Monday, February 20, 2017

WITH - 1



For the past six months I have been working on a groundbreaking personal project of spiritual growth and theological understanding.  I have been writing a book.  Yes, I know that that six word phrase, "I have been writing a book", can sound pretentious and somewhat loaded (especially when uttered on the outskirts of LA where I now live, and where everyone seems to be writing something), but it is true.  Every day for six months now, I have been working on this project.

But more than a mere book (what the world really needs now is another....book, right?), I have been on a personal sojourn to try an unlock some of the secrets of how we are made as human beings, the exact nature of God's relationship with us, some of the problems with what is going on in our American political context right now.  More broadly, what I am interested in, is what is critically wrong with Christianity as we know it in the North American context today.

The book is entitled, "With: The Transformative Power of Going With People Rather Than Against Them".  Over the next twenty weeks - starting today - I will be writing blog posts that will flesh-out aspects of this book.  The reason I am writing blog-posts about these ideas is because I want to invite you into the conversation.  I want to get your help in writing this book.  If anything I write over the next several weeks strikes a chord with you in any way, please let me know.  If what I share doesn't seem correct to you, I would also like to hear from you.  If you, like me, are as interested in unlocking the secrets of God's relationship with us, then perhaps we can embark on this journey together.  What I am after is nothing short of, as Hemingway once said; "writing something true".  And so now, if you are still WITH me...here is installment #1:

***

Downtown Los Angeles - 1982

           The morning translucent glow of Los Angeles, which, in a previous era could often be mistaken for smog, was still enshrouding the city of Los Angeles at 9:30AM on a Sunday morning.  Though weekends were less jammed with traffic on the California freeways, there were still the myriad of ecclectic and sundry people who were out and about for their ritual morning gourmet coffee fix.  Roller skaters, cyclers, senior citizens, dogs with their doting owners, mothers jogging alongside their babies in strollers were all meandering the streets of downtown LA.  Head-banded work-out instructors with magenta colored tights and pastel shaded leggings were all rushing to their jazzer-size classes. 

            And a few people were on their way to church.  A very few!  Christ our Lord Presbyterian Church, once the center of upward mobility and the epitome of Southern Californian establishment culture, wasn’t what it used to be.  The building had become run down, the sandstone edifice had become charred with years of decay, and the membership had dwindled from multiple thousands to a bare handful of a hundred. But, on pellucid blue mornings like this, the old church still occasionally resembled it’s previously successful and grandiose self.  

The actual church service that morning hadn’t been particularly memorable or noteworthy.  The choir sang the usual old dirges from the deep purple church hymnal, and the octogenarian pastor trotted out the same cliché’s and platitudes in the sermon.  Arthur, a retired pastor himself, hadn’t really been listening to the sermon anyway.  He was really there just to teach his assigned Sunday School lesson to a handful of fellow octogenarians and to receive his weekly teaching stipend check from the church secretary which paid for the sundry expenses of retirement.  It was an otherwise uneventful morning, though, it did stand out for one reason.  For Arthur, there was something unsettling about his life lately.  A non-descript, and indescribable ache and annoyance had been troubling him.  The trouble emerged from deep within his soul, and had been agitating for some time.  He couldn’t say why, but he was just very angry for some reason - he was very, very upset.  Like an itch in the middle of a back that could not be reached or scratched, Arthur was unable to reach or scratch the thing that bothered him.  

            The general annoyance began with the toast at breakfast which was cooked beyond the point where Arthur preferred it.  And then there was the fact that his kids and grandkids hadn’t called him what seemed like months.  The morning newspaper featured another downtick in the stock market.  Most of all, what bothered Arthur was that he had been losing his memory - he had been getting more forgetful.  Whereas at earlier points in his life, he was very good at knowing all of the capitals of all the major countries of the world (London – England, Prague – Czechoslovakia, Sydney – Australia), he couldn’t remember any of them now.  Frankly, Arthur couldn’t even remember his own street name sometimes.  He would go on a walk and not remember his own address.  Arthur sometimes even forgot the names of his own kids and grandkids.  Details which used to come easy to Arthur could no longer access. 

Ellen, Arthur’s wife had noticed a change in Arthur of late as well.  He just wasn’t himself.  Aside from his memory loss, he was also flying-off the handle with rage at the smallest and most insignificant things.  Arthur would yell at the television with such vehemence that Ellen was often afraid that he might actually get up out of his chair attack the character inside the frame of the screen.  He would be sent on a small errand to go fetch the mail from the mailbox, and he would come back hours later, having wandered around the garden all morning, not knowing exactly why he was out of the house.  But worse, he would get very angry with himself for the mistake.  The doctor had said that it might be early signs of Alzheimer's Disease.

            And so, when Arthur and Ellen got into their two-door, brown Datsun hatchback after church, to return home from the morning’s church service, it was never a forgone conclusion where the car ride, from that point forward, would eventually take them.  Leaving the church parking lot in Los Angeles Sunday morning rush hour was never fun.  Sometimes it seemed like all of LA was one big left hand turn, with no chance of ever turning right – even though the freeway entrances were invariably on the right of wherever you wanted to go.  “You have to go left Arthur, if you want to go right, you will have to drive around the block in order to go where you want to go,” Ellen said encouragingly.  “I KNOW THAT, I KNOW THAT,” “YOU DON’T THINK I KNOW THAT?????” yelled Arthur, gesticulating with his hands in a chopping motion while un-nervingly taking his eyes off the road.  “Arthur, watch where you are going, honey, these LA drivers are crazy.”  “YOU DON’T THINK I KNOW HOW TO DRIVE?!???” “I AM A VERY GOOD DRIVER!!!” Arthur demanded.  “I have driven these roads hundreds of times before.  Just keep your mouth shut, and let me do the driving.”  Ellen was stunned.  She had never known Arthur, in all of their 50 years of marriage, to be so verbally abusive to her.  Arthur was just not....Arthur.

            Seeing that she could not have a coherent or calm conversation with Arthur, Ellen decided to try a new approach.  She had heard other friends talk about the technique, adapted from the world of anger management, but more recently applied to those who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.  It was the technique of simply just - “going with” people who are struggling.  Rather than correct them, or get angry with them, or insult them or teach them or preach to them or demean them, the technique was simply to - "go with" them.  And because Arthur seemed hell-bent on going where he wanted to go anyway on this morning, it seemed the course of least possible resistance.  

           And so, as Arthur merged onto the freeway taking their small car, not to the north of Los Angeles, where they lived, but onto the south of Los Angeles where they did not want to go, Ellen decided to just…go with it.  As they passed the signs going south, through Englewood and Vermont Square and Florence and Watts, in dangerous enclaves, going in the wrong direction, she went with it.  As Arthur prattled on about some minor nuance of Biblical exegesis on a Biblical text that nobody ever read or cared about, Ellen went with it.  She said to herself, “I’m just going to go WITH IT…wherever IT may lead.”

            Eventually they passed the exit leading to Glendora, and headed out towards Barstow, and Palm Desert, at least an hour beyond their initial exit heading southward.  Riverside County with all of its build-up and suburban housing passed them on their right.  Ellen told herself that she would just imagine that she was on Sunday drive.  Eventually, Arthur would come to his senses, or they would run out of gas.  One way or another, this Sunday morning escapade could not go on forever.  Ellen with with it.

            It was right on the border of California and Arizona that Arthur, all on his own, seemed to come to his own intellectual border crossing.  As Arthur was driving past the huge field of windmills that mark the last part of California, he came to a kind of epiphany.  It was the sort of self-realization which doesn’t happen very easily, or very often, and is always self-induced.  Arthur realized that he was wrong!  Wrong.  In fact, that he had been on the wrong road for at least two hours.  So wrong was Arthur, that he and is wife were now four or five hours away from home, rather than the normal twenty minutes that they usually took to go home from church.  

           Arthur pulled the car over to a rest-stop on the side of the road, and pulled the car into a parking place near to the public restrooms.  There he sat, staring forward, with both hands on the steering wheel, and his head bowed downward.  He said, with sadness and a tear that trickled down his wrinkled cheek, “I’m sorry, Ellen, I guess I am lost.  I guess I need some help getting home.”   Ellen could not believe her ears.  In 50 years of marriage, Arthur had never apologized for anything.  She had prayed many days and nights for this moment of self-contrition, and here it was, falling upon her ears like a feather wafting off of an old pillow-case - an apology.  Ellen also knew that Arthur's moment of self-understanding had occurred, in large part, because of her newly learned technique of - "going with".  “It’s ok honey, I’ll help you get home.  We are in this together.  Let’s just turn the car around and start driving back home.  It’s a beautiful day, and we with each other, and that’s the important thing.”  It had truly been a morning and a lesson in – “going with”.

           Going with others, rather than going against them, or going above them, or going instead of them, is singly the most transformative tool we all have in the lives of the people around us.  In a world that loves to demonize, sermonize, and criticize those who disagree with us, the tool and the remedy is, ironically found in the opposite action - in "going with".  What applies not us for victims of Alzheimer's disease, but for all people - the act of moving in the same direction as, of going alongside though not always agreeing with, of persevering through the conflicts with actually plays a transformative roll in the lives of the people around us.  It is so simple to understand,  and yet it is so hard to do.  

           Next week, in installment #2, we will talk about how foreign the practice of going with other people has become in our modern day American society.  We have become, it would seem, a culture of going against, rather than a culture of GOING WITH!

All For Now,

GB








Monday, February 13, 2017

Einstein and Moses


This past week I discovered a fascinating thing I did not know about the great physicist, Albert Einstein.  It is this.  Einstein worked, quite literally from the day he was born, until the day (literally the last hour before he died).  The photograph above is a shot of Einstein's desk, taken quite literally an hour or two after he died in 1955.  As you can see, his desk was totally cluttered, and math equations were still scribbled on the chalk board behind his desk.  Reports are that Einstein's pipe was still warm on his desk when his picture was taken.  Just before this picture was taken, he was rushed off to Princeton Hospital, where he died not long thereafter.

The clutter of Einstein's desk is also comforting to me, given the clutter of my own desk.  Once, when he was young, Einstein asked the bemused question; "If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the sign of an empty desk.....(the rhetorical answer - an empty mind)."

And what was Einstein working on right up until the end of his life?  For the final thirty years of his life, Einstein had been working on a Unified Field Theory - in short, a singular mathematical equation which summed up all of the universe.  Many years before he had discovered the theory of relativity.  Now, for the remainder of his life, he worked on the Unified Field Theory.  Other scientists laughed at Einstein, and some still do, about the potential and possibility of such a theory even existing.  But Einstein kept working on it.  For thirty years.  Obviously, Einstein would pass from this earth without the completion of his main life goal.

When I heard about Einstein's last hours of life, it reminded me of Moses' last hours of life.  For a nearly similar amount of time (40 years and not 30), Moses had been working on his own life's goal and ambition.  Moses had been working on the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and their eventual deliverance into the promised land.  The liberation of the Israelites and their delivery into the promised land was quite literally Moses' - Unified Field Theory.  And yet, he, like Einstein, would never complete his life's work.

Hours before the possibility of entering the promised land, God told Moses, on the top of Mount Nebo;"I have let you see it with your eyes, but I will not let you cross over into it" (Deut. 34:4).  Moses would not complete his life's work.  Moses would die, as the preacher would say, on his walking stick, overlooking the Promised Land in his 120th year of life.

The parallel endings of Einstein's and Moses' lives raises the important question of what the definition of a good life really is.  Is the definition of a successful life that we will accomplish all of our personal goals?  Is the ultimate fruition of our ambitions and our dreams really a good metric for the overall grade of a good life?  I would suggest not.  Our goal as people, as Christians, is not to complete our goals, but, with God, to continue to go after them.  It is the leaning towards what we seek after that is more important than the ultimate completion of what we attempt.

And God thought Moses had accomplished a great deal even though his dream of entering the promised land would never come about.  Consider what the book of Deuteronomy says of Moses; "No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt - to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land.  For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel" (Deut. 34:10-12).

What main goal has God put you on on the earth in order to attempt to accomplish?  What is it that you are uniquely wired and designed to do for God and the world?  Keep going at that goal - your own version of the Unified Field Theory - the Promised Land.  The solving of the theory, the entrance into the Promised Land should not be the metric of the success of your life.  But the attempt at both should.

All For Now,

GB










Monday, February 6, 2017

That Our Flag Was Still There...


This morning I had planned to write a blogpost called, "An Immigrant's Story", about a real life incident of extreme racism and abuse that a friend of mine suffered many years ago when, at the age of 16, he emigrated as a Middle Eastern student, from the country of Jordan, to the United States.  The incident, which took place at The Citadel (a military college), occurred in the early 1980's.  The gist of the blog would have been that we have a lot of work to do as a country and that things really are not going that well, in general.

But then I turned on the news, and I read the two newspapers that I inhale each morning - The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal - (I like to get both conservative and progressive perspectives in my journalism), and I realized that everyone else has beat me to the punch.  Almost every article in the New York Times today (and for the past month for that matter) is about how bad things in our country are going, and that we really are in a very, very bad spot.  Many people are actually prognosticating the end of America as we know it.

But, to be honest, I am not so sure.  It's not that we don't have a lot of work to do, or that we have a lot of bad things going on.  It's not that there aren't a plethora things that this current government is doing that I don't think are deleterious.  It's just that I think there is sometimes the tendency in human nature to histrionically over-interpret events and future trip to the worst possible conclusions possible.

So, this morning, with a blog entitled:

That Our Flag Was Still There...

I want to reflect, for a moment, on the human tendency to over-dramatize difficult situations for our country and our world.  I want to talk about how, during tough times, there is sometimes the trend towards over-billing how bad things actually are, while at the same time, overlooking the good things that are happening, and neglecting to put world events into their proper larger context and trajectory.

We are currently studying a book of the Bible at the church where I now serve called - Hebrews.  The book is rife with stark spiritual imagery, of light forces and dark forces. There are lots of examples of angels (good angels and bad).  These forces are "duking it out" (as it were) in a larger cosmic spiritual battle.  With our modern eyes and ears, it can seem strange to hear such stark spiritual imagery.  The fact of the matter was, though, that at the time the book was being written (and we don't know the exact date), very many people thought the end of the world was near.  They really did think that the end of everything was upon them - that life itself was all coming to a huge and final conclusion.

And the authors of the book of Hebrews were not alone.  Throughout the Old Testament and the New, there was the very real sense that the end was near.  The Old Testament voices believed it (Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel).  Among many of the early first century Christians (the disciples, Paul, Luke, Mark, John the baptist, and many others), there was the perception that the end of time would come about in their own lifetimes.  Such a view of world history was so prevalent that theologians have given it a name - Apocalypticism (from the Greek APOCALYPSES - meaning "an uncovering").

Of course, throughout history, there have been countless other examples of people and communities that believed that their  own particular difficult epoch, that their own challenging moment, would be the last period in human history (The Plague, The Crusades, The French Revolution, The American Civil War, World War I and II).  And of course, each time, human history seemed to miraculously rebound, and begin again.

And this brings me to the title of my blog post for this week:

That Our Flag Was Still There...

This line is obviously taken from the United Sates national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner".  I was reminded of it again when I watched it being sung yesterday at the Super Bowl in Houston.  The line, penned by Francis Scott Key in 1814, is written directly about the "Defense of Fort McHenry" which Key himself witnessed.  That skirmish, in case you did not know, was about a cannon barrage by the British Royal Navy in Baltimore during the war of 1812.  In that battle, there was a large American flag, The Star Spangled Banner, waving triumphantly in the wind throughout the entire US victory.  And hence we have the lines:

"And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night..."

That Our Flag Was Still There..

The point is that many people thought that the end of the world was near during the War of 1812.  But it wasn't.  Many people thought that the end of America would occur during that time.  But it didn't.  Things moved forward.  Life moved on.  The situation got better.

And Our Flag Was Still There...

So, yes, there is a lot that is not going well with America.  There is a lot that needs repair.  Sometimes it seems like more things are being broken than are being fixed.  There are many things to be upset about.  But perhaps, it might be a good idea, once in a while, to take a step back, and view our little planet, our little country, our little flag in a larger context.  The end, we Christians believe, will definitely come some day.

But perhaps not as soon as we think!

All For Now,

GB

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Simple Seventies


Most of us received the news of Mary Tyler Moore's death, this past week, with a mixture of sadness and reminiscence.  Since the show was originally released in 1970, when I wasn't even born yet, and it ended in 1977, when I was just five, I don't have many memories of the show itself.  I was definitely more of a fan of the Electric Company and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood at that age. The obituaries have all been talking about how the show highlighted gender equality, feminine strength and the sexual-revolution.  But, forgive me, I don't think that's why we will all miss Mary Tyler Moore!

 There is one image from that show which indelibly sticks in my mind, and which I even remember taking note of as a four and five year old child.  That is, of course, the picture of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air as the credits were rolling at the beginning of every episode.  The picture is enclosed above in case you forgot it.  And why does that image stick in all of our minds (including actors, directors, producers and commentators like Carl Reiner, Ted Knight, Terry Gross)?  It is because that one simple act, throwing a hat in the air, is emblematic in a way of the entire decade of the 1970's.  That time period was:

The Simple Seventies
Across the board, from fashion (bell bottoms, bowl cuts, denim) to music (The Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Elton John), to television (The Rockford Files, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Eight Is Enough), there was a beautiful simpleness about the 1970's.  And perhaps it is because I was living in Boise, Idaho at the time, and things really were simple, but technology was simpler then too.  In the seventies cassette tapes and record players were still in use.  Remote controls for televisions didn't exist.  People still rolled down their car windows with their hands.  The perfect photograph for any budding photographer was capturing a young woman wearing bell bottom pants sitting on a flowery, mountainy, hill, with the sun behind her, blowing dandelion parachutes into the air.  And so, when Mary Tyler Moore died this past week, I think part of all of us also felt that a part of simplicity also died along with her.

The Simple Seventies were of course followed up by the:

Excessive Eighties
The eighties were about excess.  And excess is never beautiful.  In fact, there was something sort of disgusting about the eighties.  I look at pictures of myself, in elementary school and Jr. High wearing power ties and blue blazers (I was only 12), trying to imitate that stock broking tycoons I saw on TV.  I remember my Jr. High folder cover that had Michael Jackson wearing a white be-sequined glove, and the ever present eighties perm.  Whatever can be said of the eighties, they were certainly not simple.

The Excessive Eighties were, not to belabor the point, followed then by the:

Self-Absorbed Nineties
I was living in Scotland and Denmark for part of this decade, and I can still remember the general disdain that Europeans felt for Americans then (and perhaps even more-so now), at our apparent self-ease and self-perception that we could do anything.  I will never forget watching Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem before a huge sporting event in the early nineties, just as our planes were about to drop bombs on Saddam Husain and the country of Iraq.  We thought we could do it all!  Save the world.  Stop all the dictators.  The nineties were not simple either.

It is too early to say what to make of the 2000's (or the naughts as they are called by some).  Perhaps they will actually be so non-descript as to not even have a singular image by which to understand the decade.  But, I miss simplicity.  I miss hats being thrown into the air on a cold winter afternoon.  I miss clunky old gas guzzling steel-doored cars.  I miss bell-bottoms and actual Kodak photographs printed on real yellow photo paper.  I miss shag-green carpets and naugahyde furniture.  The only NET I had as a kid was the one that I caught tad poles in behind the house in the creek that we would play in from morning until night.  I miss:

The Simple Seventies!

What about you?

All For Now,

GB










Monday, January 23, 2017

The Trouble With Transitions



Transition is easy.  It's what comes after the transition that is hard!

It's never the change that kills you - it's the rebound!

It's not the ascent to the top that gets you - it's the descent to the bottom!

It's not the journey that poses the challenge - it's the return home!

These basic axioms of life were seemingly proven this past weekend when I drove the rainy streets and freeways of Southern California, in the midst of a torrential downpour.  With two hands glued to the steering wheel, and two eyes fixed on the road, I wondered to myself where the highest numbers of car accidents take place for the average person.  The answer, according to Google (I waited until I got home to Google - in case you are wondering:-), may surprise you.  They occur right around people's driveways, and within five minutes of their house.  The theory goes that as people take long car rides to different places, they tend to focus very closely on the freeways and roads that they are not familiar with.  On the other hand, when people get closer to home, they let down their guard, they pay less attention, they get into crashes. 

Similarly, the hard part about launching a spacecraft into outer space, I am told, is not getting past the earth's atmosphere and into orbit, it's the re-entry back to the earth.  The huge heat forces that a spacecraft has to guard against, and the penumbra of things that can go wrong, are the dangerous part of space travel.  Most spacecraft and astronautical problems occur on re-entry.

And, not to belabor the point, but more people die on the descent from Everest every year, than the ascent.  Again, the reasons for this phenomenon are easy to understand.  A climber, focussed on the top of the mountain with energy, vitality, excitement and initiative, does whatever it takes to make it to the top.  However, it's when the body's resources are spent, and the mental energies are depleted that mistakes occur and accidents happen.

The basic truthfulness of this premise is probably enough of a blogpost to sustain most of us this week.  It literally applies to every aspect of our lives (our health, our relationships, our work habits, our parenting experiences, our finances).  However, here are a couple of application points that I have been pondering.

Our country experienced a great transition this past weekend.  We changed one leader of the free world out for another - we changed Presidents.  For Trump supporters, it was a "tour de force" and a herculean accomplishment, to help an individual who came not from not just the back bench of American politics, but from way outside in the parking lot.  We have never had a President like Trump before.  Never before has such a feat, in the estimation of some, been accomplished.  And yet, to apply the previously articulated principle to my point, getting elected isn't really the hard part - it's what comes next.  It's the governing.  If you will, getting elected was the mountaintop experience, the descent (and I mean this just metaphorically) is the day to day act of moving forward.

One imagines as well, the transition and post-transition for former President Barak Obama.  Like many of his predecessors, it may be that the office isn't what does him in, it is what comes after that causes the fatal blow.  For former President Lyndon Johnson, it was the cigarette that he lit up on the Marine One helicopter (that soon led to many packs more), that led to his early death.  For Obama too, it may be that leading the country for eight years was the easy part.  The hard part may be transitioning into something different and new, as a "youngish" man who has just left the most powerful post in the world.

Church leaders also experience the transition/post-transition challenge on a regular basis.  The hard part is not the building of the new sanctuary, the hard part is the transitioning people from the old sanctuary (the vessel of so many hopes and dreams over the years).  The new incredible building is built, but people like the old one better.  The challenge is not starting a new contemporary worship service, the challenge is the problem which arises afterward that you never expected (the neighbors begin to complain about the sound levels, the church attracts a different group of people than ever before, the sound system isn't sufficient).

Some people have called this the rubber band effect.  If you shoot a rubber-band at someone (I've been practicing, I have elementary school aged kids), and the rubber band hits the other person, it isn't the front side of the rubber band that causes the sting, and the welt, it's the back part which quickly follows there after, and makes the snapping sound.

The answer to this scientific phenomenon for our personal lives, is of course, to always be ready for the thing that comes after.  To expect a backlash, a rebound, a rubber band snap.  We should remember not to expend all of our energy on the forward motion, but to save up enough energy, reserve, strength, fortitude, patience, and resilience to deal with what comes after.

All For Now,

GB

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Sasha Model


On this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, and on this, the last week of Barak Obama's Presidency, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on perhaps a lesser figure on the global political stage, but a person that all of us can learn an important lesson from.  I want to focus on Barak and Michelle Obama's younger daughter - Sasha.  Sasha Obama (15), and Malia Obama (18) are often cited by her father, the soon to be former acting President Barak Obama, as the two most important achievements of his life. However, at his final, valedictory speech to the nation this past Tuesday night, Sasha, the younger daughter, was nowhere to be seen.   "Where was she?" many people wondered.  The rumor mill around Washington was active.  Was she on a secret spy mission somewhere?  No.  Did she misbehave and was she grounded at home in the Whitehouse?  No.  The answer, as it turns out, was much more mundane than all of that - Sasha was at home doing her homework!

As a father of two budding young female world leaders myself (my two daughters Haley 8, and Sheena 4), both of whom have reams of homework themselves every night, I instantly knew that Sasha's explanation for her absence from her father's speech was correct.  Sasha had an exam the next morning, and was studying to make sure that she did as well as possible the next day.  It turns out that CNN actually did some background research on the story and found a link on Sasha's school's schedule and found that a science exam was in fact being held on Wednesday the next morning (Wait...there's no secret log-in to get onto the school's test schedule so that outsiders like CNN can't snoop into the private lives of ordinary American citizens?  I digress).  Rather than attending her father's goodbye speech, a speech she had no doubt heard countless times before in a myriad of different forms - Sasha was doing her homework.  Well done Sasha!

So, this morning I want to lift up Sasha Obama in my blogpost, and everyone, for that matter, over the next four years of civic life in America who will, for one brief moment, turn off their TV clicker, put down their I-Phone, stop checking Facebook, cease putting pictures on Instagram, and dare I say stop tweeting messages to the general public - and who sits down to do their homework.  I even have a name for it - I am calling it:

The Sasha Model

The Sasha model says that there are actually more important things than watching the news.  There are more important things than trolling the internet.  There are more important things than even attending an historic national event put on by your father - if he is the President.  In other words, there are more important things than "observing" in life.  This is a good thing to remember.  Because it sometimes seems like we are doing something in life, when actually we are doing nothing.

Recently, comedian Judd Apatow sat down with New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd to articulate the same idea; "There's a danger," he said, "on the internet that you think you are accomplishing something.  So you see an article about a disease and retweet it and think 'It's cured now!' and you've fooled yourself into thinking that you've done something productive."

Lest you think I am getting preachy with this blogpost, I want you to know that I am really writing it to myself.  Perhaps more than anyone I know, I can tune into news every evening and be captivated by every news story that emerges, and feel that by watching it, I am somehow participating in the larger American narrative.  Every morning, I commute for one hour up to Santa Barbara from where I live in Oxnard.  A friend recently said to me, "What are you doing with all of that time in the car?  Are you using it wisely?  You could learn a language on tape, or listen to audio books."  Another friend actually gave me tapes on how to learn modern Greek in three simple months.  Am I listening to them?  No.  The answer is that I would rather follow the recent news stories of whatever is breaking or emerging from the ever more scintillating and scathing news-cycle that occurs every minute in this country, than do my homework.

So that's it. On this MLK day weekend, that's my blog.  Do your homework!  Whatever that homework is.

Thanks to a 15 year old high school sophomore for teaching us all this lesson!

Thank you Sasha!

All For Now,
GB









Monday, January 9, 2017

Gathering Strength


My aunt Sheena, who lives in England - and who also happens to be a World War II concentration camp survivor - frequently talks about moments in our lives which are periods of collecting energy.  These are not necessarily always understandable or decipherable moments, but they are vitally important for the harboring internal reserve and power.  Without them, we could not do what we are being prepared to do.  She calls these periods -  moments of;

Gathering Strength

One of my favorite genres of writing are climbing novels and biographies of adventurers.  The best of these, from an American literary standpoint is, Into Thin Air by John Krakauer.   The book is about the fatal climbing accident that occurred on Everest in 1996 and that claimed the lives of several of his best climbing friends.  The book is about climbing, but really, it is about the human quest for greatness and summiting all kinds of things (our fears, our goals, our hopes, our dreams).  Krakauer talks about how summiting Everest is not really about simply shear strength and "daring-do", but it is also about waiting.  It is about waiting for the right moment to push for the summit.  It is about waiting for the clouds and the storms to part long enough for climbers and adventurers to make a big "push".  It is about simply lying in their tent and doing absolutely nothing [picture above of climber waiting at the base camp of Everest].  Krakauer talks about how days upon days were spent at the base camp, just sitting in their tent and reading.  And Krakauer is not alone in this.  Every climber ever to reach the peak of Everest has done the same.  In Krakauer's words; "While tent bound on Everest, Mallory and his companions would read aloud to one another from Hamlet and King Lear."  But really, what they were doing is;

Gathering Strength

I have a friend, named Dustin Stevens, who is an extreme athlete.  He has run countless marathons.  He has run the vaunted Iron Man triathlon in Hawaii several times.  He is currently training, amidst all of his other life actives, for the famous Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Wisconsin - the gold cup of cross country ski races in America.  Dustin tells me that athletes have a name for this notion of gathering strength.  It is called - "tapering".  Tapering, in Dustin's observation is the act of, "building your strength over a long period of time - but pairing back your training right before a big race, in order that when you are entering that race (in swimming, or running, per say), you have that, 'extra amount of strength' and endurance to compete really well."  Tapering is another way of talking about;

Gathering Strength

And so, I have been thinking about what gathering spiritual strength might mean.  What would it mean for God to offer a person a period of downtime or a lull in their life during a certain point, in order to prepare them (to gather strength, to taper) for the next leg of life?  What would it look like for a person to be able to go inwards (spiritually, physically and emotionally) in order to gather strength for what comes next?

There are many moments in Jesus' life when he seems to be intentionally pulling himself away from the group, or the crowds or the action in order to gather strength for the next big hurdle.  Right after John the Baptist is killed (Jesus cousin and friend in ministry), Jesus withdraws to a remote region of the Sea of Galilee (the Gerasenes), to pray and be by himself.  There are frequent examples of Jesus, "slipping into the crowd" in his ministry.  Where was he going, what was he doing?  What about the 30 years of Jesus' life that were lived before his ministry began that we know virtually nothing about.  Was Jesus gathering strength?  And what about the last three years of his ministry which burned bright and hot.   But even in these, Jesus drew himself away again and again.  The best example is when Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion to pray and to prepare and to;

Gather Strength

What time period are you in right now?  Are you in the midst of a metaphorical push to the summit of Everest, or are you in a time of gathering strength?  The summits of life will always be there.  But before they are attempted, because we are human, we must, all of us, draw inward.  Even the best of us only has a certain amount of energy.  So first we must be;

Gathering Strength

All For Now,
GB