The more things change … blah, blah, blah

I hate, absolutely hate to have to admit that some things about me never seem to change, no matter how much effort I put into the attempt. Anyone who’s been reading my blog for very long knows that I have a penchant for wanting to know what the future holds. Why? Why do I continually let my mind wander off over the hill to see what’s on the other side instead of just appreciating the view on this side? It’s not like I’ve ever been able to control the future now is it? Even so, it’s a big issue with me. In the last year I’ve posted four previous offerings here on the subject of the future.
In one of those posts I asked if maybe my name had been changed to “Job-alina.” Then last Sunday I was reminded in the sermon that the term “patience of Job” was really off the mark. Job wasn’t patient at all. He was an unhappy camper. Like all unhappy campers he complained loudly and bitterly about his circumstance. So, yes my name could be appropriately changed to “Job-alina.” I’ve spent a great deal of my life complaining about my circumstances; complaining in the sense that I’ve frequently been unhappy with my circumstances and generally always felt that it was God’s fault. Of course it wasn’t His fault, but why should I be held responsible?
The question is, would Job have been as successful as he had been up to that fateful day when, through no fault of his own, his world fell into ruin, chaos and pain, if he’d been able to see into the future? And the next question is, how far into the future would he have needed to see in order to take the steps that made him successful again? What if he’d been able to see only as far as the disasters? Would that vision of the future have dampened his zeal to succeed at all?
What if he’d known what the final outcome was? Would he have worked as hard, loved as much? It’s possible that he would have worked even harder knowing that all would be returned two-fold. If he was happy with his life as it was, would he have worked only half as hard knowing that he would end up with what made him happy in the first place? Would he have held his children as close and loved them as deeply, knowing that he would lose them? Or, would he have maintained an aloof distance in the hope that he wouldn’t suffer as much when he lost them eventually?
For myself, would I have done anything differently in the past, either distant or near, if I’d been able to see to the end of November 2013 and known that at age 69 I’d be working a 40 hour week, with a battered and broken heart which was sooo slow to mend. Would I have loved less deeply, worked less diligently, because after all, it was going to be for nothing?
Would I have devoted 4 years of my life to writing down the details of that life, another year to editing and yet another to getting it published if I’d known the result was going to be so much less than I hoped for? If I’d known the intense satisfaction that would come from knowing that I’d done it, and that in spite of the financial disappointment I would be very, very glad that I’d done it … Yes, in that case knowing the future would not have deterred me from my goal.
The motion picture industry has produced more than a few movies about people who go back in time and attempt to affect the future they were in. The result is generally the same. Messing with, and changing the events of the past never works out well. It’s a domino result and the fact for my life is this; I would only change one thing. If you have to ask what that is you haven’t been paying attention to what I write. With that exception I’m exuberantly pleased with where life has led me. Yeah, so what if I had to go back to work full-time? I enjoy what I do and for the most part I enjoy the people I work with. And … I’ve learned at last a lesson I’d like to say that I wish I’d learned a long time ago. But then, that would be messing with the future thing wouldn’t it. So let’s just say, I’m glad that I know it now.
It’s taken years but I’ve learned that patience is indeed a virtue finally appreciated and for me it has paid off in spades, as they say. If I could just learn to glance up at the framed copy of Proverbs 3:5-6 hanging above my desk more often …
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”
The key word there is of course “trust” and is interchangeable with “faith”; “have faith.” Live in today, not the past nor the future. That is the hardest lesson to learn and apply, because we all tend to want to be somewhere else, in time as well as place.

Is the process worth the result?

When I take the time to actually think about ideas that have surfaced in my mind from time to time, some amazing conclusions are frequently the result. For example, I awoke the other morning with the knowledge that I had to be ready, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, dressed of course, and at Mesa Community College to speak to a class on Human Sexuality at 10:30. I’ve spoken there dozens of times in the last ten years and my presentation has become refined to what I consider a rather exceptional level.

The sense of being prepared led to a rather relaxed time as I dressed and put on my face that morning. Being relaxed and engaged in a somewhat rote exercise allowed my mind to wander, which isn’t all that unusual and occasionally some interesting ideas and/or memories surface. That morning my thoughts wandered back to the early ‘60s and college.

What I found myself thinking about was the misery and suffering I had freely and enthusiastically subjected myself to, in order to be a part of a group of young men with nothing more in common than their field of study, which was agriculture. In order to be accepted into the “fraternal order” I willingly scrubbed floors, toilets, swept, dusted and attended to the whims of “active” brothers who took great delight in the various forms of abuse they inflicted on the “pledges,” which led up to “hell week” when it all reached a crescendo of suffering and no sleep for six miserable days.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough voluntary subjugation, I willingly submitted myself to another round of misery and pain in order to be accepted into the Army Special Forces branch of ROTC. That was so that on each Wednesday, when all the other young men had to wear their army dress uniforms, I could sport fatigues and the famous green beret.

Although I never regretted a moment of it then, and still don’t today, I find myself wondering what the benefit was beyond those four years. Is it a part of the human experience that we continually and willingly put ourselves in similar situations just so we can feel a part of something; so we can feel as though we “belong” to something in a way that will cause us to be missed when we are no longer a part of that group? A goal of belonging does not necessarily produce a purpose for belonging. Those weren’t the only times I willingly agreed to suffer for a benefit that often was fleeting and frequently never materialized.

I have subjected myself and those around me, to untold levels of disappointment and emotional misery for various forms of financial and social gain in an effort to be a part of that fraternal group of the well-to-do who live in big houses and drive expensive luxurious cars. Those efforts make that 3 months of fraternity hazing seem like a walk in the park. At least there I had a realistic expectation of an end to the misery. The rest of life, however, was a series of unrealistic expectations. The expectations were unrealistic for one basic reason. Unlike the college experiences, I wasn’t willing to endure the necessities of accomplishment in order to achieve the end result. The question then is … why not?

Dad was right about one thing … I didn’t want it bad enough. The next question then is, again … why not? Oddly enough the ultimate answer to those questions lay in the benefits embodied in the perceived end result. Peggy Lee said it best for me, “Is that all there is, If that’s all there is my friend then let’s keep dancing … let’s break out the booze and have a ball.” This is the essence to me, of a purposeless life … my life.

Or maybe Sisyphus and his endless effort to get that huge orb to the top of a hill which had no top would be an apt description of what I felt. Whatever it was, the end result didn’t contain enough satisfaction to justify the effort. It just meant that another meaningless goal would appear, and I would feel compelled to pursue it, but the compulsion was never enough, or enduring enough, to give me a sense of purpose beyond the goal itself. In other words, I would never, ever have a sense of having arrived. I wanted a sense of having arrived even though I had no idea of what that would mean or how it would be achieved. And then one day it finally occurred to me that that if I arrived it wouldn’t be enough because having arrived would mean the journey was over … and I didn’t want the journey to be over.

I realized that the journey itself was what made life worthwhile. A journey requires a point A and a point B, a beginning and an end, and the enjoyment is not in A or B. It’s in between A and B. All the things we put ourselves through in order to get from A to B get in the way of enjoying what’s in between. As long as I didn’t have a purpose for making the trip I missed all the enjoyment of the trip and that meant the trip would be for nothing.

I don’t want the trip to be for nothing and I don’t care if I ever get to B. Do you?

How Human was He?

Years ago, and I do mean “Years ago”, I remember a fable about a dog that had a prize bone, or a morsel of some sort, in his mouth crossing a stream of water. The dog looked down and saw his reflection in the water. Being a dog and not capable of reason and greedy as well, he drops the morsel in his mouth to grab the one in the reflection, thus losing what he had in an effort to gain something he didn’t have. This past week has been a reminder exercise of that moral.

Sometime in the early ‘70’s Playboy magazine published an article by Harvard theologian Harvey Cox. The cover picture for the article was a portrait of Jesus … laughing. I have no memory of the details of the article other than the picture and the notion that, contrary to the image of Jesus that I’d been raised with, was inaccurate at best.

I hadn’t thought much about that article or Harvey Cox for years until this past week. Furthermore, I don’t know why I suddenly remembered it then, but there it was, front and center in my thoughts. I felt compelled to find the article and picture and began searching with the help of three separate search engines. My very first effort yielded an article about the article with that same picture, but like the dog in the parable, I thought I could find a bigger one and continued my search without saving what I had. Like the dog, I ended up losing what I had and have been unable to locate the article anywhere else since. So why was that particular picture so important?

The impact that picture had on me at that time was significant. I had already given up any attachment or association with church, in large part because I felt an estrangement from what I saw as an impossible and not-human expectation of perfection for me. The thought that Jesus was capable of laughing was totally foreign. Not only had I never seen a minister, pastor or other church official express anything resembling humor, I had never considered for a moment that Jesus was human enough to laugh at a good joke. After all, He was the Son of God and God never laughed … well maybe when he created the Platypus.

Bottom line … I never thought of God or Jesus having a sense of humor and the thought was earth shaking for me. What part of “created in His image” did I not get? Apparently a very significant part I’d say. Maybe that’s because another memory tended to get in the way. That other memory was of someone whom I have no memory of, once saying that everything that we find humorous and causes us to laugh, involves someone’s pain; either physical pain or emotional pain, i.e. “embarrassment”. I have, as of this point in time, found no circumstance which I find humorous that does not involve one of the two, and often both.

It seems somehow incongruous for the Creator of the universe to chuckle at either … but He did invent humor did He not? Were we not created in His image? So what conceivable purpose could finding humor in pain or embarrassment serve? I have to look as the effect that laughter has had on my own occasional pain. When I do I’m reminded of a particular circumstance from thirty years ago.

The carport of the home we were living in was open-beamed and from that central beam, I’d been instructed to hang a single rope swing manufactured by Fisher-Price for our children. At the bottom of the rope was a square piece of plywood about 12 to 15 inches square with the rope passing through a hole in the center and knotted on the underside to keep the board in place. One afternoon we adults were fooling around with the swing and it was my turn on the swing. My sister-in-law began pushing me higher and higher until suddenly at the very apex of the swing’s arc, the rope broke. I landed, on my tail bone on the concrete. I’ve seldom experienced such pain. I couldn’t get up. All I could do was crawl … and cry. The wife and sister-in-law on the other hand were doubled up in laughter. I was furious. How could they find my extreme pain so funny that they couldn’t even offer to help me to my feet or inquire as to my well-being?

As the pain slowly began to subside, my own sense of humor began to show itself and soon I was laughing as hard as they were in spite of the residual pain which eventually kept me from sitting normally for several months. Today, many years later, I find myself still laughing at the memory. The laughter helped me forget the pain. Eventually I came to realize that humor can be recalled, but pain, once it’s gone cannot be recalled.

God invented pain, and He invented laughter, I believe as an antidote to pain. When I couple that fact with the memory of the picture of Jesus laughing, I find Him, God in person, so much easier to relate to. It makes my prayers seem somehow more important to Him. It makes the condition of my life seem more important to Him. It makes the occasional pain I feel seem more important to Him. It draws me closer to Him … and closer to Him is where I want to be.