I can’t see it, but I don’t doubt it…

January 29, 2021

I save most of the little quotes that Pastor Freed uses in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words. I always think that someday I’ll write something about those quotes. That doesn’t always happen and I occasionally clean out the old, dusty quotes that I never used. Sometimes two quotes that I saved at different times will just sort of go together and reinforce a thought that I might have. Such is the case today. The top quote Pastor Freed used today, but the bottom one has been on the shelf gathering dust for a while. Today, they just seemed to fit together.

“Actually, I do have doubts, all of the time.  Every thinking person does.”  (Edgar Allan Poe – The Raven

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”  (The conductor on the Polar Express)

The doubts that Poe and Pastor Freed were talking about concerned faith. Some doubts are healthy because they force us to think about and examine our faith. They also reinforce in us the fact that although we cannot “see”  the things that our faith is based upon they ae nonetheless very real.

Poe was right that every thinking person will have some doubts about some aspects of their religious beliefs or questions what certain things have become dogma within that religion. Some practitioners of religion hold the belief that every word on the Bible is the truth, handed down by God. Others take the position that it is an collection of writing that were inspired by God, but told and sometimes embellished a bit by men over the centuries. Our current pastor used the story of Jonah and the Whale as an example recently of a Bible story that may not be literally true, but shich provides a good lesson. Jesus used a lot of stories or parables to get his point across, not all of which were meant to be taken literally.

So, it is quite natural to have doubts about certain aspects of one’s religion and maybe even about one’s faith.  In times of crisis or great loss, we often hear people asking God how He could let those things happen to them. They often ask, “Where was God when this was happening to me?” The faithful quickly realize the answer. God was right there with you. He was patiently waiting for your faith to kick in and for you to ask for his help and guidance. He was waiting to bring the calm to your soul of your beliefs which, while unseen, is very real.

We don’t actually see faith, we see faith in action. We cannot reach out and touch our beliefs, yet our beliefs touch everything that we do. We cannot see God, but others can see God in our lives. It is no wonder that we have doubts about things that we do not understand; but it is faith that let’s us transcend the human need to understand and be happy just believing. Faith removes the doubts and fears of living because faith removes the fear of dying.

Remember Hebrews !!:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  

Put away your doubts, have conviction and say to yourself, “I can’t see it, but I believe it.”

Have a great day in faith.

Listening is just step two…

January 28, 2021

Pastor Freed used this quote from Alan Alda today – “Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.”  (Alan Alda) 

Hearing is probably step one, but it does not carry with it the acknowledgement that you have recognized anything other than that some sounds are being made. When one moves from hearing to listening, the change is both a recognition of the speaker and a focus upon understanding what is being said. Just saying ,”I hear you”, does not mean that you are really listening to what the other person is saying. The listening that Alda was probably referring to goes well beyond just politely waiting for your turn to speak. Too many people spend that polite time focused more upon what they want to say next, rather than really listening to what the speaker is saying and evaluating their position or arguments.

Alda used the words “being able to be changed” in his quote. I would prefer “being open to be changed”. It is important to keep an open mind, to be willing to re-evaluate your position and current opinions on something, based upon new information. Many times such an encounter will not require a major change in your position, but taking the opportunity to listen to different points of view and opinions will give you a better understanding of those who hold different points of view. That will perhaps allow you to better prepare yourself for those encounters.

Assuming that you have moved through steps one and two, you now are faced with step three – evaluating what to do with, or about, this new information. In some cases, the information may be so ridiculous that your reaction may have to be to stifle a laugh; however, remember that this new point of view was just put forward by someone who may deeply believe what they just said. Excusing yourself and beating a hasty retreat may be the best course of action in that case.

Let’s assume that what you just listened to is, in fact , a valid alternative point of view to your own, based either upon different information than you had on which to base your position or a different interpretation of the same information. That’s when you must be open to change. You must be willing to look at the situation from that other person’s point of view and make a decision on whether to stand firm in your belief or change towards the other person’s belief. That forces you to examine what it was that caused you to form your opinion. Was it really based upon facts or did preconceived notions and prejudices creep into your decisions and opinions?

We hear often about systemic racism these days in the news, That refers to policies and behaviors within government and business entities that are based upon and driven by prejudice. In fact, those prejudices all start within the individuals that make up that entity. Systemic problems are codified within the entities but they start within us all. Being open to change forces us to face our internal systemic issues like racism, sexism, homophobia and others.

Once you have listened with an open mind, and faced down the systemic issues within yourself, you must decide how and where to add this new knowledge into what is called your wisdom. If you decide that you do need to change, some old thoughts and opinions will have to be swept away. Some fears will need to be buried. Some actions and activities may have to be abandoned. You will have a new point of view and the world will look different to you. That’s a good thing, You have grown by being open to change.  I think you will like the new view that you see because you will be more consciously aware of and more comfortable with your vantage point.

You listened, you learned and you changed. Good for you! Good for us all.

Listen to that tiny voice…

January 27, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “The Church is not called to be the master or servant of the state, but to be the conscience of the state.”   (MLK Jr)

He went on to talk about people like MLK and Billy Graham serving in that role at different times n our countries history. He also asked the question – “Who will be the conscience today?”

Perhaps we heard that conscience in the words of inauguration poet Amanda Gorman.

I think the role that MLK was talking about for the church (and the people of the church) is one of giving voice to the messages of Jesus as a guide for our collective conscience. Jesus did not come to live among us only for the experience of being human and thus better understanding humans; but, rather to show us what being human could be if we followed His example.

Jesus was called rabbi (teacher) for a reason. He was trying to direct and shape our conscience – to show us what our lives could be like if we lived in love and harmony. He became that tiny voice in the back of our heads that tells us what is right and distinguishes it from what is wrong. We need to listen to that tiny voice for we are told many times in scripture that the world is loud and God speaks to us in a whisper.

God’s whisper is causing actions all around us, but we often fail to see it. It can be found in a kind gesture or a helping hand. Sometimes it takes the stage in the spotlight, like Amanda did at the Presidential Inauguration event. However, most of the time it takes place in the background, in the unseen acts of kindness and help, like packing food for the hungry or delivering that food. It is the ttiny voice that causes us to rach for our wallet hen we see the red Salvation Army kettle. It is the tiny voice that reminds us to put on a face covering in public, because that is the right thing to do.

The real answer to Jack’s question – “Who will be the conscience today? “  – is that you will be. So, listen for that tiny voice in the back of your head. Stop and think about what it is trying to tell you and let it guide your actions.

God is whispering to you. Listen

We do know better…

January 26, 2021

“Do the best you can until you know better.  Then, when you know better, do better.”  (Maya Angelou)

That was today’s quote in the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

The fact is that we do know better about al lot of things; but, many just choose not to do better.

We know that racism is not right, yet we let racist thoughts dictate our reactions to people and situations involving people of color. We know that homophobia is unwarranted, yet we shrink away from the gay person out of some fear or false disgust. We know that there is no basis for gender based discrimination, yet we continue to tolerate a huge inequity in pay and advancement for women in business.  We know that we could do more to help the homeless or the hungry, yet we look the other way and hurry past them on the streets. We have been told by health experts that wearing a mask in public can slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, yet many refuse to don a mask or wear it in such a way as to render it ineffective. We know better.

What causes this disconnect between knowing better and doing better? Do we learn anything from the man in the news report who is dying saying that he should have heeded the warnings and avoided getting the virus; or, do we continue to let ego or pride, ignorance or stubbornness get in the way of logic and acceptance of the obvious truths? We know better.

It is hard to understand how so many people can come to such different conclusions about things like wearing a mask to protect others or trying to understand and be accepting and inclusive instead of turning to fear or hate in matters of race or sexual preference. Perhaps systemic prejudices are the masters of hiding in plain sight; and most of these are systemic in nature. We know better.

A popular fashion item of several years ago were the little bracelets with WWJD embossed into them or printed on them. They were meant to help the wearer stop and consider “What Would Jesus Do”? The assumption was that thinking about the teachings and guidance that Jesus provided would help the wearer do the right thing. One doesn’t see those bracelets much any more and certainly doesn’t see people stopping to ask themselves that question as much anymore.  We know better.

 Perhaps at the root of these differences in behavior today is the acceptance or rejection of religion and faith in God as the moral foundation of life. If one does not have that foundation to point to what is better, then one has no reason to do better and may not even be capable of recognizing what is the right thing to do. However, if one claims to be a Christian and a follower of the teachings of Jesus, then one has no excuse not to be doing better. We know better.

The term Fake News become popular over the last four years. Perhaps what we have also seen are Fake Christians – those who proclaim loudly that they are Christians and then go out and demonstrate behavior that is anything but what Christ taught. They know better, but they choose not to do better. We know better.

What can you do as an individual? The best thing is to actually do what is right, what is better; to live your life in such a way as to serve as an example to others of what is better. There are times when you must take the next step and act on what you know is better by not “going along to get along” or not allowing yourself to be swept up in the moment, as some who stormed our nation’s capital claimed afterwards. There are even times when you must proactively try to influence the actions of others to prevent them from harming themselves or others. We know better.

We know better. Now, let’s go out and do better.

Live like you know what Jesus would do and follow Him. We know better. Let’s do better!

Don’t waste a day…

January 25, 2021

As seen on the Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce site today – “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” – e. e. cummings

One could substitute the word “joy” for laughter in the cummins quote and it would still be correct. Spending a day without finding joy in just being alive is wasting a day. A joyless day is a day without God in it; for any day that you welcome God into your life will be one in which you find joy.

We waste our days being concerned about things over which we really have no control, trying to solve problems for which there are no solutions or refusing to accept what has already come to pass. Rather than accept our lives as God has willed them to be, we rail against the inevitable and let fear and anger dictate our actions.

Better that we should accept that God got us here and He will show us a path forward. As Paul told the Corinthians – “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13

That assurance should at least bring a smile to your face, if not laughter to your lips. Start each day with a prayer asking God for the strength and wisdom to face whatever comes your way, knowing that God will be with you. And, with that in mind, you may also recall the verse from Romans 8:31 – “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Wow, what a powerful way to start any day.

So, don’t waste a day of your life without joy/laughter. Don’t spend your time worrying about things that God has under control. Live, laugh and be happy. This is a day that God made and you get to be a part of it again today. Cue the Bobby McFerrin song – Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

Share the good news!

A hard lesson to implement…

January 24, 2021

A quote used some time ago in the Jack’s Winning Words blog seemed to be worthy of comment – “I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention.”  (Diane Sawyer) 

The reason that this lesson is so had to implement is that, so many of us are so wrapped up in ourselves and what we think is important for us to say or to share with others, that we seldom pay close attention to what they are saying. Oh, we get a few words and then start formulating our response. You know that you are bad at this when people often stop your response and ask, “Did you even hear what I was saying?” The truth is, No, you did not hear what they were saying. You weren’t paying attention.

Really paying attention to what someone else is saying requires that one focus on both what the words are that are being used and what non-verbal messages are being shared – the demeanor and body language that the speaker is sharing. When does, “I’m OK” really mean I’m not OK and need help? If you are paying attention you will see the hidden message. When does a seemingly polite “Thank you for asking” really mean, please ask more questions? When should the acceptance of an apology with , “that’s alright, don’t worry about it” really worry you, because it is not alright? Pay attention and you will see those non-verbal signals.

These are all examples of opportunities for further interaction that are easily missed by not paying attention. It is not that you were trying to be dismissive of the feelings or pain of the other person, so much as that you just weren’t paying enough attention at the time. This often leads to the phrase, “If I knew then what I know now.” Well, you could have known then, had you been paying attention.

Although this is a hard lesson to actually implement, it is one worth putting some effort into on a daily basis. I have posted here a few times about one of the best listeners that I know – Pastor Doug McMunn of the Milford United Methodist Church. You can actually see Doug focusing upon what you are saying when you speak with him. You know that he is listening what you say and making that the most important thing for him at that moment. His responses are always thoughtful and contextually correct, because he has made the effort to hear and understand what you are saying, instead of letting his mind race ahead to what he wants to say next. We would all do well to use him as a model for paying attention.

A side benefit of paying attention when speaking with others is that you might actually learn something from the conversation. If nothing else, it might provide you with insight into a different point of view on whatever topic is being discussed. A really effective communicator will seek to better understand and evaluate those different points of view, rather than just trying to debate it or superimpose one’s own point of view over the views of the other party.

Perhaps you can start your day with the resolve to pay better attention during the interactions that you have with others during the day. I suspect that you will end the day with a better understanding and appreciation of those that you encountered. Who knows, you might learn something, too.

Now, what was it you were saying? I wasn’t paying attention.

Be the reason today…

January 23, 2021

I recently saw a license plate holder with the saying “Be the reason that someone smiles today” on it. It started me thinking about how one could be that reason that would put a smile on someone’s face, even though you might not know that person. Aside from dressing up like a clown and walking around like that, there are other reasons why being around you might bring a smile to the face of others.

The most simple way is to have a smile on your face, too. I’ve posted here a few times about our typical “mien”, which is the look on your face or the way that you act when you are unaware. In particular, few of us are aware that our “at rest mien”, the face that we present to the public when we are not trying to do anything, is most of the time not a very inviting or friendly look. In fact, many people look unhappy, sad or even angry when their face is at rest. Most people do not present a smile to the world when they are unaware that anyone is looking, because smiling requires a conscious effort. So, to walk around with a smile on your face would require that you consciously be trying to smile. That’s not a bad thing, since it would force you to think of reasons to smile and probably put you in a better mood to do some of the other things that can bring a smile to the face of others.

You can perform small, random acts of kindness throughout the day. This might be as simple as opening a door for someone or allowing someone to go ahead of you. Just offering a friendly and warm greeting might make someone else’s day better. There are hundreds of opportunities each day for one to do something that will make someone else’s day better or more pleasant. We often overlook those opportunities or ignore them because we are too self-centered on what we are doing or focused upon our own needs. We have read recently about waitresses in various places receiving large tips from people that they didn’t know. The tippers were just doing that to put a smile to their day by doing something extra to relieve their financial anxiety. We can’t all tip in the thousands of dollars, but maybe leaving a 20-25% tip instead of only 10-15% would bring a smile, too. Even something as inexpensive as taking the time to compliment the waitperson on good service might bring that smile to their face. Certainly, taking the extra time to seek out the manager and letting them know what great service your waitperson rendered will bring a smile to their face later.

There are also many things that you could do which might bring smiles that you will never see (but which you can imagine). Things like volunteering to prepare or pack food for distribution through programs like Meals on Wheel or the school food programs Like Blessing in a Backpack are examples. The “behind-the-scenes” people don’t get to see the smiles on the faces of the recipients , but they know they those smiles occur. We don’t ever get to see the people that our donations to organizations like The Salvation Army go to help, but we all probably have imagined that someone, somewhere is going to smile because we dropped that dollar into the bucket. And, you know what? That brings a smile to our face, too.

So, today, walk around thinking of all of the smiles that you can cause. See if that doesn’t motivate you to do some things that you might not have otherwise done. Then, see if that doesn’t make you smile.

As the song says, “Smile and the whole world smiles with you”. Be the reason that someone smiles today!

Find the diamond within…

January 19, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed uses this Dolly Parton quote – “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” 

He goes on to write – I believe that she’s saying that it takes determination to be a person of value in a world that so often settles for “the cheap.”

Dolly lives much of the time in the rhinestone world of entertainment, but as Freed went on to write, she is actually quite a thinker and a very genuine person in real life – a diamond in her rhinestone world.

We all live somewhat in a rhinestone world of our own creation. What we show the world is often the rhinestone persona that we create to meet what we think is expected of us. Inside there is the diamond of your true self – that person of value that you want to be. The challenge is not to settle for the cheap rhinestone you that you believe that world demands. Rather, find that diamond within and proudly show the world the real you.

It does take determination and courage to be yourself, rather than what you think those around you might expect. It is so much easier to just dress like they do and talk like they do and act like they do. Yet it is really not satisfying, especially if that is not who you really are. “Fitting in” may initially seem like the thing to do, until you realize how uncomfortable it can be to always be acting a part, rather than just being yourself. The rhinestone world that you are trying to live in is as fake as rhinestones themselves.

The key to finding the diamond within is accepting yourself and loving yourself for who you are. I’ve posted her a few times about loving yourself first, before you can love others (and they can love you in return). Back in April of 2020 I wrote a post titled Don’t mess with your selfie in which this quote was used – “The easiest thing in the world to be is you.  The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be.  Don’t let them put you into that position.”  (Leo Buscaglia)

So, why does it seem so hard to just be you and not what you think others want? Because you have yet to accept yourself, to become comfortable with who you are, to find your diamond within.

Perhaps that should be the focus of your prayers today, to ask God to help you accept and be happy with yourself. You can start by realizing that God accepts you as you are and loves you as you are. God loves the diamond within you and not the rhinestones that you may have thought the world required of you. If you accept God’s love for you as you are, there is no need to put on those rhinestones. Just find and show the world the diamond within you that God loves. If you share God’s love for you with the world, it will love you back.

Find your diamond within today.

Still seeking wisdom…

January 18, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote from Martin Luther King Jr- “Knowledge is a process of piling up facts. Wisdom lies in their simplification.” 

Many seek knowledge, some just for the sake of accumulating it; however, not everyone is abled to turn that knowledge into wisdom. One might say that they know, but do not yet understand.

I looked back and over the years I have written often about knowledge and wisdom, see –

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2014/05/07/those-arent-scars-thats-wisdom-building-up/ (2014)

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2017/04/27/whats-in-your-book-of-wisdom/ (2017)

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2019/02/12/seek-wisdom-within/ (2019)

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2020/09/19/you-have-to-work-at-it/ (2020)

I particularly like the quote used in the second post above – “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”  (Thomas Jefferson)

In this age of “fake news”, outright lies, and disinformation, discerning honesty can be particularly challenging. Perhaps a key step in what MLK called “simplification” is discarding or discounting the misinformation we are exposed to that are posing as facts – the “everybody knows” disinformation in the environment. Our prejudices are mostly built on those kinds of “facts”.

A root cause of prejudice is the inability or unwillingness to separate facts from opinions. There is no factual basis for the fears that often drive prejudice, just an acceptance of some opinions that we were exposed to at some earlier time. One does not come to the conclusion that “I should be afraid of this person because…”, so much as accept the opinion of some else telling us, “you should be afraid of that person because…” We are exposed to most of those opinions at a very early age, before we have developed the ability to truly reason for ourselves. For many, those opinions stick with us, unchallenged and accepted as knowledge. As we grow mentally, most are able to separate and discard those unproven “facts” and form our own opinions (wisdom) on those matters.

I suppose that, in order to be honest about the things that we accept as truths, we must first develop the ability to question everything that we think we know. The introspection needed to question our knowledge (and thus turn it into wisdom) starts by asking yourself if the basis for your decisions on something or your reactions to something (or someone) is based upon proven facts or just opinions. You might be surprised at the answer to that question, if you take the time to ask it of yourself during a normal day.

In all likelihood you won’t have the time to do that in “real time”, so reflection after the fact will be needed. That is still valuable in helping your better understand yourself and to better equip yourself for future encounters or decisions. In the post “Seek Wisdom Within” above, I suggested taking what I called a “life-selfie” as a way to self-assess.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. day for 2021, we might all benefit from a focus on the prejudices that we still carry around with us as “facts” and try to simplify our lives by discarding them in favor of the truth and wisdom of acceptance and inclusiveness. As I said in the post “You have to work at it”, asking for God’s help is a great way to sort things out.

Have a happy MLK day.

You can do this…

January 16, 2021

Pastor Freed used this quote some time ago in his blog Jack’s Winning Words  – “Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less.”  (Greg McKeown)

I happen to have clients that categorize themselves as essentialists. At one time they thought that they were minimalists, but have come to realize the differences and are happy being essentialists. One major difference is that they do allow themselves a few, non-essential indulgences in life, where a minimalist would eschew anything above the bare minimum altogether.

Essentialism isn’t a bad thing and the key to it – discipline – is actually a good thing, because it spills over into all aspects of one’s life. That means that essentialists are usually more healthy, because they are disciplined eaters and have the discipline to get enough exercise. That discipline also means that they have fewer possessions and probably are in better financial shape, even if they aren’t considered to  be wealthy.  They are disciplined savers and likely have a nice nest egg for retirement building.

So, why should you consider becoming an essentialist? Because there is really no justification for the opposite approach to life – that of constantly chasing more. More money, more things. MORE. To what end? Is the person with more at the end of their life able to take it with them any more than the person with less?

An interesting side effect of the two approaches to life is that those who seek more are seldom happy with whatever they have accomplished and have at the time – they want more. Whereas, the person seeking only the essentials in their life can find happiness in not having or eliminating something – success is found in less.

So, should you run off and live in a cave with no possessions or amenities? No, that would be the minimalist approach. Just stop to consider before you buy that next thing and ask yourself  if it is really essential. Have the discipline to think about what you need and of what use you might put something to, if you bought it. Would it be used often or just sit in a closet or be over next to the exercise equipment, gathering dust. Are you buying this item because you actually need it (essential) or just because you want it (and why do you want it – is it because someone else has one).

You won’t become a hermit or even an essentialist overnight, just because you stopped to think about it before you buy things; however,, it might help you get your credit card debt under control and that’s a good first step. Adopting that small step of discipline in your life make be he first step to getting back control of your life. Once you have regained control over yourself, you will probably notice that what is important in life is not possessions but the relationships that you have with those around you – family and friends. Now you know what is really essential for a happy life.

Let me know how that works for you. I’m off to buy things that I don’t need with money I don’t have. My bad.