of the first day and we would be completely moved in within 48 hours.  My own family does it in 72 hours but we try.  That is because we know that the place where we live is our home when we make it our home.

Home ought to be a place full of memories, people we love, places we feel comfortable, and feelings of acceptance.  Home ought to be where we find our true selves and can be who we are meant to be.  Home ought to be where we find sanctuary from the outside world.  But for many that is not what home looks or feels like.  For many home is a place where they are ridiculed, made fun of, physically or sexually abused, psychologically battered and more.  For many home is a scary place and for those situations I pray for relief and safety.

I know that I was very lucky.  My home was a place where we were nurtured, praised and loved.  We were allowed to explore our true selves and we were affirmed in that search for self (even though there were certainly times when I clashed with my folks on my journey).  My parents helped me grow up spiritually and emotionally.  My parents guided me through a time in my youth when I was pretty sick.  I had epilepsy and some learning disabilities from a traumatic birth.  My parents were told that I would never graduate from High School but they said – “nope, that’s not happening to our kid.”  So my Mom spent hours helping me learn how to learn – and I graduated from High School, from college, have two Masters degrees, and have a PhD (most with honors).  All because in my home – my parents wanted the best for me and would not take no for an answer.  It was an amazing gift and for me it changed my life.  It was my home – a place where I was cared for and helped to succeed.

I know not everyone has had a great experience of home – but I did.  And for that I am extremely grateful.  I am grateful for a Mom who spent hours helping me overcome my learning issues.  I am grateful for a Dad who loved me and helped me grow in my faith and self-confidence.  I am grateful for my sisters who made my life journey very interesting. 

And I am grateful for my own family and our recent vacation.  New memories were made, new sights seen, and new bonds were formed.  My home is a sweet place – because I am loved there.  And I am working as hard as I can to create the kind of home I grew up in.  I’m home – wherever that is— as long as I am with my family.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fears, Smears!!

Many of us have fears.  They are more common than most people believe.  Common ones include: fear of flying, fear of speaking in public, fear of heights, fear of dark, fear of intimacy, fear of death, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of spiders, fear of flying, fear of water, fear of dogs, etc.  The list goes on and on.  As a preacher and preaching professor I do not have the fear of speaking in public (but I do still get nervous).  I do not shriek at the sight of mice or spiders.  And I am a calm flyer.  Dogs – well, I am allergic to them and their fur/licking creeps me out but I am not afraid of them.  So when I think of fears, I am not sure if I actually have a fear of something other than fear of failure.  But fear of failure is one I think almost everyone has. 

But I have friends and family who live with significant fears.  I have a friend who cannot drive over bridges without having an anxiety attack.  I have a Mom who never learned to swim so we grew up with her serious discomfort around water.  I have a colleague who is terrified of flying so he drives to every conference or family event he has to go to – even driving days without stops to avoid flying.  And I have a best friend who is afraid of heights.  She got caught at the top of a Ferris wheel one time and now is terrified of heights and specifically of Ferris wheels.

We were recently in Chicago together and visited Navy Pier.  On my plan for the day was riding the giant Ferris wheel.  On her list was avoiding the Ferris wheel at all costs.  For those who are uninitiated this Ferris wheel is “150-foot-high. Modeled after the world's very first Ferris wheel, an engineering marvel constructed for Chicago's 1893 World Colombian Exposition, the Navy Pier Ferris wheel lifts visitors to unparalleled sweeping views of the skyline and lakefront. The Pier's wheel has forty gondolas seating six passengers each.” (From Navy Pier publicity)

So there we were … standing just 50 yards away from this behemoth and I ask casually, “Wanna try to conquer a fear and ride the Ferris wheel?”  I just knew she would say no.  But out of her mouth came – “well …”  I knew it was time.  I showed her that this Ferris wheel does not stop – it just slowly moves and you hop on.  She agreed so I quickly ran to get our $6 tickets and got in line.  So we did it.  We rode the Ferris wheel and got some amazing pictures of the Chicago skyline. It was thrilling and not as scary as she thought (after one initial anxiety filled minute).

Upon our return to the ground, I was delighted with and proud of my role in helping her overcome this great fear.  (LOL!) More importantly, she was proud of herself.  She had faced a fear and taken the ride of her life.  Actually, overcoming fears is something that is quite hard but it also something we all need to do.  We need to confront what makes us afraid and do what we can to overcome those fears.  Not all of them can be overcome without intervention or counseling – so I do not want to belittle anyone’s fears.  But I do want to address those things that keep us from moving forward.  When we allow our fears to keep us from being our best selves, we need to do something about it.  When we allow our fears to keep us from experiencing life and all it offers us, we need to do something about it.

I believe God is a gracious and powerful God who is present with us always.  So when I am afraid I try to remember that God is there holding me and comforting me.  I believe that and it gives me great comfort.  It may not feel like it helps if ever a BIG fear hits me upside the head but I live in the belief that I can do all things with God.  So bring it on!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Family Road Trip Time

One line I never thought I would hear in my own car:  “Mom, turn your music down!”   This line was from my pre-teen son yesterday.  We were driving west on the turnpike through Pennsylvania for our family vacation (heading to Ohio and Chicago) and Shelby decided our music was interfering with him listening to his own music.  The adults were listening to soundtracks from Broadway (Mamma Mia, Hairspray, and Rent this trip).  He was evidently not impressed with our music choice or the volume of our singing along with the tunes.  He was also not amused by our car seat dancing.

I remember going on trips with my family growing up where we would take turns picking the radio station and take turns riding the hump – having to take the middle seat.  We read or played car games – like keeping track of states we saw license plates from or playing “I spy.”  We had some good times in the car but we also – my two sisters and I – had plenty of disagreements.  “Don’t touch me!”  “Move your foot!”  “Get off my stuff!”  These were statements heard many times in our family car.  We never killed each other and somehow survived as friends.  So that was a good thing.

I travel with my own family now and we have done car games and sung songs for years.  Now we have technologically advanced traveling.  On this trip we had 3 cell phones, 3 laptops, 1 GPS, 2 Kindles, 1 set of headphones, 2 video cameras, 2 power adapters for car lighter plugs, 2 iPods and enough power cables/cords to string up lights at Christmas.  We also had the unique thrill of trying out the 3G hotspot my phone offers.  So my son was on Facebook as we travelled down the highway.  When we started getting tired we looked up hotels, made a few calls, and got a deal on a room.  It was quite fun.  It’s a whole new world for travel.

But we also spent time just talking.  We talked about past trips, we talked about future vacations, we talked about politics, and we talked about our lives.  It was some dedicated family time in a confined space.  And for that I am grateful.  We are only on day 3 of our vacation and we have more to go on this trip.  Getting away with my family is a privilege.  And I am grateful for the opportunity.  We will have a great time, eat too much, spend some quality time together, try not to spend too much money, make some new memories, and probably get a bit tired of each other, too.  But it will be fun.  We will continue to grow as a family and learn more about each other.  And that is never a bad thing.