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Verstehen, through shared perspectives


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THE SKY IS FALLING

The expressions of a pervasive sense of impending doom are on the increase, whether you read/listen to the armchair experts on social media, or the professional experts in science, economics, philosophy, or religion. Yet as I look around me in the “real-life” portion of my world, people seem to be pretty much absorbed by the joys and/or challenges of daily living rather than wondering whether the world is going to end in a financial meltdown, climate change disasters, the extremes of social anarchy, or World War III. Then, of course, there are others who only argue about who is to blame for any of these terminal disasters, as opposed to those who fatalistically refuse to think about it: “Whatever will be, will be.” Finally we have those who are totally unaware, perhaps desensitized by a lifetime of failed threats of the immanent End of Time.

-Remember the back yard bomb shelters of the Cold War era, complete with supplies to support a family until it was safe to return to the earth’s surface (however long that would be)?

-Remember the End Times and the Space Ship arrival cults? (True, these are not entirely gone).

-Remember Y2K, and the Mayan Calendar date of December 2012?

Or, just pick up the New Testament and read the words of the prophets who followed Jesus, claiming the Rapture would occur just any day, despite the words of Jesus himself, who stressed that the date could not be known. Yet the Second Coming of Christ has been predicted many times in the past 2000 years. It seems that when we are not fearing the end of the world, we are happily anticipating it.

Widespread dissatisfaction with and/or fear of the world as it is, however, have always been accompanied by cries that “the sky is falling.” And sometimes, it does – though not even close to earth-wide since the destruction of the dinosaurs. It happens to us as individuals, too. When everything goes wrong in our lives – economically, health-wise, or in relationships – the suicide rates go up, while others still consider ending it all or pray to die, because their situation is intolerable. The reasons for coming disaster mount up, while our ability to think rationally enough to take action for positive change in our own lives rapidly disappears. If that is our individual coping mode, how can we expect to fare any better in large groups, or as a nation?

Where is the leadership that can put aside their personal fears and aspirations, and show us the way to work together to solve the problems that have solutions, and learn how to prepare for the “new normal” when change is inevitable?

Where are the families and the communities that can help each other to get through the bad times, and show their children how to deal with disaster and failure as well as with success and wealth? I know for a fact that these exist, but perhaps there simply are not enough of them. Or maybe they have forgotten.

Where are the teachers who used to show us how to apply theory and practice to real life situations, and how to think critically in order to separate truth from fiction when possible? I do know of some.

Finally, we can’t blame all these people for our individual and collective feelings of impending doom. I believe that our lives will improve when we stop rushing head-long and helter-skelter into the end of time and stop to get our common sense back.

Yes, indeed, there are threats to our safety and well-being. There are major changes coming to life as we know it. (In fact, there always have been – they just come faster now). We can’t afford either denial or complaisance, and we never could. We have, however, succeeded grandly as a human race when we have cooperatively put our mental and physical resources together to figure out how to meet the challenges of the day, how to be good stewards of our resources, and how to live together in relative peace. This works for nations, for communities, for families, and for individuals.

The sky is not falling yet. It may never fall. But there are definitely some threats. While those who can, work together to see that the potential for damage is lessened as much as possible, the rest of us need to be cooperating – with those who are knowledgeable, as well as with each other — and not giving in to fears of the future or to total denial.

The way to get through a challenge is to work it out, and work it through. Life has always been like that.


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WHAT WE ARE

What we are
Is God’s gift to us.
What we become
Is our gift to God.

My mom embroidered this little sampler for me when I was a young newlywed. Today, it hangs on the wall of my bedroom as a constant reminder of her love for me and the things that she taught me. On occasion, perhaps when hanging the sampler on a new wall in yet another house, another city, another time in my life, I have wondered what I have accomplished with what I have been given.

My thoughts today are somewhat different. Always before, I have considered “gifts” as the good things in life, as personal talents and abilities, as great opportunities. It followed, then, that my “gift to God” would be what I did with those abilities and opportunities. But what about the aspects of our lives that we consider impediments, inabilities, or even character flaws? Are they not part of “what we are?” What role do they play in what we become?

Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a wonderful children’s song entitled “I am a promise.” What a pleasure it is to watch the videos of children singing “I am a promise…a possibility…a potentiality.” These words counteract the hurtful words too often heard from authority figures who tell the young not to be stupid, lazy, liars, fat – the list goes on, and the words said often enough and in ways that become self-fulfilling prophesies internalized by the hearers. Our brains are much more likely to reinforce negative ideas than positive ones, and to act (or fail to act) because of them.

So what happens to all that potentiality? We become adults who are still bound by those negative beliefs, and may repeat them into the next generation. The actual impediments of our lives are added to these negative beliefs, and inhibit our ability to “become” the fulfillment of our potential. Or at least that might be what we believe happens.

Why do we tend to focus on only one aspect of potential? What if our potential lies not only in youth, and not just in talents and abilities, but also in all the other aspects of who we are – physically, as well as emotionally, or psychologically. For example, there is a man in our church who is in his 90’s who is a constant source of encouragement to me. I am told that before I knew him he had spent a long time in a wheelchair, but now he walks again. His body is bent and weakened, but his eyes are still filled with laughter and intelligence. His stories are always interesting and often funny. You know that he suffers, physically, but that is only part of who he is. Last week he mentioned that he was no longer of any use, yet we know that his smile alone lights up the room, and just to spend some time with him causes us to reclaim our sense of the value of life. Who he is impacts an entire congregation, every week. And he has the potential to continue to embrace us, encourage us, and inspire us to cherish not only who he is, but who we might become.

Now that is a gift.