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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Learning to Discuss

Maybe you have heard this story …

Two men were having a rather heated discussion while a third watched from a distance. After a bit the two shook hands and went their separate ways. One of the men was a friend of the third and walked up to him. The watcher commented, “You two were having quite a discussion, but you seemed to end it well. What happened?”

“Oh, we were arguing about which candidate is best,” said the fellow, “but we agreed in the end that we would only cancel each other’s vote and decided not to vote at all.” The man looked a little sheepish.

“What’s wrong?” said the third, “you look a bit guilty.”

“Well,” admitted the man, “I’ve made that same deal with four other people already.”

There are certain things that everyone hates. Fingernails on a chalkboard or squeaking on a balloon. Rain on a picnic day.Mosquitoes. But most of all, political commercials.

I have never heard someone say, “I really like the political commercials because they help me decide how to vote.” And, yet, they must work to some degree because some very smart people spend lots of money on them.

These issues and these candidates are important and it is wise to know something about the issues. But I’m not writing this to comment on any specific issue or on politics at all. Instead I’m thinking about how we go about discussing issues of any kind.

Think about the following comments (which I’ve heard in various versions from people or in commercials):
“All Republicans/Democrats/Conservative/Liberals are idiots.”
“A person would have to be crazy to vote yes/no on that issue.”
“Everything so-n-so says is just a lie.”

I could go on. Do any of those things encourage a discussion? I don’t think so. They are what were called “Killer Phrases” at Altru Health System's Healthcare Horizons event. They stop everything and folks scatter or rush to change the subject.

Now, move from politics to work or family life, to community events or church. Doesn’t this happen all the time? We start to discuss an issue of any kind, but someone (maybe us!) says something which ends the discussion.

We know Killer Phrases when we hear them. Usually they are emotional and bring out emotional responses. Often they are attacks upon a person or group of persons. Sometimes they are meant to stop discussion.

A spouse says to her husband, “You keep our bedroom and your clothes like you are a 10-year-old.” Now, that’s probably true. But isn’t the goal to improve things and not just start an emotional argument?

At work someone says, “The management isn’t very bright and they don’t understand us.” Notice how broad a brush is used. Again there is a personal attack and this one is topped off by including everyone in whether they agree or not “they don’t understand us.’” There may be real issues to discuss, but this doesn’t call for discussion but renders a final verdict.

We could keep going to talk about issues at home or at the gym or with extended family. But step one in stopping Killer Phrases is clear: Try to avoid saying any. Let’s ask ourselves if what we want to say will help discussion or end it. Will our words heighten emotions or focus on issues? Can we disagree in an agreeable sort of way?  Who knows, maybe we will find out something we didn’t know before? Maybe we’ll even understand an issue better or change our mind. Miracles do happen, you know.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Joy and Sorrow Hand in Hand

I attend a lot of funerals.  I suspect I attend more funerals, prayer services and visitations than almost anyone.  Many funeral bulletin or folders have little verses inside of them.  I will have to confess that I'm not impressed by too many of them. 

Some of these short poems are a little shallow or speak as if grief isn't the powerful force that I know it to be.  Some even offend me a bit such as those which speak of God needing an angel and that's why this person died.  I'd rather not blame God. 

But, I don't think I should be able to criticize without trying to do something myself.  So, here's my attempt at a funeral verse. 

Joy and Sorrow Hand in Hand


Life is my Savior’s gift from the Father above,

Where I find joy in family, job and human love.

But with the joy came sad events I hadn’t planned

So I discovered that sorrow and joy walk hand in hand. 


As a child I saw life as an adventure to explore,

I had sandbox fun, loved friends and so much more.

Yet early on came illness, pain and troubles to the sand,

In my youth I learned sorrows and joys walk hand in hand.


I found one to marry, and we had kids to boot.

What happiness there was as our family took root!

But death came too, and problems to our family band,

Which mixed together sorrow and joy, walking hand in hand.


And now I’m gone, I’ve died, don’t be afraid of the word.

For I still have life, eternal life and the joy of which you’ve heard.

You will mourn, you must, but laugh as well for living demands,

That we all realize joy and sorrow always walk hand in hand. 


So treasure our shared memories and enjoy every single one

Forget not the sorrows of life for they show how much we’ve done.

This is not the end, we will once again together stand,

But for you, for a moment, sorrow and joy continue hand in hand. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Winter Blues


1.  Take a moment to pause and reflect … about the blues.  Perhaps you have heard of “Blue Monday” which happened back on January 6.  According to a British sort-of study that’s the most depressing day of the year.  Christmas is over, regular workdays are starting again and there’s nothing to look forward to.  Another media outlet, by the way, says the big day for the blues is the Monday after Martin Luther King day, which was January 27 this year.  That’s about the time the credit card bills for holidays shopping come in the mail. 
            Personally, I don’t know why we pick on Mondays or on January.  We can feel blue anytime.  Yes, the snow and the cold are hard on us and can contribute.  But there is also the depression of finding that spring and summer still contain the same problems we faced in winter.
This week, let’s talk about the blues during these devotionals.  I’ve almost used my whole one minute for today, so let me give you one quick thought which might help.  Feeling blue is normal.  Everyone has the blues sometime.  So don’t make it worse by beating up on yourself because you think it only happened to you.  As the Bible says, “The rain (or the snow) falls on the just and the unjust alike.”  Everyone.
Let’s pray:  “Gracious God, thank-you for being with us when we are blue and when we are bursting with excitement.  Whatever the day may bring, Lord, lead, guide and strengthen us.  In your name.  Amen.”
2.  Take a moment to pause and reflect … on winter blues. 
            Let’s see, someone is feeling blue, down and depressed.  It seems that you get up and have coffee just like always, but the feeling remains.  You watch the same programs on TV and sit in the same chair as before but the blueness doesn’t go away.
            Hmmm.  One suggestion.  Try something different.  I’m not suggesting change for change sake, but try moving around instead of sitting.  Some folks call that exercise and doctors have been known to suggest it makes a difference for winter, or any other kind of blues.  
            Instead of watching the same programs as before, try something different.  I don’t mean just change the channel.  Go out to a movie, and not alone.  Call a friend and ask how they are doing.  Read a book.  But something new and engaging.
            You heard about the farmer who said he could never visit his neighbors, “because the ruts in the road only lead me back home.”  Yes, I’m thinking of the old cliché, “Get out of the rut.”  There’s nothing magical about this, but something different and positive can’t hurt.  And, by calling a friend for example, even if you don’t help yourself you might help someone else. 
            Jesus says in the Bible that a person should never put new wine in old wineskins.  They will be stiff and break.  Put new wine in new wineskins.  In terms of the blues, put your hope for a new attitude, perspective and life in a new wineskin – a new and flexible way of doing things.
            Let us pray.  “Thank-you God for walking with me during difficult things.  Help us to find ways to return joy to our hearts.  Amen.”
3.  Take a moment to pause and reflect … about the blues.  We all feel blue sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But what can we do about it?  The psalmist has an idea. 
In Psalm 42 we read these words:  “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?”  The writer is talking to himself.  But even more curious, he is asking himself questions.
Actually that’s a good place to start as we deal with the blues.  What is really making us blue?  Perhaps we’d say it is because we are grieving a loved one.  Yes, but what about the loved one is on your mind?  Maybe we’d say, “I just miss having coffee with him/her each morning.”  If we know what triggers the blue feeling we can understand it and make some plans.  Maybe at coffee time in the morning, we have a picture album to do some remembering.  Maybe that’s a good time to call a good friend or write a note to a grandson. 
I don’t have a prescription, but the Psalmist knew and I know that we can better deal with problems, stresses or the blues if we know what they are.
So, talk to yourself – “Soul, why are you down today?  What’s really on the mind?”
And, then, as the Psalmist did, take it to prayer.  The Psalmist said, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him.”  Let us pray.
Gracious God, you do know us better than we know ourselves.  Help us to see what’s going on in our spirit.  And, once we know, help us to give it to you.  Amen.
4.  Take a moment to pause and reflect … about the blues.  On Monday we learned the blues are normal.  On Tuesday, we thought about doing something different.  Wednesday, we learned to talk to our spirit to see what is actually going on in our life.  Today, I’d like to suggest that the blues are a good thing. 
            Wait, you might protest, I don’t want to be depressed.  Don’t get me wrong.  Chronic, long-term depression is one thing and it should be treated.  Occasional or even fairly frequent feelings of blues can be positive.
            I thought of this during Christmas when I shared at more-than-one “Blue Christmas” service.  When we were gathered remembering and grieving loved ones, supporting and caring about one another and asking God for help, what was the rest of the world doing?  Madly running about trying to fill their wishes for a Merry Christmas by spending much and hurrying here and there.  Which one is better?  Which one will give you more satisfaction?
            You see, when we are blue, we slow down, focus (or CAN focus) on important things and have an opportunity to think through our priorities.  And any blue “tears” we shed might be followed by a genuine smile at the good things in our life which we can think about during our blues.
            Psalm 46 starts by talking about “trouble” in the first verse but ends with the familiar “Be Still and know I am God.”  When I’m blue, I’m more likely to be still and more likely to find lasting joy in the God I serve.
            “Gracious God, use the times I slow down and feel blue to help me grow and find real peace in you.  Amen.   
5.  Take a moment to pause and reflect … about the blues.   I heard, one time, about an experiment done with a Northern Pike.  A Northern is a very aggressive fish and it loves to eat.  The experiment put a Northern on one side of a large aquarium and a smaller fish, perhaps a perch on the other.  A clear glass window was in between.  The Northern, of course, attacked but slammed into the glass instead of getting its jaws on the perch.  This happened several times until the Northern got the message – the perch is unavailable.  And the Northern stopped trying. 
            After a bit the experimenters withdrew the separating glass.  The perch was very available and the two eventually swam right next to each other.  But the message was still with the Northern – it’s not available.
            I wonder if that doesn’t happen to us.  For whatever reason we are blue and it lasts long enough that we begin to wonder if we can ever again be happy … or laugh … or be joyful. 
            Back to our friend, the Northern.  I wonder – could he ever eat again?  Did he just give us and starve? 
            Hey, let’s not give up.  There is joy to be had and a smile can again be felt.  Don’t give into the idea, “Hey I can never be happy again.”  That’s what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
            King David writes in Psalm 30, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”  Yes, it’s possible.
            “Gracious God, we get dis-encouraged so easily.  Help us to see all the good things which are still possible for us, we ask in your name, Amen.”