This week I am enjoying the opportunity to watch a soccer camp that one of our children is attending. The camp has a variety of ages and skill levels. It does not take long to realize that going to this camp will not make the beginning kids better, nor will it make marginal kids reach the next level. The camp is designed to drill basic skills, improve physical endurance by a lot of running and simulating game situations with scrimmages. In the three days the kids are at camp, they are not going to make big leaps in their games or skill levels, they simply cannot in that short of a time period.
As I was sitting observing the highly skilled kids perform and the mid to lower level kids struggle against them, it struck me that what is taught at this camp means nothing without hours of practice at home. Hours of constant repetition of kicking, dribbling, knowing where the ball is without ever looking down, abrupt starts and stops and changing direction. All of these skills are touched on at camp, but they are perfected after hundreds, thousands or millions of repetitions, usually done alone, out of sight of others.
Sounds an awful lot like walking the way of Jesus. People go to church and have varying levels of spiritual maturity based on their experiences. Some are brand new, some have a moderate level of maturity and some are those rock solid believers that most church goers claim they want to be like. But the believer's "skills" are not acquired during the hour or two spent at "camp" on Sunday mornings. That is just where the skills are explained, maybe you get a quick once through, but then comes the real work. Done at home, at work, at the store, in traffic or anywhere else we can practice living like Jesus. The best players at the camp did not just show up that way. I have no idea how many hours and years they have practiced to achieve the level of skill they display.
Likewise, when we see a person who has achieved a consistent level of peace, joy and contentment that we wish we had, just think of the hours, years, decades of practice that it took to reach that level. Greatness in any endeavor only comes through practice. We must practice being gentle, loving, compassionate, forgiving, accepting and faithful. It takes practice. Constant, continual, never-ending practice. If doctors never stop practicing medicine, we should never stop practicing the example that Jesus gave us in the gospels. Greatness only comes from practice.
"The unexamined life is not worth living." These words are said to have been spoken by the Greek philosopher, Socrates, at his trial for corrupting the morals of the youth of Athens for which he was sentenced to death. Socrates is said to have made this statement after he chose death rather than exile. Socrates believed that philosophy, literally the love of wisdom (philo = love, sophias = wisdom) was the most important activity in which a person could engage.
Socrates lived his belief by questioning and logical argument; by examining and thinking. His examination of life influenced countless others to heed his words and to look at why they believed what they believed which caused them to live like they lived. I know at times that people will try to divorce their beliefs from their actions, but in actuality this is not possible. We do what we do and live like we live because we believe what we believe.
I once saw a comedy bit by George Carlin which he talked about the phrases we use. His point was if we ever stopped to think about, or examine, the words we were saying, we would realize how utterly ridiculous some of them are. Phrases like, "He really takes the cake." Where? "This country is going down the tubes." What tubes? Where are theses tubes people keep talking about? What George was illustrating was that we often say and do things without ever thinking about them. Without ever examining them. Without ever giving any real thought to what we believe and more importantly, why we believe it.
Socrates lived almost 2500 years ago and what he taught is still relevant today. I believe more relevant because of all of the self-imposed distractions we place in our lives. Radios, televisions, cell phones, tablets, Facebook, Twitter, Snap-Chat and all of the forms of social media that I am not even aware of. If we wanted to, we could distract ourselves to the point that we would never have to be alone in quiet to think about what we think and what we believe. The problem with that? If we don't take time, every once in a while, in quiet reflection and examination, we are in danger of just parroting whatever our conscious and sub-conscious minds take in. As George Carlin warned, "Garbage in, garbage out."
So rather than just repeating what others say, try to take a little time today to reflect / examine, in quiet, what is most important to you. Then go a bit deeper and look at why it is most important. You will be glad your did
To Ponder: "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth." - Marcus Aurelius
When I was in college I was fortunate enough to be required to take counseling courses. Even more fortunate, was that somehow all of the classes I took were taught by one professor. Although there were numerous professors in the counseling department, I somehow kept ending up with the department chair, Dr. Michael Dittman.
Up to a point, Mike led a pretty charmed life. He was a Rhodes Scholarship recipient who studied at Oxford and various other colleges in the U.S and abroad, earing his PhD in Counseling. He was immensely popular as a speaker and musician and enjoyed all of the attention his talents brought him. Then one morning, after his workout, Mike was in the locker room of his local health club and dropped to the floor. An aneurism hit his brain and Mike was never to be the same in one sense, but was to be much better in another sense.
When Mike eventually recovered he was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and his mouth was deformed. One side of his body did not work anymore so he went through extensive physical therapy to re-learn how to walk and talk. He could no longer sing and play any instruments or captivate people with his physical talents. What Mike could do was teach and that he did. He taught what was real, not what was theoretical. He shared from his years of experieince and made his students understand that compassion and love are the universal needs of all people.
Mike and his wife Pam have a unique "practice". They work with very well known people who have messed up real bad, fallen from grace and whose lives are in ruins. Mike and Pam bring these people and thier families into the Dittman home and immerse them in what love and compassion look like. THey may stay a few days or a few weeks. It all depends on what the need is.
One day, Mike was talking before class about his son who wanted to become a pilot. He had just finished high school and was getting somewhat rebellious. He wanted to go to one college while his parents thought there some better schools for what he wanted. Then Mike made this statement, "Whatever school he goes to, I hope he finds someone who will make a good impression on him." This blew me away, Here was a guy who helped people from all over the world put their shattered lives back together and he was hoping someone else would be a good influence on his son. I said to him, "With all you do, doesn't your son see it?" He said, "To my son I am just dad, he is to the point where he won't listen to me, but he will listen to someone else who is not me."
This made me think back to my own teen-age years. I was very fortuante to have Pat and April Maska as my surrogate parents, as were so many teens in West Deptford. What my own parents couldn't tell me because I refused to listen, April and Mr. Maska could.
The blessing? Mike knew, much like my parents, that their comes a point when your kids may stop listening. If and when that points comes, don't get bitter, don't get angry, just know that the example you have set through out their lives will guide them to people who will have the same character and who will be heard. Trust the fondation you laid and allow others to build upon it.
I had a chance to listen to a TED Talk by Jocko Willink recently. Jocko was the commander of the most highly decorated SEAL unit in the Iraq war. Jocko relates a story of a mission that he was in charge of that went horribly wrong. Due to confusion, chaos, bad luck, Murphy's Law and whatever else you want to call it, friendly forces began firing on friendly forces. It was never supposed to happen, but in all of the confusion and darkness, the mortal sin of combat was committed.
When it was over, one friendly Iraqi soldier was killed, one U.S. Navy SEAL was wounded and the rest of Jocko's SEAL team was badly shaken. The events of the battle were reported up the chain of command and Jocko got orders from his Commanding Officer to cease all operations. His CO and an investigator were on their way to Jocko's location for a debriefing. Jocko said there was plenty of blame to go around. As he sat and wrote every mistake, every miss-step, every blown assignment he had a name to go with each of them. But something did not sit right with him. He sat and wrestled for the answer. Ten minutes before he entered the debriefing room, the answer hit him.
Jocko was in a room with his CO, the investigator and his SEAL team, including the wounded SEAL who had his head and face bandaged. Jocko asked, "Whose fault was this?" One SEAL spoke up and said, "It was my fault. I didn't keep control of the Iraqi soldiers like I should have." Jocko said, "No, it was not your fault." Another SEAL spoke up, "It was my fault, I didn't radio our position fast enough and I caused all of the confusion." Jocko said, "No, it was not your fault." Another SEAL said, "Boss, it was my fault. I didn't properly identify my target and I killed the Iraqi soldier; it was my fault." Again, Jocko said, "No, it was not your fault. It was my fault. This whole travesty was my fault."
Jocko's CO did not loose faith in him because of what happened. In fact, he trusted him even more because he expected to hear excuses when Jocko shouldered the burden of responsibility. What impressed me most about this story was that three of his men had the courage to say in front of their leader, a military investigator and the Commanding Officer of the area, it was my fault. These men could have forfeited their military careers by taking responsibility for such an unpardonable mistake, but that did not matter to them. They examined their own actions, not those of anyone else, and said to themselves, if I had done something different this whole event would not have happened. That, to me, is amazing courage, honesty and character. Sure the U.S. Navy provided the framework for the character traits that these men displayed, but it was their leader, Jocko Willink, who lived these same traits before them day in and day out.
When we choose to follow Christ we have that same example to follow. Jesus tells us to leave behind our old selves and follow him. When we screw up, we need to take responsibility and shoulder the burden. Jesus showed us how to live, we need to follow his example and strive to be like him each and every day.
One day a man found the cocoon of a butterfly. He checked on the cocoon everyday for many days. One day, he noticed that a small opening appeared and heard the butterfly inside. For several hours the man watched as the butterfly struggled to force its body through the little hole. Suddenly the butterfly stopped and appeared to be stuck. The man decided to help the butterfly by enlarging the hole and making it easier for the butterfly to get out. While the butterfly was able to emerge easily from the cocoon, it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The man did not think anything of this and sat waiting for the wings to enlarge to support the butterfly. But that did not happen. The butterfly spent the rest of its life unable to fly; crawling around with tiny wings and a swollen body. Although the man intended to help the butterfly, he actually stunted the butterfly's growth. The man did not understand that the restricting design of the cocoon and the struggle needed by the butterfly to get through the small opening were nature's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly to its wings, strengthening them for flight once out of the cocoon. Without the struggle, the butterfly's wings never develop the strength to fly.
Likewise, our struggles in life develop our strengths. I know it feels great to help people. Just like the man in the story, we want to be helpful, we want to lend a hand to folks who are struggling, we want to make the way easier for our kids than it was for us. But we need to stop and think whether the help we are giving is actually helping to develop strength and character or is it ultimately a hindrance? I know it can be hard to let people become frustrated, disappointed or angry, but...it is during those times that learning, perseverance and character building takes place. We walk a fine line of knowing when to be helpful and when to let those we care about struggle against the cocoon. We need to let them struggle not because we don't care, but because we do. It is the struggle that develops strength.
I had a great opportunity to learn another lesson this week. I listened to the audio version of Robert M. Pirsig's book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and was struck by one sentence that has been turning over and over in my mind since I heard it. "We always condemn most in others, he thought, that which we most fear in ourselves".
I think the reason my brain latched onto this particular statement is because I have been listening more closely to how I talk. Not the particular words, or even the particular subject matter, just one very general classification, is the talk positive or negative in nature?
What set me on this path of personal observation were the comments of one particularly loud fellow that I happened to be in the same room with one morning. Though I had no interest in hearing what this gentleman had to say, he was the type of person who did not seem to know the accepted rules of using his inside voice. So, whether I wanted to or not, I heard his on-going complaints about his vacation to St. Thomas. From the plane ride there to the plane ride home, this person could not find one positive thing to say. Then it struck me, most of the conversations I hear are negative in nature. What I find most fascinating is that some people do nothing but complain, but do it in a calm, even sing song style that it does not sound like complaining until you listen to their words. Then I wondered how often I engage in this same type of negativity? What I condemn most in others is that which I most fear in myself.
So, I consider this statement I heard a wake up / shake up call for me. Rather than just talking to talk, I am giving more thought to whether the words I am going to say will encourage another person or contribute to the ongoing negativity they are most likely exposed to. We have the ability to change people's minds, attitudes and lives with what we say. Understanding this, I feel more of a responsibility to think before I speak.
"The tongue...with it we bless Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth blessings and cursings. My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening fresh and salt water?" - James 3:8-11
So as you go through this week, take notice to what you hate in other people, then take a look at yourself. See anything familiar?
During the month of February we have been looking at how the family is similar to a tree. The roots are all of the ancestors who went before us, our grandparents, great grandparents and all the way back to the origins of our families. Their stories and struggles, victories and values, character and commitments have shaped who we are and what we hold dear. The importance of the roots is often forgotten about because they are out of sight underground; but it is the root system that provides the support and nourishment to the tree.
The roots drawn in the water and nutrients from the ground and transfer them up to the trunk. The trunk are the parents. Parents are the most visible, aspects of the family. It is from them that the children are to learn wisdom and the lessons that will guide them through life. The book of Proverbs is chock full of examples and antidotes of parents imparting wisdom to their children. Not knowledge (facts, information or practical understanding of a subject) but wisdom (accumulated life lessons, good sense and judgment). The good old-fashioned things that will keep you out of trouble, out of debt and on the straight and narrow.
The branches are the children who can only grow strong and true when they are not crowded or hovered over. And the fruit is what we show others. Our love, joy, peace, patience, understanding and compassion.
As we finish up our series this Sunday, we invite everyone to come join us for lunch after the morning service. No need to need to be a regular attendee, just a desire to come share some good ole family hospitality. Hope to see you all this Sunday for lunch!
Just like 100 million other people, our family watched Super Bowl LIII. I have come to realize that I can only really enjoy a football game if I have absolutely no interest in who wins. When I have a rooting interest, I am far too tense and emotionally invested to appreciate the game. This was exactly the case as I watch the Patriots and Rams. While I am not a fan of the Patriots, I can only name three people on the team, Brady, Gronk and Edelman, I am an admirer of the Patriot program, otherwise known as, "The Patriot Way." What they have accomplished is amazing. I know more people hate them than like them. I know they are called cheaters, babies, they pay off the refs and on and on and on. Yet despite all of their detractors, they just keep winning. Yes, I like them because they win and because I appreciate seeing excellence.
It was that very mindset that made me miserable watching the game on Sunday night. I was anticipating seeing the Pats offense control the game that I completely missed the high-powered performance their defense put on display. Although I was watching the Patriot defense stop the Rams on eight straight drives, I did not appreciate what I was seeing. I just wanted to see Brady throw a deep strike to Gronk or Edelman for a touchdown.
It was not until the next morning, as I sat alone in the silence of the early morning hours that I realized that not only was Super Bowl LIII the lowest scoring game in Super Bowl history, but the 3 points allowed by the Patriots defense tied the lowest amount of points allowed in the Big Game. In 53 years, only two times were teams held to 3 points, and I watched one of them. I was so determined to see one thing that I completely missed what was happening right in font of my eyes because I was not looking for it. When I made this observation to a friend I work with he said, "When you think of the "85" Bears, what do you thing about?" I said, "A dominating defense." He said, "Exactly, and even a stinky Patriots team scored 10 points on them."
What I should have realized Sunday night completely went over my head, all because I was not in tune to what I was watching. I wanted to see one thing which caused me to refuse to see something incredibly obvious. Then I got to thinking, how many times do I do this with God? God shows his power and might, beauty and love every day, but how often do I miss it because I am looking for something other than what is going on right in front of me. How many times do I look right past the beauty of God's creation because there might be some grey clouds in the sky? How many times do I miss the joy of waking up with breath in my lungs and in my right mind because I may have a little ache here or there? How many do I times do I look right past the joy of fellowship with others simply because we might have a different point of view on a subject?
What a simple football game taught me was that I can get so caught up in what I want that I can completely miss the incredible gifts that God is giving me.
A couple of years ago, a grandfather clock my wife inherited was set up and made operational in our home. Not having ever been in the presence of a grandfather clock for any great length of time, I was afraid that I would be caught in a Tell-Tale Heart scenario, being driven mad on a daily basis by the incessant tick, tick, tick. In addition, the clock chimes every quarter hour. It took less than two full days to realize that my fears were completely unfounded. Not only do I not hear the clock ticking, there are times when I do not even hear the clock chime. That was the case this morning. I was less than twenty five feet from the clock, engaging in my morning routine of reading in the absolute dead silence of the early morning hours. I sat down at the top of the hour and fifty minutes later it occurred to me that I had not heard the clock chime on the fifteen minute intervals. I glanced over to ensure the pendulum was swinging and it was. I know the clock had to have chimed but could not believe that I was not consciously aware of it; not once, not twice, but three times. At the top of the next hour, with my attention fixed on the clock, I indeed heard the chimes.
I am fully aware that the human brain takes in a tremendous amount of information on the unconscious level and far less on the conscious level, but what really struck me this morning was that I could get so accustomed to something, in this case a noise, that my conscious brain no longer finds it important enough to register. In relation to a clock chiming this is no big deal, but then I started thinking about other things I am missing because I have grown so accustomed to them. How I interact with my wife and kids; am I so accustomed that I miss their chimes, such as needs, desires and hurts? Am I so accustomed to my drive to work that I pay so little attention that I could put myself and others in danger? Do I "sleepwalk" through the day (daily routine) because everything is so familiar that I can do most things without thinking too deeply at all?
There is so much going on around us, but we can only focus on one things at a time. Be purposeful about what you focus on. Rather than just floating through each day on auto-pilot, be purposeful about what you think. Ephesians chapter 4 talks about putting off the old self and being renewed in the spirit of your mind. This means to consciously think about what you think about. Don't just let garbage float into your mind unchecked. Only watch, listen to and read things that add value to you, get rid of everything that does not add value.
Remember to "Set Your Mind" each morning by deciding what you will allow to enter your mind. And remember, we are what we continually think about.
I have always been a person prone to daydreaming. Before the proliferation of gray hair upon my head and chin, my daydreams often took the form of what my future would look like. Who I would be, where I would live, what I would do and anything else that could have anything to do with me. Now, my time of daydreaming can more accurately be described as time of reflection, though the practices look identical. Like most people, I have had the extreme good fortune of knowing and spending time with some incredible people, and it is those people and more importantly, their character, that I reflect on now. I often point to four men in my early years who were the biggest influences in my life; my dad, my Uncle Bob, my Uncle Hod and Charles "Pat" Maska, who along with his wife April, were the Skippers (leaders) of the Sea Explorer ship in town. Mr. Maska and both of my uncles have passed away and though no longer here in body, their spirits continue to speak to and guide me.
Mr. Maska was one of the really special people that every ten-ager should have the opportunity to know. He dedicated his life to not only raising his own six kids, but also being a mentor to hundreds of teen-age boys and girls through Sea Exploring. Mr. Maska worked at Texaco refinery, later Coastal, and only had a set number of vacation days per year. He, along with April, used his vacation time to take us on incredible adventures. We sailed on the Coast Guard's tall ship Eagle as part of the crew. Fifteen and sixteen year old boys and girls climbing the mast, walking the yardarms to unfurl the sails, standing watch, steering the ship, working in the galley round the clock on a seven day cruise. We took week long trips to the Adirondack Mountains and traveled to weekend competitions from New England to Virginia to compete against other ships in a variety of nautical skills and physical contests. Although I spent countless hours with April and Mr. Maska, the most vivid memory I have of him is from a day in July at Cooper River. Mr. Maska had dropped us and two sailboats for an afternoon of sailing. He told us what time he would be back and to have the boats ready to be loaded up at that time. Well,,,he arrived and I was on the other side of the lake. I did not want to keep him and the others waiting so I tried in vain to sail directly from one side of the lake to the other, which with the wind against you is not possible. So I struggled and struggled and when I go close enough that I thought I could jump out and walk the sailboat to the ramp, I sank down to my eyeballs and struggled even more to get the boat in. Mr. Maska stood on the shore patiently waiting for me to present my soaking self to him. I stood before him looking like a drowned rat and offered some ridiculously feeble excuse for not being where I was supposed to be on time. He looked at me and said, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line...unless you are in a sailboat." He then calmly explained the need to tack when the wind is against you. He could have been upset, frustrated, angry...but he was calm, controlled and deliberate...as he always was and did not let a chance slip by to teach a young man with not only his words, but more importantly, his character. Those words have echoed in my ears for almost forty years and I have applied them over and over again in a variety of situations; but the words would not have stuck had it not been the amazing character of the man who spoke them.