Do we really do better?

October 2, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “When we know better, we do better.”  (Maya Angelou)

I don’t think it is just cynicism when I say that maybe the quote should have been – When we know better, We OUGHT to do better.  There are just so many examples in everyday life where we do know better, but don’t do better.

The whole Black Lives Matter movement is a demonstration of that thought. We know that prejudices and brutality exist within police departments across the country, yet we have not been able to correct that and do better. Stories about local hate crimes against families of color or against members of the LBGTQ community are also examples. We know better, but we don’t do better. Even stories about the impact of climate change are examples of a problem that is well documented and that we know is causing harm, yet too many of us continue practices that further pollute our air and promote those changes. We know better and we ought to do better.

What are we to do? How can we affect change and do better? I think the first step in making any change is to stop and consider what you are about to do. Think about it before you act. Do not let yourself succumb to a knee-jerk reaction that is driven by fear, preconceived notions or misinformation. Start your day with a prayer for the will and patience to stop and think before you act. You know better; now do netter.

Systemic racism in our society is nurtured and reinforced by people who know better but who don’t do better. Predispositions like racism and homophobia cannot stand the light of reason because they have no reasonable foundation upon which to be based. Rumors, conspiracy theories and outright lies are not the things upon which we should; base decisions; yet they are all that is underlying those examples. All of those “reasons” are based upon fear. We know better and we ought to do better.

Much of the fear that drives these issues in our society is fear that somehow something will be taken from us and given to others. People rail against providing healthcare to others through programs like Medicaid or care for refugees seeking asylum in America because they believe that it is taking something away from them. Their attitude is, “I got mine, you get your own!” Yet our country has been successful largely because we welcomed immigrants who later contributed to the economic growth that we all benefit from today. Was there an initial cost to welcome those new members of our society? Yes, there always was and there always will be a “startup cost” to getting any immigrant of to a new life in America; however, history has shown us that those costs are repaid many times over by the contributions that most of these new members later make to our society. We know better and we ought to do a better job of welcoming immigrants to America, not build walls to keep them out.

Of late, our challenge has concerned how to act within the context of a worldwide pandemic. Our statistics as a country show that while we know better, we have not done better. It certainly isn’t that we haven’t been given enough information or warnings about what needs to be done to slow down the spread of this virus. It’s really that so many have ignored the warnings and advice and chosen instead to selfishly (or foolhardily) keep spreading the disease to others. They knew better and decided not to do better. Wear a mask in public – you know better, now do better.

So, our challenge is to take the “ought to” out of my revision of the Angelou‘s quote and just do better. You know that we know better.

Today, let’s all just do better.


Cease and desist…believe

October 1, 2020

There are many things that one can do in pursuit of happiness; however, there are also t some things that one can stop doing that will help with that pursuit. Pastor Jack Freed used some advice from the ancients in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, today – “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”  (Epictetus)

Image From WikiPedia

Epictetus was an ex-slave, a philosopher and one of the leading proponents of Stoicism in his day. There is much good information available about the rise and fall of stoicism as a philosophy of life. Stoicism fell out of favor as a philosophy, although it has enjoyed somewhat of a revival lately as people wrestle with our current political situation. It’s failure is that it stops at the edge of reason and does not make the leap to belief that faith allows.

It is relatively easy to advise that one cease worrying about things that they cannot control; however, it is much more difficult to heed that advice. The key to that difficulty can be found in the word “will” in Epictetus’s quote.  When you substitute the word “ego” for the word “will”, you begin to see the root of the problem. Our hubris gets in our way.A stoic sees and approaches all problems as things for which solution can be found, a way out, a fix; but many problems have no such solution. There is nothing that we can do about certain things, such as the current Corona Virus pandemic. No amount of personal effort or thinking will result in a solution or a way back to what we think of as normal. There are many other things in life – challenges, situations or happenstances – that present similar conundrums.   

What are we to do? Is there a better way to live than to heed the advice of Epictetus?

The answer is found in turning to our faith. Faith lies just beyond reason, just out of our control. Acknowledging our faith reaffirms our acceptance of something that we don’t understand but believe. If you can get yourself in that faith frame of mind, the next step is easy and one that I have posted about many times in this blog.  That step involves a simple prayer to God – “Not my will, but thy will be done.” How simple is that? Yet how powerful. It is at that point that you let go of the unsolvable problem and things that are beyond your control. You have put them in God’s hands and have accepted that His will be done.

The answer to the conundrum of worry about things that we cannot control, then, is not stoicism, but faith. When the problem at hand goes beyond your ability to control or resolve, you must take that step beyond reason, into the world of belief and give it to God. You are free to cease worrying about them and move on with life. You will leave that prayer session with the feeling that a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders.

Cease. Desist. Believe.


Share your point of view…share your peace…

September 30, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed again used a quote from Anne Frank – “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” One’s beliefs about people have a great deal to do with how they see and live in the world. Anne Frank’s view would generally be classified as optimistic.

The antithesis of Anne Frank’s view of people is to be pessimistic which is defined in in this quote from Fernando Pessoa – “To be a pessimist is to see everything tragically, an attitude that’s both excessive and uncomfortable.” Pessimists seldom see the good in people.

I stumbled across a couple of quotes from one of my favorite sources – Unknown – while looking for the quote about pessimists. Two seemed to provide some worthwhile guidance for life.

Ships don’t sink because of the water all around them. They sink because of the water that gets inside them. Don’t let the negative that may be all round you get inside you. (Unknown)

And

 Don’t let people pull you into their storms. Pull them into your peace. (Unknown)

The allusion to storms in the second quotes brought to mind all of the personal turmoil and divisiveness that seems to be all around us these days and it fit nicely with the ship analogy in the first quote. We are like ships in the sea of humanity that is all around us. We cannot let the water of hate or prejudice or bitterness get into our heads (into our ship) or we will sink along with those who are fermenting those feelings.

In fact, as Christians, we have an obligation to try to share the peace that we have received from Jesus with those who are tossing in the storms around us. That does not mean jumping up on a soapbox and preaching at them; rather, it means that through our empathy and actions we demonstrate a better alternative, an optimistic alternative, to the pessimistic point of view that may be in control of their life.

If, like Anne Frank, you start out with the point of view that people are basically good; then it is worth making the effort to find and bring out that good, rather than just writing them off and a bad egg. It may take a great deal of understanding and patience to cut through the hurt, anger and cynicism that you will encounter, but buried deep within them somewhere is the good that Anne Frank saw in all people. An interesting response that you may also encounter is surprise from them that someone (anyone) cares about them. It is that feeling of being isolated that drives many people to anti-social behavior and a few all the way to suicide.

So go forth today, not avoiding people who are angry or negative, but with the mission to try to pull them into your peace. If nothing else, smile and say hello to those that you meet. You may be the only one that they encounter today who does not try to avoid them. You will probably be the only area of tranquility that they encounter today in their otherwise stormy lives. If the opportunity presents itself, take the next step and introduce yourself. Each little effort provides a calming effect on the storms that may be surrounding that person. Share your point of view.

Pull them into your peace.


Do you have it?

September 29, 2020

From an earlier post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog – As seen in the Speed Bump cartoon – A women sitting on a park bench says – “Some people never have it. Some people have it mildly and some people react so badly to it.”  The man sitting next to her says  – “Yeah, the virus is…” to which she responds – “ I was talking about empathy.”

Do you have empathy? One easy way to tell is to think about how you react as you watch the nightly news. When the stories about the Black Lives Matter come on do you immediately feel the pain and frustration that the marchers are trying to get across or do you feel angry or frightened by the scene. Do you identify with the marchers or with the man who drives his car into the demonstrators? Is your reaction to think about what you can do to help make things better for the people demonstrating against racial injustice or does this immediately cause you to become defensive about the things that you feel the marchers are trying to take from you? Can you see where the people with empathy are coming from? Maybe you more closely identify with the people who have apathy for the plight to the marchers. Perhaps your reaction might even be classified as animosity.

Having empathy is a good thing, but empathy without taking action is like daydreaming – pretty much a waste of time.  Read the words of James 2:14-17 and mentally substitute the word “empathy” for the word “faith” in this passage –

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

You get the idea. That is just one of many passages that are calls for action in service to others. Make no mistake about it, the current demonstrations about police brutality and systemic racism in America are calls to action and taking no action is a sin, as James points out later in that chapter – “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

Do not seek refuge in the excuse that you are only one little person and cannot by yourself effect changes in our society. We all have the tendency to mutter to ourselves, “I wish somebody would do something about that”, but too few of us take the next step and be the somebody who does it. James also captured that dilemma for Christians when he said – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  (James 1:22)

We deceive ourselves if we think we have empathy but take no action from it. I have posted here before about taken steps, not matter how small they may seem to help effect change in your life and the lives of others, most recently in the post Be the Somebody.

So, if you have it (empathy); take the next step and Be the Somebody who does something about it.


Do your little part today…

September 28, 2020

Back from a long weekend away, I am inspired today (as is often the case) by a quote from the Jack’s Winning Words blog – Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”  (Van Gogh)

I’ve posted here a few times about taking small steps (baby steps) in a new direction in your life (see the latest post at – https://normsmilfordblog.com/2020/09/09/step-off-in-a-new-direction/)

The quote that Jack used today made me wonder what the impact would be if enough of us started doing the small things that we lament are missing in society today – being more civil to each other, extending acts of kindness to each other, paying it forward. Could we achieve the more peaceful and caring society that most of us want, if we each individually took some small steps in that direction? Would our small acts of kindness or civility become additive and create even more of the same?

I have a sign on my front lawn that contains a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr – “I decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” I have had many people stop and ask me where I go the sign. It was created by the West Bloomfield, Michigan Optimists’ Club as part of a project to share King’s words. The people that stop all ask where they can get one, which shows me that here is lots of pent-up goodness in the world. Maybe sharing that sign in my little part in making things better for us all. Hopefully it at least starts them thinking more about love and less about hate.

You don’t need to put a sign on your lawn to do something to help the world be a better place to live and you don’t have to do something big, either. What you can do is to resolve to be a more caring and giving person today and to show that attitude through small acts of civility and kindness to others as the day goes on. The little ripples that you create with your actions will combine with ripples from others to become larger waves of change in our society. What you may notice first is the lack of the hatefulness that is on display so often today and that would be a great change.

Start by resolving, as King did, that hate is too hard a burden to carry around all day. Start out your morning with a prayer that God will put love in your heart and a determination to share that love with those that you encounter. Instead of a grunt and a frown, greet those you meet with a smile and an open hand. Say, “Hello. How’s your day going or how are you?” If they ask you how you are, answer, “Fantastic!” They will wonder the rest of the day what it is that made your day so fantastic. Maybe they will even thonk of some things that will make their day fantastic, too.

The point is that you will be doing your little part to make things better. If you go all day and only change one person’s outlook on life in a positive way, you will have already doubled the number of happy and more civil people in the world. Imagine that happening every day for a long time and soon you can imagine that enough people have changed to make the world a better place. We talk about “herd immunity” these days, but this is “herd happiness”. Your small acts of empathy and kindness can be a part of this bigger change in our society.

Do your little part today.


Who will you be today?

September 23, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words. Pastor Freed used this quote from Alice in Wonderland – “I’m not who I was yesterday.” 

He went on to write – I’ve read that our body cells are continuing to die and be replaced, so that we are never who we were yesterday (a complete change in 7 years!).

While it is interesting to think that you’ll have completely new body cells in seven years, it is even more fascinating  to explore the thought that you have a choice of who you will be today; that you do not have to be who you were yesterday. Who will you be today?

Most of us probably don’t take the time each morning when we wake up to reflect upon who wed were yesterday and to think about who we want to be today – but we should. If recalling the events of the past (yesterday and beyond) show us a person who was not as understanding, tolerant or forgiving and kind as we would like to be, then we have the ability to change that today and become the person we want to be. Who will you be today?

One doesn’t have to think of this opportunity as if it were a TV show about a total makeover, sort of like the old Queer Eye for the Straight Guy show. It can quickly get to be overwhelming, if one tries to change completely in one day. Rather it can be approached as the chance to change one or two small things that you recognize that you currently do (or did yesterday), such as jumping to conclusions about people based solely on your first visual impression. What can you do to stop that knee-jerk reaction and take the time to actually get to know that person? Who will you be today?

You might be surprised at the change that both you and the people around you perceive if you just resolve to listen more and speak less. All of a sudden the chatterbox or scatterbrain that people dismissed could be perceived as  the thoughtful and well-spoken person that people turn to for advice. What changed? You did. You made the conscious decision to be somebody different from who you were yesterday. Who will you be today?

So, take some time this morning in self-examination to determine what things in your life you might wish to change, what actions or reactions you want to make sure that you don’t repeat. Pastor Fred when on to add to his blog – Every day is an opportunity to improve the self that we were yesterday. Take that opportunity to become a better you. Think about it. Pray about it and then do something about it.

Who will you be today?


Are you tracking up the place?

September 21, 2020

“Don’t track in mud on my clean floors!” How often we may have heard that from our moms as kids growing up?

There is a great saying that was left over from research on Native American sayings that I did for an earlier post –

“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” – Dakota

Yes, we do leave tracks in life; not on the floors so much, but on other people’s lives. The tracks that we leave are made by the impressions that they have of us in those encounters. What tracks will you be known by? Will they be the tracks of a caring, kind and empathetic person who took the time to listen and offered help; or will they be memories of someone cold and uncaring person who turned their back in a time of need? Will they be tracks of a leader showing the way forward or the retreating tracks of the coward running from adversity? Will they be the deep tracks of a person willing to shoulder the load of others or the shallow tracks of the self-centered, unable to see the needs of others?

Some tracks left behind can be more like bruises – hurtful, painful and slow to heal. Those are the tracks of hate or prejudices that cause harm to others. Some tracks are more like gentle kisses, leaving fond memories in their wake. Those are the track left by love, empathy and inclusiveness.

As you finish each day, look back over the tracks that you have left that day. Are they tracks that you can be proud of or are they reminders of things avoided or left undone? Tears of regret aren’t the only thing left behind when reviewing the tracks that you left today on the paths of the people that you crossed.

Think about the opportunities that you will have to make tracks tomorrow and resolve to do a better job then. If you consciously approach each encounter with another as a place where your tracks will be left, it may help you do a better job. You don’t want to be tracking mud all over the place.

Are you tracking up the place? What kind of tracks will you be leaving behind? Tread carefully and thoughtfully into the future, remembering that you will be forever known by the tracks that you leave behind today.


You have to work at it…

September 19, 2020

A recent post in the Jack’s Winning Words blog featured this quote – “Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, Wisdom is of the future.” – Lumbee

Certainly, that is good advice, but it immediately brought up the question of how does one seek wisdom. One dictionary definition of wisdom  is –

the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

Also found on the internet – “The primary difference between the two words is that wisdom involves a healthy dose of perspective and the ability to make sound judgments about a subject while knowledge is simply knowing. Anyone can become knowledgeable about a subject by reading, researching, and memorizing facts. … Wisdom is knowing when to say it or how to apply that knowledge.”

We often refer to older people as being wise or having wisdom, mainly because they have the perspective of age to look back over things that they experienced in life and draw conclusions about how to act in the future. Some people “never learn” and repeat the same mistakes in life over and over. They are seldom known as wise people.

The Bible is full of advice about wisdom, how to gain it, how to apply it and how to differentiate between the wise man and the fool. A couple of Bible passages that I found seemed to resonate –

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Many of the quotes about wisdom in the Bible are about seeking and making use of advice. I think the first quote above offers the best advice for where to seek wisdom- ask God for His help. Asking God for help understanding things that happen in life puts them into a perspective from which one can better accept and understand them – thus, become wise from them.

The second quote speaks to the type of wisdom that God grants us by using words like “peaceable”, “gentle”, and “impartial”.  God’s wisdom allows us to be “open to reason”, “full of mercy” and “sincere”. As you think about becoming wise, what more could you hope to achieve than what is found in those words?

I think a key to tuning knowledge into understanding and wisdom is that you have to work at it. Asking God for help in prayer is working at it. Taking time to cool down and think about what just happened before you react is working at it. Pausing to think before you speak is working at it. Turning the other cheek, rather than striking back, is working at it. Refusing to allow kneejerk reactions to people or events dictate the course of your life is working at it.

One can accumulate knowledge without effort, but one achieves wisdom by working at it. Take some time each morning to reflect on the events of the immediate past and ask God to help you turn that knowledge into wisdom.

You have to work at it…


Be the Somebody…

September 15, 2020

Few people ever get into a position of power or influence that allows them to effect changes at a state, regional or national level; however, all of us can heed the call to action that Pastor Freed posted today in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words – from the rapper Nellie – “If we don’t heal our ‘hood, who will?” 

I have a tendency, as I suspect many do, while watching the nightly news casts, reading the paper or seeing things posted on-line to say things like “Somebody ought to do something about that”, or maybe “Somebody ought to fix that.” Those a cop-outs. The somebody who needs to do something is I. How can I look at a story in the news about systemic racism and not examine my own contribution to that problem- my fears or preconceived notions that lead me to jump to racist conclusions upon encountering a black person or to pull back for no good reason when encountering a member of the LBGTQ community. I am the somebody who needs to do something and that something starts with me.

I’m not sure that I would buy the argument from someone that they didn’t realize that they were reacting or acting in a prejudiced manner. The truth more likely is that they did know, but were not ready to change. Their kneejerk reactions to people different from them has nothing to do with the knee part of that label. They really have not come to the realization that their actions/reactions were sometimes hurtful and always wrong. Unfortunately, unlike plea deals in the law, there is no way to plead no contest to this realization. There is only right and wrong. Own up to whatever it is that you know you have been doing wrong and then (and only then) you can move on to be the Somebody who changes things and heals your hood.

Maybe a good way to start each day is to take the time when looking into your mirror (whether shaving or putting on makeup) is to ask yourself, “What can I do today to make a positive difference in my life or the life of someone else?” In the pause that will follow, I’m almost sure that something will come to mind about yourself that you could work on changing or improving. It will also help set your mind into a proactive mode to work for changes in your hood – to make things better for all.

 So, who will heal our hood? The healing has to start with somebody. Be the Somebody!


It is how you make the journey, not how far you get…

September 14, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this Native American blessing –  “May every sunrise bring you hope.  May every sunset bring you peace.”

Freed went on to comment upon how the Native American view of the Great Spirit in nature that was all around them in nature influenced their lives. He lamented the lack of such recognition of God in our lives in modern times.

Perhaps the bridge between the hopes that we have at the beginning of a day and the peace one seeks at the end of each day rests on how one conducts oneself during the day. Maybe a little prayer at the beginning would help – “Dear God, please be with me today as I pursue my hopes and help me conduct myself in such a way that I will be without regrets and find peace at the end of this day”.

Things that you’ve done or those things that you left undone drive regrets. Both of those are conscious choices and not just happenstance. So, at each decision point during the day, stop and ask yourself, “Will I regret doing (or not doing) this at the end of the day?” Often just taking that little pause to think will help you make better decisions and be at peace with yourself at the end of the day.

Each day is a journey. Each has its own hopes and goals. Some days you may find that you quickly achieve your hopes and goals. On other days frustrating obstacles may pop up that prevent achieving anything towards your goals and hopes. Sometimes achieving peace at the end of one of those frustrating days is very hard. That is when you must be able to let the frustrations go, put them behind yourself and renew your hopes for a better day tomorrow. Just remind yourself that it is not how far you get each day, but rather how you conducted yourself that day.

Here is another bit of Native American wisdom that I recently saw –

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” – Cherokee

Be at peace at the end of every day.