Monday, December 15, 2014

Thoughts on Ecclesiastes Chapter 7

Here are some thoughts I had while reading Ecclesiastes Chapter 7 today:

Verse 4: "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

I have to admit that I was stumped when I first read through this. How could it possibly be better to be in a house of mourning? Mourning conjures images of pain, sadness, and loss, and it would be a stretch even for someone of great spiritual strength to say that they want to be there in the midst of mourning. Then I realized that I was taking it too literally (again,) After more thought, here's how I understand it: a wise person thinks of the end of their life (the time of mourning) and recognizes that there has to have been more to their life than just pleasure and laughter. They keep their eyes fixed on God and their eternal destination. Fools, on the other hand, live in the here and now. They seek out pleasure and distractions, and waste the time they do have. They pay no heed to their final destination.

Verse 14: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him."

Again, I think it's being emphasized that man should learn to live in the moment and enjoy what has been given, but not to lose sight of the eternal. It's a reminder that even if we enjoy prosperity, the temporal wealth isn't what's going to last. ("You can't take it with you.") What will remain after the riches are gone and we are dead and buried? If we are wise, it will be the influence we had on the lives of others, the impact we had on the world around us, and the love that we shared. It reminds us that even if we were to lose everything, God will still be there.

Verses 21-22: "Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear they servant curse thee; For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others."

It's good counsel to not take offense if you hear someone speaking badly of you. Nobody likes to hear someone else saying mean things about them, but if we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that we've done the same thing to others. We should probably look for truth in what the person has said in case there is something we need to change, but then let it go. After all, we've all said things when we were hurt, angry, tired, or upset that we likely wouldn't have said otherwise. We usually don't know everything that contributed to a person's comments, so it's better to err on the side of mercy and work to forgive what's been heard than to hold onto it and let it fester. It's what we'd want when we get caught saying something we shouldn't.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Situation in Ferguson Makes Me Angry

I've seen and heard a lot of commentary about the Michael Brown shooting and the more I hear, the madder I get. Some will attribute my anger and attitude to the fact that I'm part of the "privileged white establishment" and they're entitled to that opinion. Here's why I'm so livid:

1) The media keeps showing clips of people defending Michael Brown and attempting to portray him as a young black child. Get real! This was a 19 year old MAN. And not a small one at that. It's not like he was a 10 year old kid who was shot down while riding his bike or playing at a park.

2) This brings me to my next point- Michael Brown was caught on camera robbing a store immediately prior to his confrontation with the police officer. He wasn't some innocent young kid just walking home after buying a soda at the local corner store. No, he didn't get a chance to be put on trial for that crime, but no one can really dispute that it's him on the video, or that he would have been found guilty had he lived. Or that he had just committed a violent crime which had the cops on the lookout for him in the first place. Darren Wilson wasn't just cruising the hood looking for a black man to target. He was looking specifically for a suspect in a robbery.

3) There's a pervasive attitude that cops are out to "get" black men. Some probably are. Some likely nurse racist ideals and unfairly target blacks. There may very well be black cops who are more lenient on black men or who actively target white men also. Police officers are individuals and you get some of every type. But before you go assuming that "most" are like that, try talking to a few face to face. Ask them what it's like to put their lives on the line every day in order to try to keep our communities safe. Ask them what it feels like to respond to a call in one of the "bad" neighborhoods and have to worry about being assaulted or shot. Try to look at it from the their side- they go into neighborhoods that most of us don't want to, to protect people who often don't appreciate it and will turn against them if they make a mistake in doing their duty. Why the heck do any of them even bother??!

4) I also think it's interesting that Michael Brown's parents see a police officer doing his duty as an injustice that's been done to them. I understand them being upset, and I know there is enough police brutality to justify some sense of outrage in some instances, but this just isn't one of them. The officer was doing his job to the best of his ability. He made split second decisions based on what he perceived right in front of him at that moment. To expect a cop to always make perfect judgments in the heat of the moment is expecting him to be superhuman, and sorry folks, but Superman just isn't real. Rarely does anyone stop and actually think about what they would have done if they had a big guy coming at them repeatedly. Would you not be on alert and be expecting him to continue to come at you? Even if he suddenly put his arms in the air...wouldn't you still be extremely leery of what his next move was, and maybe assume the worst? If the blacks in Ferguson think they can do a better job of dealing with situations like this- let them. Let them police their own community for awhile and see if they aren't asking for help from the police again pretty quickly.

5) Let's face it- most of the problems in the black community are black related. From the high percentage of children born out of wedlock and raised without fathers, to drugs and gang violence, to a culture that glorifies thuggery and prison life...these are not things that the "white establishment" have pushed on the black community. (For an excellent viewpoint on how fatherlessness and immorality in the black community are the foundation of many of these problems, go to this link.)
It's time for black men and women to take a hard look at their own culture and lifestyle and admit that there are some serious problems that need to change. That change has to start with them. I, as a "privileged white woman," cannot go into their community and force them to change. I can't even offer to help them if they aren't willing to recognize the problem AND want to actually do something about it. (Nor am I really qualified. I'm not even insinuating that I'm better than them- just that I've been able to rise above crap in my life and would be happy to help anyone else do the same.)

6) This leads me to my next point. I'm sick and tired of the American victim mindset. "Poor me...look what everyone else has done to me...I'm stuck in my crappy life because of everyone else." I'm calling bullsh*t on that line of thinking. Yes, some people have privileges that others don't. Yes, blacks have been treated badly throughout the history of our country. Yes, we still have a long way to go before we enjoy true equality. But...we also each have the ability to rise above our circumstances. If we didn't, then we might as well adopt the caste system and accept that whatever you're born into, that's what you're going to be for the rest of your life. That's just not true in America, though. Many, many people have suffered from poverty, abuse, and other handicaps in their lives and still manage to become productive, happy, "privileged citizens." You can either blame your situation on the "establishment" or you can work hard on your education, learn new ways of thinking and doing, and become one of those who rises above. It's up to each individual to WANT to take a different path.

5) I'm mad as heck that everyone is up in arms over one police officer killing one black man but NO ONE is concerned about the black on black murder rate. NO ONE is speaking up about how blacks are killing their own young black boys. Or how their culture glamorizes a lifestyle that leads to drugs, violence, prison, and early death. Why is one black man's life worth so much when a white officer takes it in the line of duty, but all of the other THOUSANDS of black men's lives aren't worth even mentioning, much less protesting or rioting over? Why aren't black men's lives worth saving from their own? Where is the outrage for all of these nameless and faceless sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers?

7) I think it's the height of stupidity for a community to loot and riot their own neighborhood stores in order to "protest" what they see as an injustice. What kind of crazy ass thinking is that??! If I get a speeding ticket while another car who was going even faster than me doesn't...I don't go and slash the tires of innocent vehicle owners! I can't relate to that mindset even a little, nor do I want to. To agree with the idea that one injustice deserves a hundred others is insane. And that's what the looting and rioting amounts to. Injustice against all of the innocent store owners who have been there for that community all these years. There is no justice in lashing out against others in your pain. It'd serve the people right if those stores went ahead and closed and moved on elsewhere. Then what would those rioters do? Where do you get your food, clothes, cigarettes, etc. if you've run the stores out of your own neighborhood?

I know a lot of people will disagree with what I've said, and I'm fine with that. Convince me to think otherwise. I'd welcome that because I've become far too cynical and unsympathetic with people who won't take responsibility for their own actions and want to cry "poor me" instead of actually doing something to improve their lives. I don't care what race, color, religion, or sex you are. We are all humans, we are all children of God, and we all have the potential to rise above where we came from or where we've been.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why One Lost Sheep May Be Worth So Much

Luke 15:4-7
"What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."

I will freely admit to not understanding much of the symbolism in the scriptures and of applying my own meanings to them which may or may not be quite what the Savior meant by them, and I always struggled with this scripture. Why would one wandering sheep mean so much to the Shepherd? Why would it's recovery be the cause for more joy than ninety-nine sheep who are obedient and stay with the flock? It always bothered me a bit to think that if I was a faithful "sheep" that I wouldn't matter as much to Jesus.

Then it hit me. The ninety and nine sheep are likely doing what sheep do- contentedly eating and milling about. They have no need to wander further afield because they trust in the security of their shepherd. I think we all seek for that level of peace in knowing that our needs are taken care of and that we have a shepherd who is looking out for us. But...I think the sheep have become complacent. Sure, they follow the shepherd obediently- but is it more automatically than loyally? Do they draw near to their shepherd just to be close to Him, or do they go about doing their own thing, only occasionally checking to make sure someone is still keeping them safe?

The wandering one, on the other hand, has left the safety and security of the flock. It has likely experienced danger, anxiety, and loneliness. When this lost sheep catches sight of the shepherd, won't it's heart leap with joy to see it's caretaker? What can compare to the sense of love it will feel as it is laid upon the shoulders of its savior and brought back to the fellowship and bounty of its flock? I can imagine this "sheep" being so much more devoted to the shepherd- not staying close out of duty or for safety alone, but because this sheep loves the shepherd. Only one who has wandered and then been rescued by the great Shepherd can understand the depth of gratitude and affection that this engenders.

This doesn't make the one wandering sheep any more valuable to the shepherd. Without the obedient sheep there would be no flock for the one to come back to. Without the ninety and nine there would be no good example for the young lambs to follow. But hopefully that "one" will always remember how it felt to be lost, and how much it owes to the Shepherd who found it and brought it home again. And maybe, just maybe, it will teach its own lambs a deeper kind of devotion to the Shepherd. That kind of faithfulness makes it worth a whole lot of rejoicing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Step at a Time

My husband and I took advantage of the beautiful fall weather last Saturday and went for a short hike in Fernwood State Forest. As with most of the topography of eastern Ohio, the trail ran up and down hills of varying inclines with just enough level sections in between to be able to catch our breath. Some of the uphill spots gently ascended and we easily hit the plateau before heading downhill again. On others, though, it took a lot more effort to climb to the top. I found that as I was climbing one particularly steep section that it was a lot easier to focus just on the step or two in front of me, rather than keeping an eye on the peak of the hill.

It struck me that sometimes that's how it is in life also. When you're in the midst of a really hard struggle, sometimes it's best to just take one step, one breath at a time. You still need to look up at times to see where the trail is leading, but once you know that you're on the right path, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. To focus on the end of the trail, or even what might be around the next corner, can take precious energy and make the peak seem too far to reach before collapsing. By keeping your focus on what's immediately in front of you, you can put all of your energy where it's needed at that moment.

Rest assured, there will always be plateaus where you can stop for a breather and check where you are on the path; just as there will also be declines that give relief  from the uphill climb but will then require the use of other muscles. As long as you are moving forward you're getting stronger. And at times you can look back and see your progress clearly, and take heart in knowing that if you made it up that hill, surely you can make it up the next one also.

Others may be able to sprint to the top of a hill that we are struggling to make any progress on, and that's okay- because this life isn't a marathon where we're all competing with each other to finish with the best time. It's an individual journey and progress is measured by growth, confidence, and contentment- not by how fast or far we've gone or how many hills we've conquered.

Our journey in this life will always have ups, downs, obstacles, seasons, and change. How we face them and whether or not we find joy in the journey is mostly a matter of perspective and perseverance.