• Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide – 2016 Edition

    Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner by Douglass Crockwell

    Such a pretty picture. Now imagine that they all hate each other.

    An oldie but a goody! BTW, if you read these and know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to family, you are one of the people I wrote The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life  for. It’s a collection of enlightening essays for thinking better, being better and growing where you’re planted. Even if where you’re planted is a, um, lacking in certain nutrients required for proper growth. (I was going to say something much meaner, but I’m trying to be a good Christian here.) The book is only $6 on Amazon. Buy an extra one for your sister. Or a whole bunch for your friends. Also, if you are one of those people who has been experiencing an increase in interpersonal verbal and emotional abuse over the last couple of weeks, you can follow me on my personal facebook page where I’m sharing other bits of advice for keeping yourself safe and sane under adverse conditions. (I swear a lot more and talk about God a lot less on my personal page though. Just so we’re all clear. I hate to have to make someone look like a jackass in front of everyone.😉 )

    So, best of luck everyone. It’s a bit wild out there, but just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll do fine. Happy Thanksgiving, peeps!

    Since I am a contrarian at heart and everyone and their brother is doing the “Let’s talk about what we’re thankful for” bit, I’m going to offer up something completely different.  Because as important as gratitude is, I also know that on Thanksgiving there are an awful lot of people for whom the answer to “what are you most grateful for?” is “that I don’t live any closer to these people.”  So for those of you going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house which had damn well better have a well stocked liquor cabinet waiting, I’ve dug through the archives to create The Upside Down World’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide:

    1. Develop an Appreciation for the Absurd: My grandmother once had to be dragged away by a horrified aunt from her very concerned inquisition into the causes of my obesity.  One of my cousins made a big deal out of being “sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk” after resolutely ignoring every smile, nod, wave or question we threw her way from the next table over at my brother’s wedding.  Where all of my other 7 siblings (but not me) stood up in the wedding. That was weird. Learning to laugh is a much better tactic for dealing with people being absurd than any other I know.

    2. Learn to Tolerate Conflict: Wishing you would have stood up for yourself is only rarely less painful than the discomfort of conflict.  The determining factor being whether you hold it together long enough to cry in private or abruptly leave the table after bursting into tears in front of everyone.  Thanksgiving probably isn’t the best time to confront your family with a list of all the things they have done to hurt you, but being able to speak up for yourself is a form of self-care everyone needs to know.

    3. Learn to Avoid Conflict: At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes we need to tone it down.  Not every confrontation need to happen and not every invitation to conflict needs to be accepted.  Learn to see the difference and how to stop it before it gets started.

    4. Deliberately Look For the Good in People: Thanksgiving with relatives is the perfect place to put this idea into action.  One of my grandfathers used to corner us Continue reading

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    The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution

    Well, look at me! Posting for the second day in a row. I told you I’d be back!🙂

    I actually have a guest post up at Dr. Chuck Crisco’s site that I wanted to invite y’all to go check out. It’s on a topic near and dear to my heart – overcoming the “us vs them” dualism of the past in order to embrace a more humane, holistic understanding of humanity as “just us”. I’m sharing the introduction below and I hope you’ll head on over to Chuck’s site to read the rest:

    The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution: “Us vs Them” or “Just Us”

    In talking with my fellow countrymen, it has become increasingly clear that there are two competing and seemingly irreconcilable mindsets at work in the conflicts being played out around us. On one side, you have people who see the world in terms of “us vs them” in which humanity is divided between those who are on our side and those who are not.  On the other are those who see the world in terms of “just us”, as in there is no “us vs them”, there is only a broad “us” which encompasses all of humanity. “Us vs them” thinkers see our differences as a cause for division, while “just us” thinkers seek to transcend our differences and recognize our deeper, shared humanity. READ ON . . .

    Also, I am still collecting money to fund necessary surgery for a 14 year old Christian Pakistani who sustained serious injuries after being kidnapped and tortured by a man his father had a financial dispute with. I shared the story here yesterday. If you missed it, you can read it and find the link to make a donation here. 

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    His Eye Is On the Party Sparrow

    Last night when I sat down for my bedtime prayer/meditation, the face of the chaplain who runs the chapel at the local truck stop  came to mind very clearly and I heard God say, “I want you to go talk to Tim.” (Tim’s the name of the chaplain.) So I was like, “ok, but tomorrow’s Monday and Tim’s not going to be at the chapel.”

    God says, “don’t worry about it. I’ll arrange everything.”

    Well, alrighty then. So I continued with my prayer/meditation time wondering why God wanted me to go talk to Tim. When I was done and about to go to bed, I realized that I hadn’t gotten around to putting gas in my car that day. Long story, but there’s no cash in the house and only one card for the bank account which my husband was going to be taking to work with him in the morning. And I have a broke kid who needs to be at his own job the next day. I had just enough gas to drive to the gas station and that was it. Because I’m super responsible like that. It was around midnight, but if I didn’t go put gas in the car before going to bed, it was going to be a messy situation.

    So, I grab the card and load the dog up to be my bodyguard and headed to the truck stop. Normally I’d go to the gas station across the street, but I figured maybe Tim was pulling a late nighter or something and that was why God told me to go talk to Tim. Well, Tim wasn’t there, but there was this kid sitting on the ground outside the truck stop. He looked awfully young to be a hitchhiker, but drugs are a hell of a thing, so I ignored him. It’s not like I was going anywhere anyways. Continue reading

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    Me and That Judging Thing

    I’ve written a couple of times about what I call “the hardest, best spiritual discipline I’ve ever tried” – that being not judging. Now, this is not something that came naturally to me, to say the least. I’ve always been pretty tolerant and laid-back, but let’s face it; some people are idiots. Some situations are so ridiculous that you pretty much have to be in a permanently drug-addled state not to look at them and say, “really? WTF is wrong with you people?” There’s a reason that, despite Jesus’ rather point-blank instructions, even the most devoted Christians equivocate when it comes to not judging others.

    But, as I explained before, I decided a couple of years ago to treat Jesus’ instruction as a spiritual discipline – something I do out of faithfulness, whether I want to or not, even when I have every reason not to and when it seems pointless. Far from the claims of those who think that not judging is easy, not judging is extraordinarily hard. Most of us can’t even manage it while sitting in traffic.

    So it’s been a real struggle to let go of my urge to judge and just be open to learning and loving instead. Often it’s something that I have to turn to God in prayer in order to accomplish. But slowly and surely, God has used my willingness to withhold judgment to teach me about his judgment.

    You see, our judgment is easy. It comes automatically and is so obvious that any fool can learn it. Some things are right and some things are wrong. My 5 year old knows it. Our judgment and our ability to point out right and wrong hardly need to be taught, they come so easily to us. As attached as we are to our human judgments, they really are no more useful or impressive than being able to stick out your tongue and spit.

    By withholding judgment, I open the door to allowing God to show me how his judgment works. And his judgment is a much more complicated affair than mine, it turns out. As God says to Samuel, “people look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God knows what a heart has been through better than the owner of that heart does. God also knows the role that a person has to play in the grand scheme of things. We do not. God knows both the harm done and the unexpected opportunities created by even the worst actions.

    We are told not to judge, it turns out, because we simply are not capable of it. No matter how easy, obvious and even necessary our judgment seems to us. It turns out that the sheer volume of information and complexity that God knows and understands simply boggles the mind. These days, when the urge to judge hits me, I find myself almost afraid. I still have my own opinions and feelings about things, but I no longer have any desire to turn them into declarations about another person that ought to carry any weight beyond the confines of my own skull.

    And when God does judge, it is a mighty and a frightful thing. To stand before the one who made the universe and be faced with the reality of both the good and evil of one’s life and being carries with it such weight that I am astounded now that I ever even tried to do it.  The task of judging is so far beyond us and our limited abilities that if we understood just how inadequate we are to the task, we would feel like a person pulled off the street being asked to perform a life saving operation on an infant. Some things are too big even for me.

    Except when it comes to this one person . . .

    There is one person who I have held as exempt from my little “don’t judge” spiritual discipline. Who I have felt free to judge as good or bad and whose very life story I have been continually passing judgment on with abandon. And further, I have discovered that my ongoing judgment of this person and her life is very deeply entwined with my ongoing struggle to trust God and live fully in the fruits of the Spirit, as is my right and inheritance as a child of God.

    It turns out that as much as I have learned by refraining from judging others, it really matters very little because all the while, I have continued to judge myself. I continue to look at my own life and declare it broken and in need of fixing. I am forever taking each event, each action, each need or pain or achievement and putting them on the little scales of my own mind to weigh in order to understand myself and my own life as either good or bad. Damaged beyond repair or a work in process. Irretrievably broken or inspirationally triumphant. And it’s been killing me.

    Like a lot of us, I have this tendency to absorb the negative voices around me and other people’s negative judgments of my life. So in order to combat those voices, I developed a habit of creating a counter-narrative that highlights what is good about me and my life. The negative voices say that I am lazy, so I keep track of what I accomplish in order to prove to myself that it’s not true. Someone told me that I am indulgently wasting my life raising my kids rather than having a career, so I have a litany of reasons why simply being mom is enough. Someone told me that my life is a tragic, pitiful waste and, well, I’m still working out my defense against that one. But back and forth it goes. Sometimes the positive view wins for a moment, but it’s a continual battle. It never stops.

    Recently I was talking to a friend and I had lapsed into my habitual defense of myself, against myself and my friend stopped me and said, “you don’t have to prove yourself.” And like truth sometimes does, it got through my defenses and hit me square in the heart. Because something very deep in me does feel like I have to prove myself. Like I do have to mount a defense against the accusations and judgments that come my way and get nurtured in my own head.

    I mean, I know in my head that I am justified and don’t have to justify myself. I know that I don’t need to defend myself. But I want to. I want to prove that I am good enough. I want to prove that I am worthy. I want to prove that those who stand in judgment of me are wrong. Because I think I can. I think that if I don’t, I might get a technical pass because Jesus died for my sins, but really, we all know that it’s just a technicality. A pretty gloss covering what I’m afraid looks like an ugly reality. I don’t just want a pretty gloss; I want a beautiful reality. And I’m going to figure out a way to prove to myself, if not to anyone else, that me and my life are good enough. I am trying to do for myself what Jesus has already done for me. And unsurprisingly, my way has brought nothing but death to my spirit.

    So now God is telling me to lay down my defenses. To stop trying to prove that I and my life are good and worthy enough – even to myself. To accept that even though it’s my own life and my own being, I really don’t have the ability or the right to make such a judgment. I do not know what God knows. I cannot see the full breath or meaning of my life anymore than I can see the full breath and meaning of someone else’s life.

    What I am realizing, as I try to let go of my judgment of myself, is that when I am engaging in my back-and-forth accusation and defense of myself, is that I am denying what God has already said about me and my life. By continually judging myself, I am giving power to the lies and accusations the enemy has cast at me, no matter how often I raise a defense and convince myself that I am OK.

    That’s why the battle never ends. I am viewing the value and worth of my life as an open question that I am responsible for answering. And it’s just not so. It wasn’t an open question on the day I was born and it’s not an open question today. As has so often been the case with me, I could see this in other people long before it even dawned on me to see it in myself. So now, I hope and pray and trust, that God will help me apply what I have learned from not judging others to myself.

  • The Story I Tell Myself

    One day a man was out and about, minding his own business, tending to his own affairs. when life showed up in a foul mood, with obviously ill intentions. The man ducked into the nearest doorway, hoping to lay low until life passed by and took its wrath out on some other unfortunate soul. To his horror, instead of passing by, life pulled open the door and started bearing down on the man.

    Quickly, the man retreated further into the building he had tried to take refuge in, hoping that perhaps life had other business there and would not train its sights on him. But it quickly became clear that life had indeed trained its sights on this one man and was not about to let him off easily. The man attempted to find an escape, to return to what he had been doing before life, in its unfathomable wisdom or malice, had turned on him. But life is not so easily out-maneuvered.

    Finally, life had the man trapped down a hallway, many floors up, with all exits cut off. As life bore down on the man, he quickly dove into the door to his left, slamming the door in life’s face. He locked the door and quickly began moving whatever furniture he could in front of the door, hoping to at least slow life down while he regrouped and came up with his escape plan.

    To his surprise, it worked. He could hear life banging on the door, yelling, but it seemed unable to breach the barrier he had erected against it. Quickly, the man began calling through the contacts in his phone for help. To his dismay, none of those closest to him answered. He left frantic messages, assuming they would call right back with plans, supplies, swat teams – whatever it took to get him out safely. When no one returned his calls quickly, he began calling his other contacts to explain that life had him trapped. Most said with a weary tone, “yeah – that’s life alright.”

    Meanwhile, he could hear life breathing heavily right outside the door. Sometimes it would growl and the man would despair of ever escaping. Finally, the man stopped and looked around the room he was in. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that the room was comfortable, well appointed and had everything someone in a siege situation might need while waiting for rescue. While the man would much rather have be allowed to carry on with his day instead of getting trapped by life, if he was going to be trapped, this place was as good as one could hope for.

    At first he kept waiting for rescue. Some days passed and his near-and-dear finally returned his messages, but far from being willing to mount a rescue effort, they too responded to his plight with “yeah – that’s life”. Only they felt the need to then castigate the man for all of his supposed failures which had caused him to become captive to life. And, as if things weren’t bad enough, they proceeded to explain why the comfortable, well appointed room the man had found himself in was no better than a hovel and how he was now doomed to misery and pity. Soon enough, he began blocking their calls. Continue reading

  • The Spirit In You Knows the Truth

    That hopeful feeling you experience when someone tells you that God is better than you’ve been taught is the Holy Spirit moving. I know a lot of churches tell you to ignore it. To settle for a God who isn’t really good enough. But listen when your heart leaps with hope, joy or peace. That’s the Spirit in you.

  • The Sacrifice of Isaac . . . Or Provincial Much?*

    Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:7-8

    In the pantheon of weird stories in the bible, the Sacrifice (or Binding) of Abraham is often treated as the most inexplicable or as the clearest evidence of how capricious the God of the Old Testament is. However, it seems to me that these conclusions simply demonstrate our poor understanding of history, God’s ways and human nature.  In context and with a decent concept of human nature as well as a proper understanding of what God is about, the story and it’s moral aren’t so hard to understand.

    The reality is that infanticide has always been part of human behavior. It’s been practiced everywhere and through all time periods. Including during the time of Abraham. In fact, there is evidence from both ancient writings and from archaeology of wide-spread infanticide and ritual child sacrifice in the Ancient Near East continuing into Greco-Roman times. Continue reading

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    Dancing The Way

    How many of you, at some point in your life, thought that there were two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way? And that your job was to find the right way. Failing to find the right way might mean being a bad person, being unlovable, being rejected by God, being outside of God’s will or just being a stupid doo-doo head. I suspect a lot of you just raised your hand. I suspect that those of you who didn’t just haven’t dug quite deep enough into your heart to find that particularly nasty snare that gets planted in the heart of nearly every human being along the way.

    Now, do I mean to say that there are no wrong ways and no right ways to do things? That all options the human mind can conceive of are equally good? No. Of course not. Going to the spa is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. As anyone who has done meth has probably figured out by now. Hell, smoking weed is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. But not if you are prone to addictions and might be tempted to do meth. Because meth is really, really bad, donchano. (Hey – fun fact: do you know how much weed it takes to kill a rat? Continue reading