Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No Weapon

If you’re a fan of American football you probably watched this past Saturday’s exciting game between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos.  It’s no secret that I like both teams.  However this year I’ve had a special and very personal reason to cheer for the Baltimore Ravens. Purple is the the official color of Alzheimer’s Awareness.  If you’ve been following my posts on Facebook you know that my recently deceased mom suffered from dementia brought on by Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. If not diagnosed and treated early NPH progress in the same manner as Alzheimer’s Disease.

If you caught the post game reaction of Raven’s linebacker Ray Lewis you probably heard him repeat the phrase, “No Weapon”,  “No Weapon”.  If you’re familiar with the Bible you know what he was referencing.  However, for those of you who aren’t, the phrase comes from the Bible book of Isaiah, Chapter 54, verse 17 which reads: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me,” saith the Lord.”

That scripture, along with Psalm 91 are two of the passages that many Christian hold near to their hearts because of their promise of protection.  And that leads me to share a not so amusing thing that happened to me yesterday.

You've heard the saying the "the devil is always busy" well it's true.    Yesterday, I had to go to Philadelphia City Hall to the begin the process of probating my Mom's estate.  Of course “estate” is a technical term that in no way represents net worth.  Thankfully, I did not go alone.  One of my Mom's former co-workers, another retired school teacher, who has been a source of support for me this past month, went with me. 

When we arrived at City Hall, we passed a young woman in the corridor and asked for directions.  The room we were looking for was actually 180 but i had looked up the information online and remembered 801, instead.  When I asked the young woman for directions to Room 801, she walked us around a corner and used her access key to open a security door to an employee elevator. We said thank you, she walked away, and the door closed behind her.  The area in which we were waiting was a poorly lit area about the size of a large storage closet.  By God's grace while we were waiting for the elevator two other City Hall employees entered from a door that led outside the building.  When my Mom's friend and I got on the elevator, they informed us that there was no 8th floor. We also discovered that had we been left alone in that elevator area, it would have taken a security key to open the door from which we had entered.  Therefore, if my Mom's friend, an elderly woman, and I had been the only ones in that elevator area we would have been locked in there until an employee came to open that door. 

 I will not attempt to guess why the first City Hall employee, a young woman in her 20s, would lead two other women into a poorly lit, remote area of the building, knowing that she was leading us astray.  Maybe the young woman thought that I was joking.  I was not. I don't play like that.  Maybe the competitveness of football fanaticism is gettng out of control. Maybe it was a sick joke.  Or, maybe she didn't know her way around the building anymore that we did.  I'll never know.

Was I angry? No.  I was very concerned about my mom’s friend, who was only there doing a tremendous favor by accompanying me on this painful but necessary task.   We did eventually find our way to the correct office and like, Ray Lewis, all I can say is “No Weapon”. I’m just grateful that things worked out as they did. 

Of course, Ray Lewis was just talking about a game.  I’m talking about life.

As the Bible also says: “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” -- Luke 17:2

Later yesterday evening, an Amber Alert was issued for a missing 5 year old who was taken from her school by an unknown woman. If that was a hoax too, it’s not funny.  There was a time that I would have never thought that anyone who consider doing something like that as a practical joke.  The anguish any person must feel to have a missing loved one could never be humorousBut these days, who knows.  All I can do is pray for this little girl's safe return to her family.

At the end of the day, I wonder if that City Hall employee took a moment to think about her actions towards two strangers who were only looking for directions.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Horses, Humans, Dogs and God

There is a reason that so many people love horses and dogs. They’re a lot like us. In some ways, they’re even more admirable than us because once a horse or dog loves you they will give you the type of unconditional devotion which is beyond the capacity of most humans. Dogs have been known to travel across country to reconnect with their owner.  They’ve also been known to stand vigil over the resting place of a deceased owner. Horses have even been known to run themselves to death unless their owner stops them.  I always knew that unlike any other species of domestic animals horses and dogs are uniquely suited to be human companions. However, until last night I never really stopped to think that the relationship between horses and dogs to their human masters is analogous to our relationship with God. 

Last night I watched an interview with a cowboy from Riding High Ministries.  During the interview they aired a video clip in which the minister/cowboy presented an illustrated message on the relationship between God and man while teaching an untamed horse to trust him.  His message immediately resonated with me.  It is only when we trust God and allow Him to take the reins of our life that we can be totally fulfilled.

This morning, during my prayer time, the message became even clearer. While asking God for his forgiveness and understanding of my numerous shortcomings He revealed to me just how much our relationship to Him is similar to that of a horse or dog to his owner. Horses and dogs live to please their owners. If you’ve ever seen the joy in your pet’s eyes when they successfully learn a new trick, you know what I mean. However there are also times when young animals want to please their owners but are completely confused by the instructions.  Their capacity to understand their owner’s mind is limited.  If you’ve ever had to house train a puppy you can relate to this too.  I’m sure people who train racehorses understand this perfectly. 

If you are a Christian you’ve probably heard the phrase that “King David was a man after God’s own heart” and wondered how a man who was obviously so flawed could be so loved by God.  Now I get it.  It wasn’t as important how many times David failed God that matter the most.  What was most important was the fact that David always wanted to please God and when he failed was willing to be corrected.  In fact, when David failed he always ran to God and not away from Him like the puppy that crawls back to you after you’ve scolded them for chewing your shoes.

Another way that humans are like our animal companions is in the uniqueness of our personalities.  Consider how horses and dogs differ according to the characteristics of their breed. In fact, it has often been said that a person’s choice in pets is a reflection of their personality.  My favorite dog breed is the Terrier.  My first dog was a cross between a Parsons Terrier and a Wirehaired Fox Terrier that my parents adopted from the ASPCA.  Chipper (pictured at right)   was the best friend any little girl could have and true to his breed: affectionate, brave, and loyal to one master.  Of course, that last trait can be a positive and a negative trait when you consider a family pet.  Terriers will often attach themselves to one member of a household and ignore commands from other family members.  The following is a description of the breed traits of Wirehaired Fox Terriers courtesy of DogBreedInfo.com:

 Very intelligent they can be taught to perform tricks. This is a relatively dominant, very high energy dog that can become stressed and frustrated without the proper type and amount of exercise both mental and physical. They not only need their bodies exercised but their minds as well. It is paramount; you are this dogs 100%, firm, consistent pack leader. If the dog has meek owners, and they allow this terrier to take over the home, developing Small Dog Syndrome, they will begin to display varying degrees of behavior issues. The issues may include, but are not limited to, dominance challenges, guarding objects or places or even their own food from the owner, excessive barking, jealousy, separation anxiety, destructiveness, dog aggressiveness, willfulness, growling, snapping, biting, untrustworthy with kids and sometimes adults. They may become ready to charge at all times, scrappy and impulsive, as they attempt to defend THEIR top position in the alpha order. These are not Fox Terrier traits, but rather behaviors brought on by the way the dog is treated by the people around them. These behaviors can be corrected as soon as the dog's instincts are met. Stable, firm, consistent rules to follow, limits to what they are and are not allowed to do, along with a daily pack walk or jog.”

Sounds like some people we all know, doesn’t it?  

By nature horses are herd animals that follow the lead of their lead stallion or mare. Dogs are pack animals, which follow the lead of the alpha male and/or female. Life our animal counterparts humans are social creatures programmed to follow the lead of an alpha leader.  The question is, who’s your Alpha?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Violet Bick and the Bible Bad Girls

Who is Violet Bick?  She’s the sassy blond that the character George Bailey gave a few dollars so she could start a new life in Frank Capra’s 1946 film; It’s A Wonderful Life.  We don’t know much about Violet. In fact, most people probably don’t even recall her name.  All that is really known about her is that the movie’s hero took a few moments of his time to show her a little kindness.

We are introduced to Violet as a little girl in one of the opening scenes of the movie when she makes no secret that she has a crush on George.  Of course Violet doesn’t end up with George.  When we are reintroduced to Violet later in the movie, we learn that the little girl, who when she candidly admitted to liking George her friend Mary replied, “You like every boy”, grew up to be the town trollop. That’s what they called “bad girls” in 1946.   George grows up and marries the quiet and demure Mary who kept her feelings veiled in carefully worded innuendos. In reality Mary wanted George just as much as Violet, Mary just went about things very differently.  Audiences love and remember Mary, they barely remember Violet.  In the film we know very little about Violet because her character was not central to the storyline and therefore never fully developed.  Audiences in 1946 just had to use their imaginations.  If the film were remade today, someone would surely call Violet a “Ho”.

Who was Violet Bick?  I have always been curious. Did the little girl who tried to get George Bailey’s attention at the ice cream fountain grow up to be a prostitute or just a woman who dated one too many men and word got around. 

Throughout the course of history the role of women in society has changed and so has the definition of the word “whore.”  At present Merriam Webster defines the word whore as meaning: a woman who engages in sexual acts for money: prostitute; also: a promiscuous or immoral woman.  Definitions like that bother me because they are subjective, arbitrary and surely written by a man. 

By today’s standards, if a woman conducts a business transaction with a man to whom she is not married by performing a sexual act in exchange for a set amount of money she is called a prostitute aka “whore”.  On the other hand if a single woman has sex with a man after they have been to several movies, dinners and social events together, she is just dating.  Thirdly, if a woman marries a man based on his net worth and his ability to pay the bills and then some, she is free to give or withhold sex in the relationship and have the privilege of being referred to as a wife.  I’m sure that you see the irony in this.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am certainly not promoting prostitution nor am I bashing marriage. I am just pointing out in each case the woman is being judged not by her motives but by her relationship to the man. When we look at marriage in a historical perspective it has always been about money and financial security. In fact, it wasn’t until recent centuries that the concept of marrying for love became a popular notion.  For much of history parents for the mutual benefit of the families involved arranged marriage contracts.  Makes you rethink the term “pimp” doesn’t it?

And that leads to me the “bad girls” pf the Bible.

Whenever I am asked which of the women in the Bible that I most identify with, my answer normally shocks people.  Most Christian women identify with the bible heroines like Esther, Sarah, Rachel, Ruth, Deborah or the Queen of Sheba. Amazing women, all.  Some relate closely to the story of Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha.  A few jokingly say that they identify with Jezebel, Bathsheba or Delilah. There is even a very small and interesting group who relate to Mary the mother of Jesus.  I worry about them and feel sorry for their sons.  I personally happen to relate to the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Mary Magdalene and that nameless, “woman at the well”.  

No, I have never been a prostitute or had sex in exchange for money. I have not had six husbands nor am I living with anyone now. And thank God I have not buried several husbands and had to sleep with their father to get pregnant J However, over the past year, I will admit to have moments of temporary insanity.  What I relate to in these women’s lives is the fact that they were outcasts on whom God showed compassion. 

Tamar, through no fault of her own, found herself widowed, childless and trying to get justice in an era when women were only valued by the number of children they bore.  She took matters into her own hands and was falsely accused of being a whore.  Things worked out in the end but she had to practice a little deception. 

Rahab was a prostitute who played a pivotal role in a military invasion.  When strangers, who would have probably shunned her under any other circumstances, need a place to hide, Rahab risked her life to help them. Why she took this chance the Bible doesn’t really say.  My guess is it was a little payback for how the “good town folks” had treated her over the years. 

The un-named, “woman at the well”, became one of the first preachers of the gospel after Jesus took the time to talk to her. 

And of course most of you know Mary Magdalene’s story or at least think you do.  Bible scholars are still debating whether she was a prostitute or a lunatic before she met Jesus.  She was only one of his two friends who stuck with him until the end.  She was also the first person to witness his resurrection.  I have serious doubts that their relationship was anything more than friendship. But Mary was a friend that was there at what for awhile appeared to be the end.  Of these four women, Mary Mags is definitely my heroine.  She never got married, had any children, or accumulated great wealth but oh did she have a story to tell.  Bad girls who’ve been forgiven usually do.

Do You Eat and Drink With Sinners?

Hopefully the answer is yes. Let me explain.

What I have learned about trying to follow the teachings of Jesus is that as our faith evolves so do our relationships with others. We begin life by trying to run with the crowd, to fit in, to be accepted. Life is about comparing ourselves to others, making the list, or making the grade. We measure our successes by winning and losing.

We then progress to a stage where just winning isn’t enough. For some of us, who have become use to success, the failures are more painful and the victories begin to feel hollow. We realize that there is always someone better or at least just as good. We realize that there is always someone waiting to dethrone us, take our title or break our record. Winning is not enough, we now strive to become legendary. For others of us this is the stage when we realize that we don’t fit in, no matter how hard we try. We’ll never be popular or win awards. We begin to feel ordinary in a culture where “ordinary”, “average” and “plain Jane” is not good enough. When we try to run with the crowd and try to do the same things that everyone else does it just doesn’t feel right. Instead of having fun we just feel guilty.

We then move to a stage of realizing that we have to separate ourselves from others in order to find our own identities. This is the stage when, as Christians, we come to understand that if our lives were a performance, we would only be performing for an audience of one. We also realize that the most important image of ourselves is not found in a piece of reflective glass hanging on a wall, but rather in the words or scripture. At this stage when we begin to put human relationships in perspective. We begin to clearly distinguish between acquaintances, associates, comrades, friends, and family both those connected to us by common ancestry and those connected to us by spirit.

And finally, if we are lucky, we graduate to a stage in which no matter what situation we find ourselves in, who we around, or what they are doing, we can remain true to who we are and what we believe. We still need to separate ourselves from time to time, just as Jesus did. However at this stage our lives are now longer limited by a set or rules and regulations of what to eat, drink, where to go and with whom to eat and drink.

So if you look around this website and see links to horse racing venues don’t jump to conclusions. I simply appreciate the beauty and athleticism of racehorses. My love of horses is an interest, which I share with millions of people around the world, but it does not define everything that I am.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Living Under Grace in the New Year

Every New Year there is a lot of talk about making resolutions.  Most of those resolutions have to do with exercising.  However, I’d like to start the new year on PointOfView316 by discussing exorcising instead of exercising.  I’m referring to exorcising the ghosts and demons of past mistakes which keep so many of us trapped in a cycle of depression, guilt and a lack of self-worth.

 We’ve all made our share of mistakes and as the commercial jokes if you live long enough you too can have “a past”.  Christians are no exception. In fact, some of us have very colorful pasts with more ghosts, demons and skeletons rattling around in our closets than most. If we let them, our ghosts can haunt and torment us forever.

I’m not talking about acts of the devil or the torments of hell.  No, I’m talking about something more down to earth and close to home.  For most of us, our ghosts are flesh and blood and/or the systems that keep track of our every misstep and failure.  There will always be the person who remembers playing doctor with you in nursery school; the old classmate who can’t wait to tell how you stole another child’s lunch money in grade school; the ex-boyfriend who will brag about being  “your first”; the fellow church member who saw you coming out of the club; the neighbor who saw you come home; the former coworker who thinks that really knew you well; or the family member who just can’t wait to set the record straight.  If you’re really unfortunate there will be an ex confidante or two who thinks they know your whole story and have an axe to grind.  Those are just the human demons. In life you will also have to deal with credit bureaus who monitor your spending habits; educational institutions which keep your test scores; and, if you were ever arrested, that incident will follow you wherever you go.  Let us not forget those hideous driver license photos.  I am not alone in the belief that there is a conspiracy by people who work at DMVs to make us all look dreadful J 

People and institutions have long memories, are very unforgiving and often, are all too eager to tell what they know, especially if it’s not about them. That is why psychologists and counselors often advise persons who are in recovery or who wish to make a fresh start to leave their old environment and separate themselves from their former associates.  The first example of this is in the Bible passage Genesis 12:1

God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.
2-3 I’ll make you a great nation
        and bless you.
    I’ll make you famous;
 you’ll be a blessing.
    I’ll bless those who bless you;
 those who curse you I’ll curse.
    All the families of the Earth
 will be blessed through you.”

Of course most of us should not expect to become rich and famous if we leave home. In fact when we make the acquisition of wealth and fame the goals instead of the added benefit of our real calling we are asking for more trouble than we can handle. The principle being addressed in this story of Abraham is that in order for God to do something special in Abraham’s life he had to remove him from his current surroundings.  Unfortunately, Abraham did not exactly follow God’s instructions and took his nephew Lot along with him.  That proved to be a very problematic decision later on. 

The same principle applies when we try to get a fresh start in a new year, a new home or a new relationship. If we are not in tune with God’s will for our lives and willing to follow His instructions, even when we don’t understand why, we are destined for headaches and setbacks.  And if we rely on the counsel of other humans, they may or may not give us advice that is in line with God’s perfect plan for our lives.  We each have to be receptive to listening to that still small voice that speaks directly to our hearts.  And once we hear it, act on it.

So how do we exorcise the ghosts and demons of our pasts?  We can’t. That is where Grace comes in.  Only God’s grace can allow you to move past your mistakes and shut out the voices that try to condemn you and prevent you from living the life God dreams for you.    Non-Christians often accuse people who speak about God’s grace as “living in denial” or “trying to run from the past.”  In some cases this might be true but for most of us who have accepted the forgiveness that can only come from God nothing could be further from the truth. Grace doesn’t tell you that you never made the mistake. Instead it tells you that you made the mistake and you are forgiven.   You will never silence your critiques.  To believe that would be living in denial.  However, once you are living under grace, you can enter a zone where the ghosts and demons of your past failures cannot enter.  Your past failures will be neutralized and therefore are rendered powerless over your future.  For me, this is grace.