You don’t need a key –

October 22, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this  lyric  from The Eagles song Already Gone (listen to it here) –

“So often in time it happens, we all live our life in chains,

and we never even know we have the key.”

It’s interesting that the lyrics right before that line provide the insight to understand it –

“Well, I know it wasn’t you who held me down
Heaven knows it wasn’t you who set me free”

Many things in life try to hold us down, to put us in chains and show us no way out; however we always hold the key to release ourselves from whatever it is that may be weighing us down – remorse over a past event or angst over a coming event.

The Eagles song was about a relationship that was ending and it was intended to be a victory song from the point of view of one of the people in that failed relationship. In the song the singer celebrates that he is already over the breakup by stating that he is already gone – gone on with life.

I’ve posted here a few times about getting over things and moving on with life – see my posts What’s Next For You and Are You Moving On?

The point is that you don’t even need a key to break the chains that you think are holding you. Someone else didn’t put those chains on you; you put them on yourself and you can throw them off. Maybe it is as simple as declaring victory as the song lyrics state and telling yourself that you are already gone – that you are already over it and you are moving on.

Sometimes throwing off the chains of guilt or self-doubt can be as simple as uttering the simple little prayer that I’ve used many times here – “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” You will be surprised at the immediate feeling that the weight of the chains that you have imposed upon yourself is lifted from your shoulders when you give your chains to God. You will feel free to move on with life.

Perhaps then, you will feel like singing the lyrics that the Eagles used later in the song –

Cause I’m already gone
And I’m feelin’ strong
I will sing this vict’ry song
I’m already gone.

You hold the key to your own happiness – use it and get on with life.

The only constant is change…

October 21, 2020

In his blog post today, Pastor Freed used this quote from George Bernard Shaw – “The only one I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me.  The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”  Freed also used a quote from someone whom I’m sure many of his readers never knew –“people who don’t change are in the cemetery” (Everett Dirksen).  Dirksen was a U.S. Senator from Illinois who was a talented orator with a florid style and a notably rich baritone voice. Dirksen was a Republican and served as the Minority Leader from 1959 to 1959. Back in those days when there was compromise and collaboration between the parties in Congress, he helped write and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, both landmark pieces of legislation during the Civil Rights Movement. It is hard to even imagine the two parties compromising on anything these days.

Jack commented upon the changes that we all go through in our lives, from the size clothes that we wear to our opinions on things. Although some are slower than others to change, everyone has a different view of the world around them today than that had a year ago or ten years ago. That different perspective on the people and events that shape our lives lead us to different conclusions than we might have held in the past and hopefully to take different actions.

Sometimes events  bring back to the surface thoughts that were always there, but which had faded. The events which lead to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement brought back our memories of, and belief in, the inequities and injustice suffered by people of color that had faded into the background for many. Complacency oft fills the void left when commitment and compassion fade. Jarring events like the killing of George Floyd serve to snap those feeling back to the fore. Few remember that the Black Lives Matter movement actually went back to the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was first used in 2013. America had become complacent again.

Certainly, the events of 2020 and the COVID-19 crisis have changed all of us. There is no way that anyone anywhere could have remained unaffected by this crisis. How has it made you different? How has it changed your daily life? What things have you done to make the best of a bad situation?

We see ads now telling  us that there is no going back to the “good old days”, but rather that we must adapt, change and move forward in this new reality. The old ways have quickly fading away and new ways to work, to shop and to live are taking their place. Some are resisting those changes with all of their might. Many are frustrated and some have become depressed; others have quickly embraced the changes and are thriving. We all need to be more like the tailor in today’s quote and take new measurements of life around us. We need to tailor new responses and fit into the new reality because it is not going to change to fit us.

I believe that the thing that through us off the most was the speed of the changes that the COVID crisis caused. It certainly wasn’t a slow, orderly change in most people’s lives. All of a sudden most of what you were used to doing was off limits or restricted. The people that you were used to seeing and hugging and talking with were gone – even family members were admonished to stay apart if they didn’t live together. Our world was turned upside down and many of us fell on our heads.  Some were left hanging; clinging to something (anything) familiar from the past. We desperately hoped that things would get “back to normal”. Then we were introduced to the term “the new normal” and we knew that there was no going back.

So, here we are living in the “new normal”. Most (thought unfortunately not all) have accepted and gotten used to changes like wearing masks in public to protect each other. We have adapted to social distancing in restaurants and stores. We have shifted much of our shopping and entertainment and even our church services on-line. Slowly, most have refocused from grudging defiance of the new normal to an attitude of making the best of it and finding new ways to live fulfilling lives under the constraints that are out of our control. There will always be the angry, the defiant and the unhappy among us; there always has been, even in the times before COVID. You do not have to try to fit with them. They will either come round to the changes that are required by the new normal or they will end up were Dirksen predicted. There is no bouncing back; so, it’s time, as the current Verizon ad says, to spring forward.

Make the changes in your life to fit into the new normal and get on with life. It’s a new day and you need to be a new you.

Ready or not, here it comes…

October 20, 2020

Fall has definitely arrived in Michigan and winter cannot be far behind. Pastor Freed used this quote in today’s post to his Jack’s Winning Words blog – “Listen!  The wind is rising and the air is wild with leaves.  We’ve had our summer evenings; now for October eves.”  (Humbert Wolfe)

I know that the weather doesn’t care, but I wasn’t quite ready for the changes this year, especially the shorter days. Perhaps it’s just a consequence of getting older, but the aches and pains in my body seem to linger a little longer in the day with no warming sun to help them fade and I do miss being able to take a ride with my wife after dinner to see if we can spot any deer. Of course, that disappointment is mitigated somewhat by being able to instead turn on the fireplace and sit watching the flames dance. Each season has it’s own pleasures if one just looks for them; although, it is getting harder and harder to find the good things to say about winter.

I saw a young mother and her little girl make a huge pile of leave the other day and then sit in the pile, pretending that it was a fort of some sort.  They found a way to have fun with the fallen leaves. I tried to remember the last time that I made a big pile of leaves and then jumped into it, but that memory has faded to far into the background. I can remember my kids doing that and the times I spent burning big piles of leaves (before that became an incorrect thing to do).  What memories do you have about fall and leaves?

The coming winter always brings memories of snow and the days in which that snowfall was welcomed because it meant no school, the fun of sledding, snowball fights and other fun things to do. Now it is more about getting out the snow blower and shoveling off the steps. My wife always comments about how beautiful everything looks with a fresh coat of snow, as I grumble about having to clear the driveway and clean off the cars. I must admit that a fresh snowfall looks good for a few moments and the fireplace feels even better when one comes back inside after blowing snow for an hour.

So, I guess Wolfe’s advice to listen to the rustling leaves in the October winds is as good a way as any to get in the proper mood for accepting the changes that are occurring in the weather and  in our lives and make the best of them. There are lots of things that happen in our lives over which we have no control – the weather is just one of them. The key may be to accept the fact that they are occurring and find a happy place in your memories to retreat to in front of a crackling fire. If reliving some pleasant experiences from the past isn’t your thing; then, use the down time to think about some fun things to do in the future, after the winter, when spring again foretells of the rebirth of the trees and flowers and the warmth of a mid-day sun.

What memories will you turn to in front of the fireplace or what wonderful new adventures will you plan?

Leading the fight…

October 19, 2020

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog had this quote from RBG – “Fight for things you care about, but do it in such a way that will lead others to follow you.”  (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

More often that we would like we see stories in the news of people who believe that they are fighting for a cause when they do harm to others. They may be loners running around spray-painting hate slogans on people’s property or even killers targeting people who espouse causes with which they disagree. Oft times they are the angry shouting faces in the mob trying to incite others to join them in burning or looting or other acts that are not really aimed so much as protest as just in destruction. These are people who are not fighting for things that they care about so much as striking out in fear or rage at things that they hate.

Martin Luther King, on the other hand, fought for things that he cared deeply about in such a manner that many others followed him. Mahatma Gandhi was the same kind of leader, fighting for the freedom in which he believed.  You have probably known or known about other leaders who demonstrated or fought for things that they cared deeply about and attracted the following of others. The American Labor Movement was full of early pioneers who lead the fight for better pay and working conditions. The recently celebrated Suffragette Movement that resulted in women being granted the right to vote was another success story, although not originally an American movement (see Wikipedia from which came this – . The term refers in particular to members of the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a women-only movement founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, which engaged in direct action and civil disobedience.).

More recently, we have seen groups taking to the street to protest the killing of black people by police with the Black Lives Matter movement and counter protests, which gave rise to groups like the Proud Boys. In the midst of all of the protests, groups like Qanon and Antifa have taken advantage of the resulting chaos to foment their vision of anarchy. In all of those groups, there are leaders who are succeeding in getting others to follow their vision of the future, albeit some are very distorted or hate-filled directions. I’m sure that is not what RBG had in mind.

The current political campaigns (which thankfully will soon be over) are certainly example of the two sides both trying to fight for what they believe in and to attract followers. Both sides engage in negative ads as well as those that serve to encourage people to follow their lead. Were a casual observer from another world to sit and watch the political ads on TV for a day they might conclude that no matter which side wins the world is doomed. The messages aren’t so much about “here’s where I want to lead you” as they are about “follow those other guys and America will end up as either a Socialist state or a Fascist state, but in a bad state no matter what. The messages are not so much about a vision of better times ahead if one side wins, as they are a forecast of eminent disaster if the other side wins.

What are the things that you care about? Who are the leaders that you follow? Why aren’t you being a leader, instead of a follower for those things? What role does your faith play in your actions or inactions? Do your decisions and actions inspire others to follow you? Is it time for you to fight and to lead? These are not easy questions, but also not questions to be avoided.

To use an old hack from business that RBG might have appreciated – Lead, follow or get out of the way.

Giving voices to our pets…

October 18, 2020

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote –

“The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.”  (Jane Goodall)

Jack went on to write about Jane’s long career of understanding and giving voice to the Chimpanzees that she loved. Most of us don’t spend our lived living in the jungle with Chimps, but many of us may have pets that we give voices to on a daily basis.

Our dogs, cats and birds seldom talk back (well maybe some of the birds do), but it is a way to try to express what we think they that may be thinking or what they might say, if they could talk. For some it’s a way to have a conversation with ourselves, by using the pet as a surrogate other self. That can get as spooky as the movies about conversations between the ventriloquists and their dummies.

I’ve noticed that many people tend to slip into a kind of baby talk when talking to or for their pets. I suppose that there is a certain cuteness factor to that, but it does tend to limit the intellectual content of the conversation. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if the pet talked in an educated adult voice? Maybe you’d even learn something from the discussions.

The toughest discussion to have for them is when they are obviously not feeling well or have been hurt. We try to express their pain or discomfort but find it frustrating that we really don’t understand what they are feeling or why. Maybe at those times we should have them just blurt out, ”take me to the vet you big dummy.”

Sometime our pets serve the purpose of being a good listener. Since they can’t talk back, they just sit there patiently listening to us drone on about our problems or perhaps they are just happy that we are petting them or giving them treats while we talk. They are usually ready to give us a big wet kiss if we need it, too.

The efforts that we may make to calm them also work to calm us and that’s a good thing. It also gives us “someone” that we can share our pains and disappointments with who will never judge us based upon what we tell them. So, perhaps it isn’t all that bad that we talk for and to our pets. That provides a voice to them that we sometimes need to hear to keep ourselves sane.

Well, I’ve got to go, now. My dog Sadie wants to have a talk with me about the things that happened yesterday and plan out what we are going to do together today. She can be quite talkative, but sometimes I think I may bore her in our conversations. She’s a good listener, even if she does sometimes snore during our conversations.

You have to make the effort…

October 16, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote, which was sent to him by one of his followers – “When you forgive, you live.  When you let go, you grow.”  (Sent by Sandi) 

Jack went on to write –INC. magazine published an article on How to Be a Better Person.  Practice forgiveness was one suggestion.  Be open to change was another.  Others: Let go of anger – Be honest – Listen to what’s being said –  Be polite and respectful – and there were more.

Jack also made the point that all of those things require that one make an effort. They don’t just happen. You make them happen.

Letting go. Forgiving. Listening. Being polite and respectful. These are all conscious efforts, but they are not efforts that you must do alone. In the business world there is the concept of having an accountability partner – someone with whom you agree to be completely honest and who agrees to hold you accountable for the things that you commit to do. They make sure that you make the effort to reach the goals that you have shared with them.

In life, one may also have an accountability partner, someone that you trust completely with your life’s secrets; however, I submit that we already have that partner – God. If we are honest with ourselves and God about wanting to be a better person by doing all of the things listed above, then we must hold ourselves accountable to God for what we have accomplished and what we have left undone. We do that through daily prayer, because that is the time when we open ourselves up to God and hold our lives up to His light. It may well be that the thing that we often think of as our conscience – that little voice that we hear inside our head that tells us the difference between right and wrong – is really the voice of God holding us accountable. We know when we haven’t made the effort, because that little voice admonishes us.

You can make sure that God as your accountability partner for life is there with you all day long, if you start out each morning asking for His help throughout the day. Try it and see if that little voice doesn’t stick with you all day long as you make choices to do or not do something; to make the effort or not. You might be surprised how empowering it is to have God along all day as your accountability partner. At the end of the day, you will also feel much better about what you accomplished and about tomorrow and the future.

With God’s help, you will make the effort! And with Him as your accountability partner, you will be successful.

Running with Jesus…

October 13, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “Running Cross Country is the closest man will ever get to flying.”  (Joseph Vanderstel)

Freed went on to write – During the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, Malcom Boyd wrote a book of prayers, “Are You Running With Me, Jesus?”  As I “fly/race” through life, it’s a comfort to know that I have Jesus by my side. 

The description of Boyd’s book of prayers describes the era in which he wrote it as the “turbulent 60’s”. Having lived through those turbulent times, I reflected upon the events that were taking place that warranted that label. There was the assignation of JFK and later his brother RFK, the whole hippie movement and the drug scene, the Viet Name War and the antiwar protesting as highlights of the nightly news. I guess it was a turbulent time. Perhaps the times that we are currently in will someday be called the turbulent 2020’s .

It is comforting to know that as one runs/flies through life, they do not have to do it alone. Jesus is right there running with us. There are many time that I now look back upon and thank Jesus for saving my bacon by being there with me. At the time I may have just thought that it was a fortuitous coincidence that I was spared some calamity, but upon reflection I can see the hand of God in my life, keeping me safe in time of potential peril. Even in times when something bad did happen, I can recall the comfort that I was able to find in my faith. I was not alone.

There is a well known poet, “Footprints in the Sand” by  Mary Stevenson that serves to illustrate the importance of running with Jesus in our lives. There will be many times in anyone’s life where they will need to be carried by Jesus through the hard times – were their faith will provide the only shelter in the storms.

Few of us are runners and even fewer are cross-country or distance runners, yet all of us have the ability to experience the exhilaration of flying that Vanderstel alluded to in his quote. Believe in Him. Run with Him.

Let your soul fly with Jesus.

Those with no boat at all…

October 12, 2020

“Although we are in different boats, you in your boat and we in our canoe, we share the same river of life.”  (Chief Oren Lyons)

That was the quote from a Native American in today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog. It is easy to conjure up mental images of boats of all type, sizes and color floating or motoring along the vast river of life. One can even imagine clusters of people floating along on inner tubes (perhaps those are the retirees). But it’s harder to imagine being swept along by the river with nothing, no canoe or boat, not even an inner tube; but, that is the fate of the homeless. They are still there, in the river that the rest of us are on, but with no support at all. Perhaps they are just floating on the surface or maybe frantically dog paddling to keep afloat.

There is a tendency to try to ignore those people, lumping them in with the debris that we may also see floating in the river; however, we really can’t ignore the fact that, “there but for the grace of God go I.” They are other human beings; members of our tribe of humans who need and deserve our help. We cannot sweep them under the rug or pretend that they are not there, in the river with us. There may not be room in your boat for another rider; but perhaps there is a spare life vest in your boat that you could toss to them to help. If you look, you may find that there are programs already in place in your area to provide some assistance and help to the homeless. If so, maybe you can volunteer in those programs or at least contribute to them.

There are others floating along the river of life in vessels that are sinking. They may be depressed or suffering other mental issues or perhaps trapped in abusive relationships. Perhaps they have sent up flares of distress for other to see. Again, it is easy to try to look the other way, ignore their calls for help and by-pass their sinking boat, but it is not the right things to do. Hold out your hand and pull them back up as they sink. Sometimes just encouraging them to abandon that abusive, sinking ship is enough

The river of life that we are all on is not always a calm, peaceful stream. It has rough patches, like the rapids in real rivers. There are dangerous rocks and even waterfalls that we must navigate from time to time. Those times test our boats and us. If we have a boat with a strong keel, we have a better chance at survival. The best keel of all for life’s boats is a strong faith in God. That faith will not only keep our boat afloat, but it will also provide us with a rudder of compassion that will guide us to help those that we see along the way who don’t even have a boat.

In the Bible we read – But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17). Therefore, the message is to thank God for the strong boat that he has provided for you in order to enjoy life’s ride down life’s river and to be ready to offer help to others whose boat may be sinking or who don’t even have a boat.

We maybe be all ON the river of life, but there are those who are IN the river and need our help. Be ready to throw a lifeline.

Quietly strong…

October 11, 2020

“The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”  (Denzel Washington) That was the quote used in a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog. I think we all know someone like that, a loud, brash person who is, in fact, extremely insecure and fragile. Many bullies are that way and most will back off when confronted by someone who refuses to be intimidated by their boorish behavior.

There is an old Zen saying, “Be afraid of the quiet ones. They are the ones who actually think.”

Why should you be afraid of those who actually think? Because that thinking is sometimes turned into planning and then into action. The men planning to kidnap Michigan’s Governor are an example, although they weren’t the brightest bulbs on the tree. The quiet thinkers take the time to consider alternative courses of action and choose one most likely to assure success. They also plot a cover for their actions in an attempt to escape blame; especially should their actions fail to achieve the goal. Many times the loud take action without thinking and their unplanned actions oft go awry.

But, enough about the bad people. What about those who are quiet, but not bad. Taking the time to quietly think before acting or before speaking strengthens that person in the eyes of others. They may become known for being well spoken because they think about their words before they speak or they may be considered to be level headed because they do not rush into action before thinking. If you watched how former President Barack Obama spoke, especially when answering a question; you could tell that he was thinking about both the answer and the correct words to use. He did not speak in Tweets.

People who think before acting or speaking may become a touchstone for others seeking the benefit of their quiet wisdom. Their opinion is often considered to be the strongest in the room, all because they quietly took the time to think. A passage from the Bible about quiet wisdom seems especially appropriate for our current political environment – “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” (Ecclesiastes 9:17)

So, don’t worry if you aren’t the loudest in the room, especially when in a room full of loud fools. Quietly hold your own counsel, think and then speak softly, so that the listeners will have to lean in to hear your thoughts. Be quietly strong.

Mother nature and the face of God…

October 10, 2020

A quote from the Jack’s Winning Words blog from some time ago has been hanging around in my “future topics” list for too long – “And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”  (Kahlil Gibran)

We often hear (and sometimes use) references to Mother Nature, as if the totality of the naturally occurring things around us, including the weather somehow have a personality – personality that can sometime turn very violent. If the earth can delight in feeling our bare feet and the wind play in our hair, then the earth can also shake violently, knocking us off our feet and the winds howl as they knock down the offensive structures that we have built. We say that Mother Nature is angry in those times. Perhaps she is angry because of the damage that we have inflicted upon her through our careless use of the resources that she has provided. If our sin is pollution and the resulting global warming, then perhaps, her response are the hurricanes, tornados, drought and fires, rising seas and other indications of her displeasure.

Man has always fantasized about nature and the things around him, often assigning to those things human characteristics. Native Americans developed what amounted to a religion by ascribing human attributes to the flora and fauna around them to go along with their notion of a Great Spirit (often depicted as a female) and the forces of nature – wind, rain, fire and other things that they could not explain or control. Their beliefs seemed to be based upon finding ways to live in harmony with all of those things, rather than trying futilely to control them. Their beliefs and practices actually align well with what we find in the Bible –

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)

Perhaps, if we started using the name God, instead of Mother Nature, we might be closer to understanding the truth of what is all around us. The forces of nature and all of the things that are within nature were, and are, created by God. We cannot control them. We can only harm them. Instead of fighting against nature, and thus against God, perhaps we should adapt the ways of the Native Americans and try to find ways to live in harmony with what God has created. Maybe if we stopped doing harm to what God has created, He will stop doing harm to the things that we have created. Albert Einstein understood when he said – “Look!  Look!  Look deep into nature and you will understand everything.”

Man’s arrogance is what fails him the most. Man is forever holding up something that he has created – a wheel or a machine – and saying to God, “Look what I made.” Henry Beston shared good insight into that flaw when he said – “If there is one thing clear about the centuries dominated by the factory and the wheel, it is that although the machine can make everything from a spoon to a landing-craft, a natural joy in earthly living is something it never has and never will be able to manufacture.”

God, in the form of nature is the great healer. Anne Frank put it well when she said – “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy amidst the simple beauty of nature. …I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

So, turn to nature in times of trouble, for in looking closely at nature you will see the face of God.