Time to Reboot

“Because your future is not chained to your past.” –Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, Rosh Hashanah 5780Back on August 25th, I published a blog post on this blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days.” The Jewish month of Elul is now almost over, and the celebration of the Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah begins this Sunday at sundown, September 29, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Tuesday, October 1, 2019. It is also the beginning of the month of Tishrei and the beginning of the High Holy Days on the Hebrew calendar.

Rosh Hashanah is all about rebooting. “Reboot” is one of those techie terms that, according to Urban Dictionary, is defined as follows:

To start anew with fresh ideas in a way that is consistent with the principals of the original, but not unnecessarily constrained by what has taken place before. (Quote source here.)

In a brief article titled, Reboot,” by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, senior editor at Chabad.org, he writes:

Time is not a train of cars hitched one to another.

A year is not dragged along by the year preceding. The present is not hitched tightly to the past. The future is not enslaved to the present.

Rather, every year arrives fresh from its Creator, a year that never was before and could never have been known before its arrival.

That is why we call Rosh Hashanah “the birth of the world” in our prayers. The past has returned to its place, never to return. With the blowing of the shofar, the entirety of Creation is renewed.

From this point on, even the past exists only by virtue of the present. (Quote source here.)

I like the idea that “the entirety of Creation is renewed” on Rosh Hashanah. Much like our New Year’s celebration on New Year’s Eve and January 1st for those of us who are not Jewish, the New Year in both cases offers a “clean slate” to begin afresh from the past. However, Rosh Hashanah is just the beginning of the celebrations that take place during the month of Tishrei.

In an article titled, Happy and Sweet New Year,” by Esther Rosen, contributor on Chabad.org, she writes:

Tishrei (Tishri), the first month of the Jewish year (the seventh when counting from Nisan), is full of momentous and meaningful days of celebration. Beginning with the High Holidays, in this month we celebrate Rosh Hashanahthe Ten Days of RepentanceYom KippurSukkot and Simchat Torah. Each one is filled with its own meaningful customs and rituals. Some are serious, awesome days set aside for reflection and soul-searching. Some are joyous days full of happy and cheerful celebration.

But all of these days, throughout the month of Tishrei, are opportunities to connect, to be inspired, and to become more fulfilled and in tune with our true inner selves. Tishrei is considered the “head” of the year, and the reservoir from which we draw our strength and inspiration throughout the year ahead. (Quote source here.)

Specific to the High Holy Days,” also known as “The High Holidays,” Rosh Hashanah begins these days and culminates with Yom Kippur, which is quickly followed by the festive holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. An article titled, The High Holidays: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipper,” (the author’s name is not mentioned) states the following:

What Are the High Holy Days?

If the year is a train, the High Holidays (AKA High Holy Days) are its engine. A delicate blend of joy and solemnity, feasting and fasting, prayer and inspiration make up the spiritually charged head of the Jewish year.

The High Holiday season begins during the month of Elul, when the shofar is sounded every weekday morning, a clarion call to return to G‑d in advance of the sacred days that lay ahead.

The two-day holiday of Rosh Hashanah is the head of the Jewish year, the time when G‑d reinvests Himself in creation as we crown Him king of the universe through prayer, shofar blasts, and celebration.

A week later, the High Holidays reach their crescendo with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Like angels, we neither eat nor drink for 25 hours. Dressed in white, we pray in the synagogue—united as one people, children of One Father.

But it does not end there. The other-worldliness of the High Holidays is then channeled into the festive holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which bring the annual fall holiday season to a most joyous conclusion. (Quote source here.)

As a Christian, I must admit that I never gave much thought to the Jewish holidays until I stumbled upon Tisha B’Av(also known as The Ninth of Av) in June 2012 which “commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day set aside by G‑d for suffering” (quote source and a list of those catastrophes is available here.) Since that time, I have written a number of blog posts on my regular blog not only on that particular Jewish holiday but others, too.

Christianity has it’s roots in Jewish history, and Jesus celebrated the Jewish holidays during his lifetime on earth. In fact, his death and resurrection take place during the Jewish holiday of Passover with his death taking place on Passover and his resurrection taking place on the Feast of Firstfruits(see article titled, The Timing of Jesus’ Deathat this link).

The significance of the Jewish holidays to Christianity cannot be understated. They are very much intertwined with Christian history, and the Old Testament (Jewish history) is filled with prophesies concerning the coming of the Messiah which were fulfilled by Jesus Christ (see article titled Biblical Prophesies Fulfilled by Jesus at this link). Also, check out an article titled, What Proof Do You Have that Jesus is the Messiah?” by Jews for Jesus at this link.

In an article published in November 2011 in HuffPost.com titled, Dreams, Renewal and Rosh Hashanah,” by Levi-Ben Schmuel, contributor, writer, singer-songwriter, and inspirational speaker, he writes:

As we know, life is seldom a smooth road. Our dreams do not always manifest in the form we had hoped or in the time we imagined they would. As you reflect on why your dreams have not been realized, and perhaps look to place blame for them not working out on yourself or others, how will your frustrations and disappointments impact you moving forward?

The Jewish tradition counsels that before arriving at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year also known as the Day of Judgment, it is wise to reflect back on the previous year. The opportunity is to honestly examine where you have fallen short, then go through a process of asking for forgiveness that allows you to become renewed before God, ready to face life’s challenges in the new year. But in the process of renewal, will you simply wipe the slate clean, forget about your dreams, perhaps go for something less grand and safer, or continue to believe in your vision for your life?

Sister Joan Chittister, a Roman Catholic nun, was ready to enter a graduate program in creative writing as a step to fulfill her dream of becoming a novelist. Before the program started, her order directed her to serve God and the church in a more traditional way. Regarding the loss of her dream, Sister Joan wrote in her book “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” “There is no one who has not known what it is to lose in the game of life…. There is no one who does not have to choose sometime, some way between giving up and growing stronger…. The essence of struggle is the decision to become new rather than simply to become older…”

Sister Joan did not let her disappointment and loss get in the way of moving forward with renewed strength. In her case, she chose to let go of a dream. Her story also points out some important things to consider as you reexamine your dreams and hopes for the New Year. Where does your dream come from? Is it inspired by God, or simply a desire of your ego? And does your dream conflict with God’s plans for you?

Joseph, the great dreamer from the Bible, did not have an easy time with his dreams. Early in his story, sharing his dreams led him to slavery in Egypt and eventually jail with no end in sight. Through his dark times, he went through a healing process that led him to devote his life and his dreams to God. His childhood dreams became reality many years later, certainly in a form he never imagined. Through partnering with the Divine, through weathering challenging times and gaining strength from them, Joseph renewed himself and became a great blessing to a foreign nation and his own family.

Dreams and hopes are wonderful things. We need to be on guard not to let the disappointments in life sour us on them. Yes, it takes work to clear away the results of our mistakes and failures. Therein lies a great beauty in life: When we clear away the debris, genuinely ask for forgiveness and recommit to work in partnership with God, God answers us with open arms. We can be renewed and energized to follow our dreams for another year trusting in God’s plans and our ability to work with the Divine in creating them.

Happy New Year! (Quote source here.)

In an article published just 21 hours ago in The Times of Israel titled, Rosh Hashanah: The Gift of Life, Hope and Renewal,” by Bonnie Chernin, pianist, writer, certified professional coach, and founder of Jews for Life (now known as Jewish Life League), she writes:

Rosh Hashanah is nearly upon us, and we are preparing for the High Holidays with hope, reflection, renewal….

Rosh Hashanah means the Head of the Year, and there is a mission that is sometimes hidden that each of us as a unique human being needs to fulfill. Think about revealing your mission so you can achieve renewal and positive change. Change requires action. How can you change your situation today when you are so worried about what will happen in the future?

For change to happen in 5780 [the Jewish year starting on this coming Sunday evening], welcome each day with a new understanding of doing teshuvah, and that means returning to G-d every day for renewal. The year 5780 is called the year of redemption. Consider your most redeeming qualities. Cultivate your good qualities and do something meaningful every day. When in doubt about something, show restraint in your speech. Letting go of limiting beliefs is a liberating experience.

G-d did not intend for us to seek His forgiveness when we are preoccupied with personal judgments, insurmountable shame, fear or guilt. This is the time to remember what went wrong, how we can correct past mistakes and improve our lives.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, it is important to be introspective and commit to doing good deeds. By giving charity, attending services and connecting with others in the Jewish community, we can effect positive change in the world. We ask for forgiveness from people we have hurt. Sometimes it is not possible, so do what you can.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates G-d’s creation of the world, and of Adam and Eve.   Tishrei is a month of creation. According to tradition, the blast of the shofar is a call to repentance for the Jewish people. G-d is accessible to us and He is listening. During the Ten Days of Repentance, He is especially aware of the prayers of each and every one of us.

The best way to know that G-d is there for us is to be there for G-d. Teshuvah [repentance] should not be a temporary thing. Show up all year for G-d, not just on Rosh Hashanah.

Why not see today–this unique day that you are alive–as a day to experience growth, self-examination and improvement. What is your mission and purpose? My mission is to end abortion and provide resources that can help heal post-abortive women. My hope is to see a day when every unborn child is protected as a human being with potential. My purpose is to continue to involve myself in pro-life activities until a “Personhood Amendment” is passed to protect unborn children.

If I only lived for that future and got anxious over pro-abortion politicians, abortion policies, elections and obstacles in my way, I would not be able to do the pro-life actions that I take each day. I always keep my hopes high and my expectations in check. You can do the same.

Don’t think about what you will do tomorrow or for the entire year. You only have today, and no one is infallible. Did you know that by January 9th most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions? Likewise, on October 18th (nine days after Yom Kippur) will you give up on your resolutions to G-d? Will you forget about the promises you made for self-improvement in 5780? Or will you embrace each day with joy, enthusiasm, a sense of purpose and appreciation for the life that G-d created just for you?

If you can answer that one last question with a resounding “YES!”, then you are all set.

Shanah Tovah! (Quote course here.)

By including the above article, it is not meant to try and “guilt” anyone, but rather to cause us to reflect on our own personal relationship with God and what He means to us. In a brief article on the meaning of Shanah Tovah (that ends the article above) written by Rabbi Menachem Posner, staff editor at Chabad.org, he states:

Ever wondered what to say on Rosh Hashanah when you meet a Jewish person? Here’s what you need to know.

The Jewish new year is not just a time to renew our resolve to lose another fifteen pounds. Rather, it’s the time when our fate stands in the balance as G‑d reviews our past year and decides whether or not to renew our lease on His planet. As such, Jewish greetings for this time of year (the Jewish New Year is in the fall) reflect our prayers for a good, sweet year up ahead.

The catch-all greeting you can use for the entire season is “Shanah tovah” (שנה טובה), which means “Good year.” The word “u’metuka” (ומתוקה), and sweet, is sometimes appended to the end….

No matter what we say, the main thing is to wish each other a good, sweet year with all our heart–because that is what G‑d values the most. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post by saying “Shanah Tovah,” 🙂 and quoting Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice…

And to love kindness . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem” by Aish.com:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

It’s All Good

“Always loved… Never forgotten… Forever missed…”AnonymousIt has been said that the death of a parent changes us forever. It does. I wrote a blog post on this blog titled, A Eulogy for Dad,” on the day Dad died on June 22, 2019; and later I wrote a second blog post on July 21, 2019 on my other blog titled, Forever Changed,” after I returned from a week-long trip to my hometown to attend Dad’s funeral on July 13, 2019. And, I published a blog post on what would have been Dad’s 96th birthday, July 23, 2019 on this blog titled, Remembering Dad.”

It has now been six weeks since that last blog post I published on July 23rd, and even in this short amount of time, it is true, at least in my case, that time has a way of softening the negative stuff. For one thing, Dad and I didn’t have much of a relationship after my stepmother died in 2011. Before Dad’s death on June 22, 2019, the last time I was physically around Dad was at my youngest nephew’s wedding in October 2015 (for one thing, we lived in different states). It was Dad’s choice, not mine, to keep me at a physical distance these past several years. I wanted a relationship with him and I would have liked to visit him during those years.

I’ve had time to reflect over these past seven plus weeks since Dad’s funeral, and I realized that as time passes that I have many good memories of Dad especially from my younger years, and I’ve decided to let those memories overshadow any of the strains in our relationship especially over the past decade, and since my stepmother died in 2011. The only choices we get to make in this life are our own choices. We can’t make choices for other people. They make their own.

Just four days ago I wrote an email to a friend stating that a funny (not in “ha ha” funny but funny as in “unusual”) thing has happened to me since Dad died over two months ago. It’s as if all of the “bad” stuff in our relationship has just sort of faded away, and only the good stuff remains. And it has brought about a major peace in me regarding our relationship (between Dad and me). I also feel like a different person now in some ways. The somewhat perpetual anxiety I felt over my relationship with Dad while he was alive (because I couldn’t “fix” whatever it was on my own) has totally evaporated now. It’s very “freeing”  which is the only way I know how to express it. I only have good feelings towards Dad now. Of course, I will never know what caused the friction in the first place as he never would tell me.

So this is the last blog post I will be writing regarding my relationship with Dad. Call it closure. I love Dad, and that’s all that matters. For his funeral he requested three songs be played. I’ve included two of them previously on the blog posts mentioned above. This last one is the most fitting, and it was one of his favorites. Nat King Cole sang it back in 1951 (before I was born), and Michael Bublé sang the latest version of it in the YouTube video below. It’s titled, “Unforgettable.”

Unforgettable . . .

That’s what you are . . .

Dad . . . .

YouTube Video: “Unforgettable” by Michael Bublé:

Photo #1: Pic of Dad as a Navy Pilot/Instructor during World War II
Photo #2: Pic of Dad (2014) and second pic of Dad and my stepmother and their dog (circa 2000)

Remembering Dad

“Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.”Mitch Albom, internationally renowned best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, radio and television broadcaster, and musicianToday (July 23, 2019) is Dad’s 96th birthday. Dad passed away on June 22, 2019 (see post titled, A Eulogy for Dad,” published on that same day on this blog, and Forever Changed,” published two days ago on my regular blog) just one month shy of his 96th birthday, so this is the first milestone of many that will be celebrated without his physical presence.

It still doesn’t seem quite real yet that Dad is really gone (as in “never coming back” gone). While Dad and I lived one thousand miles apart and our relationship was somewhat strained especially during the past decade, I always knew he was only a phone call away, but now not even the internet or cyberspace can reach him (not that Dad ever owned techie stuff except for a cellphone, and he never had an email address or used text messaging). Technology may be the 8th Wonder of the World,” but not even all of our techie wonders can reach Dad now.

Dad (circa 2014) & Dad and my stepmother at Manhattan Beach, CA, in 2001

Despite our differences, my feelings and love for Dad never waned. While Dad went to his grave with me never really understanding what it was that he let come between us especially in these past ten years, it never stopped me from loving him. He’s the only dad I’ve ever had, and he has left an indelible mark on my life for the better even though at times he tried to make it for the worse (I say that humorously). He may have divorced Mom many years ago when I was only 12, but he can’t divorce me. I’m his own flesh and blood, and I’m his only daughter made from his flesh and blood.

Dad and I did not get into a lot of arguments (none, actually, when I was very young), but he was the son of a hellfire and brimstone preacher and he could dish it out with the best of them once he got started. There was no getting a word in edgewise when Dad got started on one of his tirades. Fortunately, they were few and far between, and the physical distance between us after I moved to Florida when I was 40 as the recipient of a doctoral fellowship at a private university helped to keep the heat mostly turned down to lukewarm.

I never understood his anger (maybe discontent is a better word) at me, and he was often quite critical even when I was very successful at something that I had accomplished, but beneath his anger I knew that he loved me. Our relationship went fairly well during the almost 32 years he was married to my stepmother until she died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2011. She softened him towards me and I was forever grateful to her for that. Dad could blow up at me when I was just sitting in a chair watching TV when I visited them, and I never knew what I did to set him off. She was a sort of buffer between us. After her death, the distance between Dad and me grew again, but not because I wanted it to be like that. I always wanted a close relationship with Dad, but he was the one who built the wall between us, and he kept it in place right up until he died a month ago.

I am not a fighter and I hate arguing with anyone. I will walk away from an argument before I try to fight back especially when I know it is a fight I’ll never win or that a compromise is not possible. And with Dad, I never won that fight as he would just shout over anything I tried to say, so a couple of decades ago I stopped trying to make him see that I wasn’t the person he perceived me to be. I felt like I was fighting against a phantom image he had created of me, and that’s about as effective has punching at water.

I can’t tell you how many years I prayed that we could be reconciled and have a real relationship as father and daughter. I watched him have relationships with other women like my sisters-in-law, and later my stepsister, and my niece, and even Dad’s girlfriends between his marriages. I didn’t even come close in comparison to them in his eyes. It was brutal, and I never understood why he felt the way he did about me. I could only assume it had something to do with my mother who he divorced when I was 12. He never let me be who I was. I was always this phantom image he had created in his mind that he did not like, and he never got to know the real me. And because of that, I never got to experience the side of him that he showed to everybody else in life, either.

It takes two to tango, and I know I wasn’t perfect either. I have my flaws as does every human being on the planet. There’s a line near the end of the movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” (2010) where the main character, a Wall Street guy named Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), who had a very strained relationship with his adult daughter in the movie, says to her, “Human beings… you gotta give ’em a break. We’re all mixed bags.” He and his daughter reconcile at the end of the movie. In real life, Dad and I did not reconcile before he died, and it was his choice, not mine. I was told that he didn’t even want to see me on his deathbed, but he said he knew that I might need the “closure.” I didn’t need the closure; I just wanted to know that he really loved me, and I wanted him to know that I really loved him. After all, we are all mixed bags.

I knew Dad loved me at some level, although we had only physically seen each other twice in the past dozen years before Dad died (both times were at two nephews’ weddings–one in January 2008 and the second in October 2015), and I was the one who made the effort to “show up.” When my stepmother was still alive and after I moved to Florida when I was 40, I called home and talked to Dad and my stepmother every Sunday for all of those years until my stepmother died, and then Dad no longer showed much interest in talking with me by phone once he started a relationship with a widow he met several months after my stepmother died in 2011. This widow was really good for Dad and she no doubt had a big hand in keeping him alive for as long as he lived as he was devastated after my stepmother died. I have no hard feelings toward her whatsoever, and she has her own significant health issues going on right now, too. I was glad she brought life back into Dad for those few years they were together before Dad died, and I was happy to see that she was able to make it to Dad’s visitation and funeral with her family.

My grief for Dad is not only because he died but when he died so did the last opportunity to try to make things right when I didn’t even know what was wrong. My grief is also for the relationship we could have had if he had only gotten rid of the phantom image he created of me that kept him from having a real relationship with me all those years, and especially in the past decade.

Dad really was a great guy and he really did have a great life. He never knew a stranger; he was an honest and very successful businessman; he was enormously proud of his WWII service as a Navy aviator and his military career, and he loved being a Mason (he was a “33rd Degree” Mason which is part of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry) and a Shriner during the years he was active. He did love his family, and he had a great sense of humor, and he was loved by many including me. That is the dad I will always remember, and I refuse to let the negative stuff get in the way. We all make our choices in this life, and he chose to keep me at a distance. I would have made a different choice if I could have but, as I stated above, it takes two to tango, and his life wasn’t a dance he was interested in sharing with me.

Dad’s death might be a little easier on me then my two brothers because of the difficult relationship Dad chose to have with me (actually, that could make it harder on me if I let it, but I won’t), and also due to the physical distance between Dad and me from the time I was 40 and moved to Florida for that doctoral fellowship. Dad was very close to my two brothers and their families, and he communicated with them either daily or weekly right up until his death.

As stated above, I only actually saw Dad twice in the past dozen years–the last time being in October 2015. I asked Dad if I could come home to visit many times but I was repeatedly told “no” after my stepmother died. I will never understand why Dad did not want me around nor will I ever know the reason behind it. I sometimes felt like an orphan long before Dad died especially in the past decade.

I do love Dad with every fabric of my being. I love him as much as I love Mom who died over 36 years ago. I was very grateful I was able to make it back to Dad’s funeral even though it required me to drive 2000 miles in my almost 15-year-old Honda. It was a very positive and uplifting time for me from start to finish as I got to see family again along with folks who came to the visitation and Dad’s funeral that I had not seen, in some cases, in over 40 years. It was truly a celebration of Dad’s life and it was a wonderful celebration amidst much crying. Dad will be missed by many including me.

To those who might be reading this post who knew and loved Dad, I do not want what I have written above to in any way affect the way you knew him and loved him. Life is full of difficult relationships for most if not all of us at some point, and just because Dad and I had a difficult relationship does not mean it has to affect anyone else’s view of Dad. I wish I was able to get to know Dad like you did, and sometimes I did get to see that side of him (I saw it a lot more when I was much younger). I want you to remember him just as you do–as a great guy who didn’t know a stranger and who celebrated life right up to the end.

And life . . .

For the rest of us . . .

Still goes on . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night (this is the last of three songs that Dad requested to be played at his funeral):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit–personal photo
Photo #3 credit–personal photo

He Who Laughs Lasts Longest

“Humor is a rubber sword–it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”Mary Hirsch, HumoristFour days ago when I wrote my blog post, A Eulogy for Dad,” on the day Dad died one thousand miles away in another state, I ended by saying that Dad, if he was still here, would end his own eulogy with a funny joke–probably more likely a funny story.

Later, I got to thinking about the term “funny joke” as I thought maybe it is a bit redundant to use the term “funny” with “joke” as most jokes are supposed to be funny, aren’t they? Of course, that lead to a Google search for an answer as I hate being redundant, and I tend to use too many words as it is. One of the links that came up in my search lead to an article published in 2006 titled, When the Truth Hurts, Tell a Joke: Why America Needs Its Comedians,” by  and . The article opens with the quote at the top of this blog post by Mary Hirsch, a humorist. Farther down in the article is found the following:

Most of American comedy has its roots in the stand-up routine.  Nearly all of the great comics of television, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, David Letterman, and Jamie Foxx, to name a few, started their careers as stand-up comics. Characteristic of a stand-up act is its fast string of amusing stories, short jokes, one-liners, and the occasion of spontaneous interaction with the audience. Normally, the stage contains nothing more than the microphone, a stool, and perhaps a glass of water.  

What makes stand-up comedians worthy of research is that their search for laughter leads them to seek out, explore, and articulate the unspoken taboos of society. Much like Adam Smith’s observation in the eighteenth century that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest,” it is through the comedian’s selfish pursuit of the laugh that society receives its social critique.

“Comedians don’t start out to change the world, but in the end, that’s what they do,” says Stephen Rosenfield, founder and director of the American Comedy Institute in New York City, where he teaches aspiring comedians the art of writing and performing comedy.  “Comedians are aware of the power of jokes to change societies, but they’re not necessarily idealistic about it.  A comedian’s first concern is to find funny material. That is his job.”

“A good joke provides tension, and then, release of that tension,” says Greg Giraldo, (1965-2010), a Harvard Law School graduate turned comic who hosted Comedy Central’s Friday Night with Greg Giraldo show.  “You build the tension by saying things that are controversial. The release is the laugh. The bigger the surprise or insight in your joke, the bigger the laugh.”

This anatomy of tension and release ensures that the comic is going to discuss material that is at the fringe of what polite society will talk about. There’s plenty of controversy to confront, said Giraldo, enjoying a meal of sushi after a Tuesday night appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York’s Greenwich Village. “A lot of racially charged [crap*] happens here in New York City. Yet mainstream culture likes to pretend that race issues don’t exist. Ninety-five percent of white people and ninety-five percent of black people live on different planets. They don’t speak the same language. They don’t interact. They’re not comfortable around one another. That’s [screwed*] up. It’s the sad reality of our culture. Unfiltered honest talking on race is rare, but comics are comfortable with race. Comics are honest.” [Note: * indicates expletives in original article were changed] (Quote source here.)

Comedians can “bring down the house” with gales of laughter but also make us squirm in our seats. I think of George Carlin (1937-2008), an American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic, who was a master at making us squirm in our seats. Reality can be hard to face most of time. Comedy makes it palpable.

In an article published on September 20, 2016 in The Chicago Tribute titled, Policing humor is not funny–keep the offensive humor coming,” by Karith Foster, a bicoastal comedian, speaker and author who is featured in the documentaryCan We Take a Joke?” which “explores the plight of comics in an age of political correctness” (quote is at bottom of the article) she writes:

There are no rules in comedy, save for one: It has to be funny. That has always been the attraction and the challenge.

Until a few years ago, I assumed everyone stuck to this simple standard. Then the “war on comedy” erupted. We’ve seen the battlefield pop up everywhere in the past few years: students protesting visiting comics over perceived sexist or racist sets, the social media storms after a seemingly off-color joke, the explosion of think pieces over the insidious intent behind a thoughtless retort.

Although outrage vigilantes waging these battles claim to be stomping out bigotry, instead they have become hypersensitive to the point where they have gone, hard, after just about anything. The mob rarely suggests starting conversations — instead leaping to cries to cancel sitcoms, boycott comedy shows, or blacklist comedians as unequivocal misogynists or racists.

Take what happened when talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted an edited image of her piggybacking on Olympian sprinter Usain Bolt. The joke was a caption that read “This is how I’m running errands from now on. #Rio2016.” Because he’s the fastest man in the world! Get it?! Well, thousands did not get it, saying the image of a white woman on the back of the black Jamaican runner echoed the old tradition of slaves carrying their masters. They called for DeGeneres’ head on a platter.

As a black woman, I’m attuned to instances of everyday racism that can seep into the lives of African-Americans. This wasn’t one of them. This was a funny image of an adult getting a piggyback ride and making fun of LA traffic. (It really is hell!) The cacophony got to be so much that DeGeneres actually had to reassure the public that she was not a racist.

I would never be so bold as to tell someone how to process humor. It’s as subjective as taste in fashion or food. Based on a complex web of experiences and worldviews, some people are left in stitches, while others are left with a shrug. But in the case of DeGeneres and in so many other examples, the outrage that follows these jokes seems to be more a reflexive hunt for things to take offense at rather than thoughtful critique.

The real problem, however, isn’t the wasted energy of the political correctness patrollers or the hurt careers of comics. The danger of this outrage phenomenon is that, in the process of policing every sensitive subject, we lose comedy itself — one of the only tools we have to grapple with our testiest issues. Humor is an entryway unlike any other for talking out things we’re too afraid, too uncomfortable or too pained to broach head on. If we can’t joke about issues such as ethnicity, sexuality, class, politics, pain and death, we may never get through them or find ways to heal.

I see this power of comedy first-hand when people approach me after my sets. Whether it was a joke about race, size, age or sexuality, people who say something almost always tell me they are grateful that someone is addressing, rather than shying away from, one of these taboo issues. For example, I have a joke, inspired from real life, where I riff on the less-than-strait-laced members of my black family:

“My cousin just got married, had a baby, and names the daughter … Daijanera.

“Someone asked me what that means? What does it mean?! She made it up!

“No, I’ll tell you what it means. It’s apparently African-American for ‘I never want my daughter to have a job in corporate America.'”

When my audience laughs at that—and they do, even if it’s uncomfortable laughter—I follow it up with:

“I’m so glad y’all laughed at that because that joke did not go over so well in Atlanta. I know this because after the show, Ryshaneequa came up to me and she had some choice words.”

Then I’ll proceed to go into a litany of other names given to Caucasian girls that are equally absurd—showing that this name game crosses all color lines and ethnic barriers. It never fails that at least two people come up to me after a show and either share their name or a family member’s name and we all have a laugh. The joke works because beneath the surface, it’s more of a knock on the racism in corporate America—and on the stereotypes we’re all willing to pile on certain names—than it is on my cousin’s first-born. I’ve heard from audience members about how the joke opened up conversations that made them rethink their prejudices or consoled them that they’re not the only ones unfairly judged for their unusual name. Reactions such as this remind me why I fell in love with comedy.

Comedy is an intricate art that often relies on getting a laugh at the things about which we’re most afraid to talk. If we lose our sense of humor about the difficult issues, I’m afraid we may lose our nerve to bring them up at all. (Quote source here.)

A quote from a January 6, 2016 article titled, Jokes and Social Commentary: Comedians Who Stirred Controversy, by Manas Mishra, author on The Quint, states:

Jokes and comedy are very powerful tools of socio-political commentary, and under a layer of humor may be a profound statement on our society. A country’s ability to take a joke is often a reflection on that society’s openness and the actual freedom of speech. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 21, 2014 in Christianity.com titled, Why We Need Comedy,” by Daniel Darling, Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC), author, contributing editor to Christianity Today’s CT Pastors, and a contributor to The Worldview Study Biblehe writes:

“Are you sure about that?”

This was the remark a very conservative professor made to me, over lunch, during my freshman year of college. He was responding to a flippant and hyper-spiritualized comment I made, something I was want to do in those heady days when I knew everything there was to know about the Bible and about the world. These were the days before I got married, before I had children, before I pastored. In other words, I thought I knew everything, but I really knew nothing.

The comment I made was about the death of a comedian. I said something callous like, “Can you imagine a life spent making people laugh? What a waste!”

Yeah, I really said that.

Thankfully my conservative professor at my conservative Bible college offered this subtle, but pointed rebuke.

I thought about this conversation afresh as I considered the recent death of comedy great, Robin Williams. What struck me about the response to his death was how comedy unites the social classes.  As tributes poured in about Williams, they came from Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, religious and non-religious. Much of this can be attributed; I think, to the kind of raw, real-world comedy that Williams employed. But mostly, I think, it reveals to us just the importance of laughing in a flourishing civil society.

The Scriptures tell us that laughter is a kind of medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22). The very fact that God made us as creatures who have the capacity for laughter, who instilled in us the very desire for joy should tell us that laughter matters and matters more than we might think it does. This is why, I think, the writer of Ecclesiastes, perhaps Solomon, reminded us that there is indeed a time to laugh.

Of course there are darker types of laughter or laughing at things God hates or laughing so as to mock and disrespect someone. Comedy at the expense of someone’s dignity isn’t really comedy at all. It’s a kind of rhetorical assault.

But I’m talking about genuine, hilarious, soul-refreshing laughter. This is good for us, good for our well-being. It helps us get through difficult days and it, often, humbles us enough to be vulnerable to let someone see us as human. I think back on the days after 9/11, when comedians gingerly stepped back into the fray. I remember seeing David Letterman cry, but I was really glad when our country had the strength to laugh again.

I’ve often thought that my best friendships were built by two things: enduring hardships with someone and enjoying laughter. Laughter breaks down barriers. It penetrates walls of pride and prejudice and distrust.

I like to think, in my sanctified imagination, that Jesus was someone who was unafraid to laugh. The gospels don’t record it, so I can’t be dogmatic about this, but my guess is that if you spend three years with 12 guys from different walks of life, you are going to have moments of sheer laughter and joy. Imagine the stories we might hear in Heaven about the things Peter said that didn’t get published in the gospel narratives. We know little about what their conversations were like in those three years, but if they were like normal, human conversations among close friends, we have to imagine there was much laughter. (Quote source here.)

In the opening statement in an article published on March 16, 2014 in HuffPost.com titled, Why Laughing is Good for Your Health,” by , cardiologist, author, and founder of Revitalize-U, she states:

An old Yiddish proverb says, “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” Everyone knows that laughter makes you feel good and puts you in high spirits, but did you also know that laughter actually causes physiological responses that protect the body from disease and help your vital organs repair themselves? A good laugh can be compared to a mild workout, as it exercises the muscles, gets the blood flowing, decreases blood pressure and stress hormones, improves sleep patterns and boosts the immune system. Furthermore, a study by the John Hopkins University Medical School showed that humor and laughter can also improve memory and mental performance. Yet despite the fact that laughter has so many benefits, far too many of us forget to even crack a smile every once in a while, let alone laugh. (Quote source here.)

The title of this blog post comes from the Quote Investigator which states that this expression comes from a 1917 poem by W. E. Nesom, and it is the fifth stanza of the poem which states:

If laughter be an aid to health,
Then logic of the strongest
Impels us to the cheerful thought
That he who laughs lasts longest.

Dad lived almost 96 years, and he enjoyed comedy and laughter and “kidding around” all of his life. He is a testament to that poem that “he who laughs lasts longest.”

I’ll end this post with a quote from Mark TwainAgainst the assault of laughter…

Nothing . . .

Can . . .

Stand . . . .

YouTube Video: “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Eulogy for Dad

“Life, if well lived, is long enough.”Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD), Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist.Three days ago I wrote a blog post on my regular blog titled, And Life Goes On.” I didn’t give a reason for writing it, but then I usually don’t give any reason for writing most of the blog posts I have published over the years. However, And Life Goes On,” is different. I had a reason.

My dad died today.

Dad lived a good and full life. He was loved by many, and he died just one month shy of his 96th birthday, which is a lot longer then most people live. He outlived my mom by 36 years, and he outlived my stepmother who he was married to for almost 32 years when she died in 2011, and my stepbrother who died much too young back in 2008 at the age of 45. He is survived by me and my two brothers (one older and one younger) and their families, and our stepsister who has lost everyone in her family except for us, her step family.

In January of this year, Dad had to have a pacemaker put in to keep his heart going, and he needed heart valve surgery four months later that was supposed to “fix” everything. But it didn’t. He still had breathing issues, and he completely lost his appetite and essentially stop eating. He didn’t want to go back to the emergency room nor did he want to be tube fed. Hospice was called in. He lived with my younger brother for the past few months since he had the pacemaker put in until his death this morning.

I live in a different state from where my dad was living. It wasn’t until just two weeks ago that I finally realized that Dad was dying. I kept thinking if he would just get his appetite back again or at least force himself to eat, that he would get better. That is known as  “Stage 1: Denial” in the Grief Cycle (see my blog post, And Life Goes On,” for the five stages of grief).  I knew he was going on 96 and that his body was wearing out, but some folks live to be 100 or older, and that was my wish for him. “Just eat, Dad” is what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t there, and it would have only made things worse.

You see, I wanted Dad to walk me down the aisle if I ever found the right guy to marry, and I didn’t care how old he was or I was when it happened. But more then that, I wanted us to be like we were back when I was 21, when on my 21st birthday Dad took me out to dinner and then asked me if I wanted to go bar hopping to some of his favorite hangouts. It sounded like fun, and while it might not be what most fathers would do with their daughters on their 21st birthday, we had a blast and at our last stop at a ballroom type place we had a father and daughter dance. I guess I wanted my “younger” father back before the years wore on and the image of my mother took the place of me in his eyes. They divorced when I was 12, and there was no love lost between them right up until my mom died in 1983 at the age of 54.

Dad in Oregon 11-26-17

Dad was a great guy and a very honest businessman who got totally screwed over by a business partner when he was 52, and he literally ended up on the street with nothing more then a suitcase full of tools that he used to repair typewriters in the business he and his partner started a few years earlier. His partner had yanked it out from under him. But Dad didn’t let that faze him, and with hard work and a stellar reputation around the city for being an honest businessman, he built up his own business from scratch that eventually put his old partner’s business out-of-business. And he was so successful that he was able to retire from his business at the age of 64.

Dad married my stepmother in 1979 and they were perfect for each other, and they fit together, as Forrest Gump said about Jenny in the movie, Forrest Gump,” like “peas and carrots.” They traveled and took cruises and went out every summer to see my older brother and his family in Oregon, and they had the time of their lives. When my own mother died in 1983 (my parents divorced in the mid-1960’s and Mom never remarried, and she acquired some horrific health issues starting at the age of 36 that took her life by the time she was 54), my stepmother became like a second mother to me, even though I was 27 at the time they married.

Dad could tell stories from his WWII years as a Navy flight instructor training cadets to fly in Corpus Christi, Texas, that would keep you spellbound. And he had framed pictures of the planes he flew in WWII hanging on the walls in their home. He was rarely at a loss for words, and he had a great sense of humor. He didn’t know a stranger. And everybody loved him.

Unfortunately, by the time he reached his current age (95) most of his friends and the people he knew from his past had all died. But I think what hit him the hardest was when my stepmother died. That really took a toll on him. So did losing my stepbrother back in 2008. But Dad was a survivor, and he never complained, and he moved on with his life.

He was raised as the oldest son of my paternal grandparents, who were actually his aunt and uncle as his birth mother died a few days after giving birth to Dad. His birth mother and my paternal grandmother were sisters. His dad was a Free Methodist minister who could give “hellfire and brimstone” sermons with the best of them back during that time. I remember Dad talking about all the times his father made him walk down the aisle at church when he would give an “alter call” hoping to inspire others in the audience to follow. Or when he did something wrong and he ended up being taken to the woodshed and whipped by his father (a common form of punishment for kids back in that time), or worse yet, being forced to pray for hours on end as penance. Needless to say, once he got out from under all that hellfire and brimstone preaching when he joined the Navy during WWII, he became more of a party guy. I can’t say that I blame him since I was raised in the church, too. It’s a fine line we have to walk between extremes on either side. He tilted on the party side of that fence. I tend to sometimes, too, but not as extreme as Dad did it as I acquired too much guilt when I was a kid, and I was sure if I had sex outside of marriage that I’d be struck by lightening, and that one alcoholic drink would lead to hell. The church could be a very tough place to grow up in.

While there were extremes in the church when I was growing up, just like Dad had when he was growing up, at least Dad was not a hellfire and brimstone preacher like Grandpa was which was my saving grace. But my parents’ marriage hit the rocks when I was way too young, and the division that started between us back then ended up lasting a lifetime. Dad always saw my mother in me, and it made our relationship difficult. I loved both of my parents but they were as opposite as night and day. I got caught in the middle as the only girl in my family and Dad thought I always sided with Mom. Little did either of them know that I didn’t want to have to pick sides at all. I was only 12 when they divorced.

Life is what it is and we have little control over the things or people we think we should be able to have control over. We can’t control others. We are lucky if we can control ourselves most of the time. When I was awarded a one-year doctoral fellowship at a private university in Florida when I turned 40 and I left Iowa in 1992, I ended up finding work in Florida after my fellowship year was over and I remained there for over two decades. It was during this time that the divide between Dad and I widened, but I never wanted it that way. Still, as I said above, we cannot control others. Dad was not happy when I left for that doctoral fellowship in Florida, but my stepmother was thrilled for me. She was the buffer between us although I am sure it was an awkward position for her at times.

I always wanted to mend the rift with Dad and I prayed that it would happen. In fact, I felt sure that before he died (or if I died first) that we would come to some type of reconciliation because I desperately wanted it. He just wasn’t able to ever separate me from my mother. I was told that he didn’t want to see me when he was dying.

And life goes on.

I love Dad with every fabric of my being. I loved Mom, too. And I loved my stepmother, who was the best “second mother” I ever could have asked for. I can’t fix what was or what is, but I can accept life as it has been handed to me and move forward. Dad had a great life, and I am grateful for that and for him, too. I learned a lot from him over the years; he just didn’t know it or he didn’t choose to believe it (even though I told him often enough). That was his choice.

I’m not exactly sure how to end a eulogy as I’ve never written one before. Dad would want it to be upbeat. He’d probably tell a funny joke. I guess I’ll just say that despite our difficulties over the years, I am grateful that he was my dad, and I learned a lot about life from him. I love you, Dad. I really, really do…

And life . . .

Goes . . .

On . . . .

YouTube Video: “Talladega” by Eric Church (“Talladega” video makes a visual out of a song that is about a lot more than racing. The clip spans one man’s entire lifetime while he lays in a hospital bed, reminiscing before his death–longer explanation available at this link):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit: family photo

Our Journey Through Time

“Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” ~King David (Psalm 39:5b)

All of us on this planet of ours are bound by the same thing–time. King Solomon, who was King David’s and Bathsheba’s son, wrote the following in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

The Byrds’ song, Turn, Turn, Turn made some of these words of King Solomon’s famous back in 1965 (YouTube Video below). And we’ve all heard that expression, “Life is short.” While the young among us have no concept of just how fast life goes by, those of us who are much older are all too aware of just how fast it passes–in the blink of an eye.

We’ve all been admonished at some point in life to “not waste our life,” but what, exactly, does that mean? I ran across an article published on February 25, 2011, titled, Life is Short–So Don’t Waste It? by Dr. David A. “Gunner” Gundersen, lead pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston, TX, and here is what he has to say on the subject:

“Life is short.”

You hear it all the time.

You hear it all the time despite all our western attempts to look young, stay young, and never grow up, and despite our over-realized sense of national invincibility. The ticking clock, the graying hair, the growing children, and the changing times all remind us that our lives are blinkingly brief. One mention of your favorite high school CD around a group of middle schoolers reveals just how much the times have changed, and not because they don’t know the band but because they don’t know what a CD was. As a new friend told me several weeks ago as we were talking about making the most of our time with our young children: “The days are long but the years are short.”

Now, the contemporary church has no shortage of books, sermons, and mottos declaring exactly this lesson, because Scripture teaches its truth, experience echoes its veracity, and urgency requires its recognition. It serves as the grounding indicative for all kinds of urgent imperatives:

The general encouragement: “Life is short — make it count.”

The pleasant reminder: “Life is short — enjoy every minute.”

The negative warning: “Life is short — don’t waste it.”

The ministry exhortation: “Life is short — serve the Lord.”

The missional admonition: “Life is short — reach the nations.”

I have a problem with this.

My problem is not that any of the preceding urgings are wrongheaded or unscriptural. My problem is not that Christians (especially young ones) are constantly being told not to waste their lives. And my problem is not with the connection we typically make between the brevity of life and the call to urgency, purpose, focus, and diligence. They are scriptural. And they are needed.

My problem is that when Scripture talks explicitly about the brevity of life, it often emphasizes the opposite of our calls to ambitious action.

Take this morbid salvo from James: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:15).

How would you expect James to follow up that statement?

I believe the contemporary church has already answered that question (see above).

We are a people who can’t help but do. We hear something like, “Life is short,” and our immediate application is “Do better,” “Work harder,” “Sacrifice more.” Whether pleasure or service or mission, we remember that life is short and we instantly think: Act.

Now, this is all fine and good and (sometimes) scriptural. But it’s worth reminding that in James 4:13-16, James is rebuking presumptuous businessmen who are declaring precisely what we usually begin to declare in our hearts when we’re hit with the “Life is short” reminder.

“Life is short… I better start doing ____.” “Life is short… I better not waste my opportunity to ____.” “Life is short… I’m going to step it up and ____.”

But what does James actually say? “Your life is a vapor. Therefore, you should stop making ambitious declarations about what you’re going to do and instead acknowledge that God is the one in control. Wake up from your arrogance and remember — only with his explicit blessing are you going to do anything, much less do what you’re so confidently planning to do. You don’t even control tomorrow.”

Even the declaration that I’m not going to waste my life can be arrogant boasting (4:16). Why? Because “you do not know what tomorrow will bring” (4:14). My noble resolution that I’m going to maximize my life could actually be an ignoble presumption that I will have a life to maximize. “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (4:15).

My point is simply this: The presumptuous declaration of what a man will ambitiously do with his own life is the exact mentality that God is rebuking when he says through James, “Your life is short.”

So how did a similar kind of declaration become our application anthem for the exact same phrase?

That question probably has more than a couple answers, all of them worth pondering.

Meanwhile, what is James’ exhortation?

“Your life is short. Make the most of it”?

No.

“Your life is short. Humble yourself.” (Quote source here.)

Life IS short. But sometimes we get it all wrong thinking that “doing” more is the answer. The briefest answer in the Bible as to how to live our lives from beginning to end is found in Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

And it doesn’t get any simpler than that . . . .

Act justly . . .

Love mercy . . .

Walk humbly . . . .

YouTube Video: “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1965) by the Byrds:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time

“Always pay attention.” ~Leon Logothetis, global adventurer, motivational speaker, and philanthropist.

The title of the book was enough for me to pick it up from a large variety of books stacked in the discount area at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore I stopped at yesterday. The title? Live, Love, Explore: A Roadmap to the Life You Were Meant to Live (2016) by Leon Logothetis, global adventurer, motivational speaker, and philanthropist. His website is located at WayoftheTraveler.com, and he has another website located here.

As I was browsing through the book I ran across the following quote on page 127:

So many of us find ourselves confined by the gadgets and routines and accouterments of modern life that we think should free us. Sure, the Internet is basically the whole of the world’s knowledge at the tips of our fingers, but sometimes it also prevents us from being present in the world around us. Sometimes, in order to connect with the world, we need to cut the cord to all the emails and updates and news feeds–the unending, digital responsibility. Sometimes we need to break up the routine, put down the phone, and just go live. (Quote source, Live, Love, Explore,” page 127.)

I learned to type on a manual typewriter my sophomore year in high school. By my senior year it was an electric typewriter (I graduated from high school in 1970). Our phones were connected to walls located at home or at work or at pay phone booths. Information was found in a library, on TV, in a newspaper, a magazine, a book, an encyclopedia, or a dictionary. I lived clear into my 30’s before the first computers started showed up on the scene when I was in grad school in the late 1980’s. I got my first email address when I was a doctoral student (at the age of 40) during my fellowship year (1992-93). And it all began with that glorious DOS screen that was black with green or white type (and no pictures–just type). I found the following information on Quora:

[Internet] Providers hit the scene in the early 1990s. 1995 was the year AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe all showed up. At the time (and still), ISPs would give users an email address automatically. Popular webmail services (such as Hotmail) started popping up in 1996/97.

By the end of 1996, just shy of one in ten Americans was on the Internet, which would mean that most everyone would either be an Internet user, or be within two degrees of separation of an Internet user. For me, if everyone can “know someone who knows someone” who does something, it might not be popular, but it’s gone beyond an obscurity. But somewhere in 2001, more than half of Americans crossed over to the Internet; and I feel like once half of a population is engaged in a behavior, it’s “popular” by any reasonable definition.

So somewhere between 1996 and 2001, Internet usage went from being a relative rarity to normalized, depending on how you want to define popular. And while it’s not a direct 1:1, I feel like it’s reasonable to assume that email popularity tracked with Internet usage. (Quote source here.)

And that wasn’t “way back in the dark ages” either. We are talking late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The first stand alone computer using 5″ floppy disks that I used in a work setting occurred when I worked at a school district in the mid-to- late 1980’s.

As the saying goes, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” Yes, we have, and now we don’t know how to live without it. We are so joined at the hip with our technology today that we’d rather text with the person sitting next to us instead of engaging in a normal conversation with them. So, right now I want to post some suggestions on how we can learn to disconnect a bit from all that technology and learn to live, love, and explore life without always having to be connected to the internet. I’m not even sure the younger generations have ever experienced life without it.

After looking at a bunch of articles on how to disconnect from the world of technology (not completely, of course), I liked this particular article published in 2015 titled, 16 Ways to Unplug from Technology Every Day,” by Cathy Presland, Editor-in-Chief at authorunlimited.comHere are her tips:

HOW OFTEN DO YOU CHECK YOUR PHONE?

Technology, even for writers, is an integral part of our lives, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, as with all good things, to truly reap the benefits you should moderate how and when you use it.

Tech addiction isn’t just a problem for the “selfie generation”; the average smartphone user checks their device 150 times a day. Wow! That means, if we’re awake for 15 hours, then, on average, we might check our phone ten times an hour. And it’s the norm to think that multi-tasking means we can get more done in both our work life and private life.

But does it?

TECH ADDICTION REDUCES PRODUCTIVITY

Studies show that doing more than one thing at the same time is actually making us slower and stupider, rather than making us more efficient. Burying your face in a screen for a large part of your day wreaks havoc on mental and physical health, with studies showing that young adults who overuse technology show similar brain patterns to those addicted to alcohol and cocaine.

GO ON A DIGITAL DETOX

While going “off the grid” and living totally without technology isn’t a viable option for most of us, we can learn to cut down on our tech habits and still be functioning members of society. It’s perfectly OK to switch off sometimes without damaging your social life, or reducing your impact at work. Unplugging does not mean disconnecting.

UNPLUG FROM TECHNOLOGY

We’ve put together 16 easy ways you can detach from your device on a daily basis, leaving you to get the most out of your work and your life. And, of course, have time to write your book, and perhaps even learn how to write better.

1. START YOUR DAY RIGHT

We know that starting our day with a healthy breakfast or a nutrient-packed smoothie is good for us, so why not also nourish your mind first thing in the morning? Instead of reaching for your phone as soon as you wake up, concentrate on you. Spend some time meditating, or boost your brain with meditation alternatives, before answering a single email. You’ll have a more productive and relaxed day.

2. GO OLD SCHOOL

Leave your smartphone behind and go back to the stock standard android of the early 2000’s (Nokia 33500 anyone?) Not only does the battery power far exceed that of any modern smartphone on the market, it also severely limits what you can do while you’re out.

No more emails or checking Facebook on the go. Just essential phone calls and texts. Try it and you might be surprised how much you like it.

3. DO MORE

If you’re one of those people who spends (dare I say ‘wastes’?!) time surfing the net, then fill your day so that there is no spare time in there. Run an accountability system or arrange meetings during the day. And pack your after-work schedule with activities that nourish you so that there is very little time for online activities between work, dinner and sleep.

Even if you just do this a few days a week, it helps detox you from the need to be online constantly.

4. BRING A BOOK. OR WRITE A BOOK?

Checking emails and social media on the train or while waiting in line may seem like the ultimate time management, but all those different images, clips and emails are actually making you unfocused. Carry a book with you instead, or at least use the Kindle app on your phone and switch off the mobile signal.

Or maybe you can put that time to even better use, switch the phone off altogether and use it to write. An extra hour or two a day could help you get to first draft in just a few months. Will you even remember the time you spent on Facebook then?

5. DOWNLOAD AN APP

Can you use technology to detach from technology? It seems counter-intuitive to say the least but, if there’s a market for it, tech companies will deliver.

Detach Apps are popping up all over the place and they work by blocking you out of certain apps (Facebook or email perhaps?), or by turning your smartphone into a ‘dumb’ phone for the time period you specify. (Might help you focus on that writing we were just talking about!)

6. GO ON A DIGITAL DIET

Just like you’d count your calories or activity steps to help you drop a few pounds, why not start counting your technology time? Take note of how many times a day you check your emails, surf the web, or browse social media, and then try reducing it by 10%, or cutting out one or more of those sessions a day. And, with your extra time, try adding in an exercise class, or a writing session, or just some focused family time?

7. TAKE A MINI-BREAK

If you’re struggling with a serious technology overdose, then take the tech version of a mini-break and leave your phone at home. I know it might be painful, but the world will not end if you do not post details of your day on Facebook. And if this is too hard, then take a real mini-break to a location without connection — a health spa, perhaps, or a writer’s retreat?

8. STREAMLINE YOUR WORK

Before you start to think that we’re all about switching off, then let’s talk about streamlining so that you can make technology work for you. Have you noticed the explosion of ways that people can get in touch with you? From phone, to text, to Facebook message, Skype, Whatsapp, and more…

It’s a misconception that being uber-connected is the only way to stay ahead of the game in business. In fact, the opposite is true — it’s better to limit your connectivity. Streamline the places you need to check in when you’re online by requesting certain people only contact you through a particular medium.

For example, clients may have access to your phone number, but general inquiries come by email and then have an assistant who filters them before you even see them. Turn off messaging on your Facebook page, have ‘do not disturb’ as the default on Skype with a message re-directing them to that general email address. And so on.

And then switch everything else off so you’re not constantly refreshing your apps on the lookout for messages that aren’t coming. Or maybe even uninstall some of those many communication apps…?

9. GET ACTIVE

If you find that you get into the ‘tech haze’ when you’re on the move because you’ve had your face buried in your device on the way to a meeting, the office (if you have one), the shops, or a friend’s house, then change your mode of transport. Try something that means you can’t be on the device, or can only be hands-free. Ride a bicycle, or put on some runners and jog to work. Or travel with a friend or colleague. Whatever works to stop you reaching into your pocket and clicking that typepad.

10. LEAVE WORK BEHIND

When you leave work, really leave it. Activate the “out of office” on your email, have a separate number and don’t divert calls to your personal phone, and don’t be tempted to check emails (or use an assistant filter them and ask them to only forward ones that are essential for you to see).

Unless you’re the Prime Minister, there is unlikely to be anything work-related that can’t wait until tomorrow!

11. INVOLVE YOUR FRIENDS

Make yourself accountable to your decision to unplug by telling your friends and family about it. Ask them to call you out if you duck off to write an email or keep your phone on the table during dinner. Even just knowing they’re watching out for you will help you stay unplug from technology and, if that fails, public shaming should keep your relapses to a minimum.

12. LOCK UP

Don’t trust yourself to keep your anti-tech word? Then give your phone to your partner to hold onto for an hour or two while you do something else, or give your passwords to your assistant and him or her to lock you out until a designated time.

Or, my favorite, go and work in an environment that doesn’t have wifi (like my favorite cafe) or where you are forced to be quiet (like the local library). Or head off to that spa retreat for some serious relaxation time.

13. SET A STRICT ‘TECHNOLOGY’ BEDTIME

We’ve known for some time now that the blue light from our screens can really mess up our sleeping patterns, but I bet I’m not the only one who has a last peek at the phone before bed? Set a bed time for your technology. And experts recommend that this should be around two hours before your actual bedtime to give you enough time to wind down.

You could even do this for the whole family and turn the wifi off at a set time giving yourselves time to talk, play games, read or catch up with Game of Thrones. And then, easier said than done I know, you have to stick to it!

14. SCHEDULE SOME ‘FREE TIME’

Life isn’t all about restrictions so set some ‘free time’ every day where you can go on any and all your devices to do what you want — play games, chat to friends or upload your pics to Instagram. And, when that time slot is over, just switch off again.

This gets you into a pattern of using your tech-time more wisely. If you know you only have a limited slot then you’ll prioritize naturally, and you’ll know when enough is enough.

15. BE MORE ‘IN THE MOMENT’

One of the biggest costs we pay for our societies’ addiction to constant connection is that we are no longer living in the moment. But you can buck that trend and still practice functioning in the here, now, and physical.

Enjoy just living in the moment: go for a walk in a suburb, or a location you don’t know — and don’t take your google maps! If you live in a city, go on a random train or tube ride without scheduling the trip on your travel app. Leave a note on the kitchen table instead of texting your partner with your dinner plans.

And for writers (or anyone!), this spontaneous exploration will help spark ideas and boost your creativity.

16. JUST SWITCH OFF…

There are a hundred different tricks to get you offline, but when it comes down to it, all you have to do is switch off. Get into the habit of turning off instead of turning on the screen saver. Don’t race to answer messages or calls—get into the habit of letting them go to voicemail and then check in from time to time.

Build a routine so that you are online for part of the day, and then strictly offline for the rest of the day, enjoying life, or focused on your work, or just relaxing.

ARE YOU READY TO UNPLUG?

You probably know, at some level, whether your use of technology is getting out of control and impacting on your quality of life. Perhaps it’s a moan from a partner, a comment from one of your children, or a look at what someone else is doing when you go out for a meal and realizing that’s how you look some of the time. Take note of those signs and act on them before technology takes time and attention away from your work and loved ones.

With 16 ways to take a digital detox, you have no excuse for not trying at least one of these methods. And, who knows, you might even enjoy being offline! (Quote source here.)

Those suggestions are quite helpful in getting us to think about connecting more with life and people and less with technology. Just pick one and give it a try. You might just find a whole new way of life waiting for you.

Ready . . .

Set . . .

Take a break . . . .

YouTube Video: “If I Could Turn Back the Hand of Time” (1970) by Tyrone Davis:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Journey of Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13

I just posted a blog post titled, Love Does,” on my regular blog (I still think of this blog as being my “new” blog), and realized it would fit on this blog, too, and all I did differently was to rename it to “The Journey of Love” so it would fit with the “journey” theme of this blog. So here it is!

The Most Reverend Doctor Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, and Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the South, headquartered in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, opened his article titled, Loving One Another Like Jesus,” with the following words: “One of the distinguishing marks of a follower of Jesus is supposed to be our love for one another. Jesus said this love for one another would be how people would know that we are his people” (John 13:35). He went on to state:

On the night before he was crucified, he exhorted his disciples: “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34). The commandment to love was not new as Leviticus 19:18 taught God’s people to love their neighbors as they love themselves. What is new is that Jesus adds that God’s people are to love one another as “he” loved. This begs the question: How did Jesus love?

Jesus loved by sharing his life and entering into our world. He left the glory, power, and majesty of heaven and entered our world (John 1:14). He was born as a baby and shared life with us. To love as Jesus loved means to leave the comfort and security of our own world and enter into another’s world by sharing one’s life. This could mean going to another culture and loving people, or this could simply mean entering into the world of those people you live with every day.

Jesus loved by serving humanity. He taught, healed people of their diseases, performed miracles, walked many miles, and washed feet. He said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45). To love as Jesus loved means that it is not about me. It is about how I can help the other person. It is about how I can make their life better by serving them.

Jesus loved by sacrificing his life. His death on the cross made atonement for sin which humanity couldn’t make. Its power brings about forgiveness of sins and allows humans to have a personal relationship with God: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). To love as Jesus loved means sacrificing selfish desires and ambitions for the sake of another. It means taking up one’s cross daily and dying to my selfish ways so that others may be blessed.

Many of us have bought into the “love is a feeling” concept, which is popular in our culture. If I feel love, I love you. If I don’t feel love, I don’t love you. Jesus has modeled for us that real love is about what I do and say, not just about what I feel. It is about sharing oneself. It is about service to the other. It is about sacrifice for the sake of the other person.

What would happen if followers of Jesus began to take seriously his new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”? (Quote source here.)

The world “love” is tossed around so casually today that it doesn’t have much meaning beyond a feeling, which is not always actually love (for example, as in lust). We say things like “I love my car,” or “I love my friends,” or “I love my job” (that one might not be as popular), but it’s not really, at it’s core, what genuine love is all about. Love is an action word. It requires that we do something beyond just saying, “I love you.”

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-21:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Paul goes on to state in 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

That pretty much says what needs to be said about love. It’s up to us to put it into action. I’ll end this post with the words from the chorus to the song, The Message is Love (YouTube video below). which states: Love is the message and the message is love, From the streets to the mountains to the heavens above. Tell everybody what you’re dreaming of . . .

That love is the message . . .

And the message . . .

Is LOVE . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Message is Love” (1990) by Arthur Baker & The Backbeat Disciples (ft. Rev. Al Green):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Traveling Around the World

“There’s no substitute for just going there.”~Yvon Chouinard, an American rock climber, environmentalist, and outdoor industry billionaire businessman

A little over a month ago I wrote a blog post titled, If I Could Travel Around the World,” and I’d like to continue with that particular theme on this blog post. I just ran across an interesting article titled, 365 Days: 20 Things I Learned from Traveling Around the World,” by Clayton B. Cornell, who describes himself as a travel blogger, global citizen, Cleantechie. He also blogs on his blog at SpartanTraveler.com, which he has been doing since 2011.

In a brief description on his blog, SpartanTraveler.com, he states the following: “My name is Clayton. I’ve been traveling full-time since mid-2011 while building a business on my laptop. SpartanTraveler is my personal blog of uncommon travel adventures, logbook of travel hacks, and forum for thoughts on lifestyle design and working in the 21st century. Current Location: Canary Islands. (Quote source here.)

Canary Islands . . . well, I just had to read on!!! If I have to live in a hotel room why not do it globally, right? 🙂 And he has been able to do it on the cheap,” too. Now he really has my attention!

Cornell’s article titled, If I Could Travel Around the World,” was first published on August 5, 2012, after his first trip ended. His article opens with the following statement:

Over one year ago I quit my job and decided to travel around the world. This was both a dream 10 years in the making and one of  the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In the last 12 months I learned a lot about long-term travel, what I need to be happy, and how to survive outside of the US. Many of these things can’t be learned at home or in a book, and while reading about them on the internet can only get you so far, a lot of people have asked me to explain how I’ve done it.

Well, here’s part of the answer:

“There’s no substitute for just going there.” –Yvon Chouinard

My trip hasn’t been about sightseeing (although I’ve done that) as much as just being somewhere. The simple challenges of daily routine can be overwhelming: trying to eat, drink, and sleep in a place where nothing makes sense, you don’t speak the language, and where none of the basic comforts of home are available. It’s not easy, but if you want a fast-track to personal development, get on a plane.

When I was younger my dad often said ‘the hardest part is just getting out the door.’ And that may be the most important lesson of all:  it’s too easy to get complacent at home and if you aren’t at least a little uncomfortable, you probably aren’t learning anything.

If you’ve already traveled extensively, you may get a kick out of this. If you haven’t, here are some reflections, tips, and advice about long-term travel on my one-year anniversary of life on the road…. (Quote source here.)

At this point in Cornell’s article he lists 20 things that are important to know and goes into detail on each one. I’ll just list them here with a brief description of each one (the entire article is available at this link):

#1) Most of the world’s people are friendly and decent.

Most of the people I’ve met around the world are extremely polite, friendly, and helpful. They are generally interested why I chose to visit their home. They are eager to assist if it’s obvious I’m lost or in trouble. They’ll go out of their way to try to make sure I have a good stay in their country. And, contrary to what most Americans tend to think (see #3 below), they often don’t know much about the United States (or necessarily care)….

#2) Most places are as safe (or safer) than home.

The only place I’ve been violently mugged was in my home city of San Francisco. Many of the people I know there have been robbed at gunpoint, and on more than one occasion there were shootings in my neighborhood.

In one incident just a block away from my apartment (Dolores Park), a man was shot 5 times and somehow escaped, only to collapse about 10m from our front door. You can still see the blood stains on the sidewalk.

Turns out we actually live in a pretty dangerous country.

In over 365 days on the road, staying mostly in dormitory-style hostels and traveling through several countries considered ‘high-risk,’ the only incident I had was an iPhone stolen out of my pocket on the metro in Medellin, Colombia….

#3) Most people don’t know (or care) what America is doing.

I’ve met people that didn’t even know that San Francisco (or California even) had a coastline (now there’s a sobering conversation for you. So much for thinking that’s the center of the world eh?)….

#4) You can travel long-term for the price of rent and a round of drinks back home.

Before I left home, my original budget projection was $50/day, which I would consider lavish in many parts of the world. In some places, I spent as little as $20/day (including lodging, all meals, and booze) while living in relative luxury right on the beach. Generally, I shot for $30/day which gave me a buffer of $20 for travel and miscellaneous or one-time expenses.

Countries visited on this budget: Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Easter Island (Chile), Argentina, Uruguay, Santa Cruz (California), North Shore of Oahu, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey….

You might be blown away by how cheap some ‘expensive’ places can be. The second cheapest hostel I stayed in (after Guatemala–@$4/night for a room) was in Berlin, Germany, at €6/night (~$7.43 USD). Beer in Prague was as cheap or cheaper than any other country I’ve been to (it was $1.43 for 0.5L in ultra-touristy downtown Prague). You can rent a decent downtown apartment in Budapest for $200/month.

#5) Saving for a big trip is not as hard as you think.

Most people think I’m rich because I’ve been traveling for a year. What they don’t realize is that, although I didn’t leave at the time (this was 5 years ago), I was able to save enough money for this trip within a year and a half of graduating college…. I plan to write more about how to save money in the future….

#6) In most places, moving around is incredibly easy.

In most places you can get from anywhere to just about anywhere else, and most of the time it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to figure out. Generally (outside the middle of peak tourist season in popular places) I haven’t bothered with reservations or pre-planning transportation routes. I just show up at the bus or train station and go.

I’ve ridden buses for hours into the middle of the Costa Rican jungle as well as through BFE in the Northern Chilean Andes. There’s almost always a group of locals who needs to get to where you’re going too. And if there’s no bus you can always hitchhike (this only happened once or twice on my entire trip).

It’s an eye-opener to see how some of the poorest countries on earth can still provide better public transportation than San Francisco….

#7) Every pound over 20 makes life worse.

There is virtually no reason to carry more than 20lbs (~9kg) of gear unless you’re going on a major trek or you have some serious sporting event in mind (like multi-day backpacking or cold weather sports). If you’re traveling in the summer you can get by on even less….

#8) Long-term travel is not a vacation (it’s a full-time job).

Planning and logistics also take an incredible amount of time and effort. Most downtime spent in a place when not sight-seeing is typically sucked up in researching the next destination, making reservations, planning logistics, and going through the dreaded ‘time budgeting’ process where you decide what you can reasonably see in the time available (and what you have to cut out)….

#9) ‘Travelers’ and ‘Tourists’ are different.

Tourists exchange money for pre-packaged experiences. They consume experiences and move on without engaging with the local culture….

Travelers are there to see things, not buy them. Travelers tend to be more involved. They may stay with locals, hang out with locals, try to learn the language, or just plain move slowly enough to really live and be where they are….

#10) Don’t worry about traveling alone (it’s better).

Afraid to go it alone? Don’t be. Go the the first big city in your destination country and hang out in the hostel lobby for a few days. I promise you’ll make new friends. This is why you should also stay in hostels. Don’t be afraid of sharing a room. It’s a small trade-off for the amazing people you’ll meet….

#11) Movement can be addictive (and this is not necessarily a good thing).

Have a minimum stay: 3 nights in every destination. This is enough time to see the place, relax, and get sorted before the next stop. It also means you’ll have to cut out some places if you’re tight on time. While I’ve had great one-night stops before… it isn’t sustainable or desirable to do too much of this….

#12) Don’t bank on paradise.

Keep your expectations in check… (he goes into detail about this). 

#13) Traveling doesn’t get ‘traveling’ out of your system.

If you’ve got this bug it’s not going away (sorry), but the obvious question is: why are we trying to get traveling out of our system, anyway?…

#14) Eventually, you will need something real to do.

Despite popular belief, most people can’t just sit around doing nothing for an extended period of time. Especially Type-A American folks who I’ve been told are ‘goal-oriented’ and always trying to ‘get things done.’ It might be a cultural thing, but it’s more likely just human nature to want to be involved in something larger than yourself….

#15) Long-term happiness is a pretty complicated emergent property that has little to do with money.

A lot of people defer things they might otherwise pursue for the big payout dream. The ‘if I only win the lottery’ or ‘when I sell my company for $10 million’ routine. The problem with the fantasy, besides the obvious deferral of really having to come to terms with what you want to do in life, is that while a big payout would certainly increase the options available to you, but that is not necessarily a good thing….

Think $10 million in the bank is going to make you happy? Well, good luck with that….

#16) When you challenge a person’s assumptions it can really piss them off.

Read what Cornell has to say on this item. It’s hard to find a short quote from it to include here.

#17) Travel slowly: Save money, avoid burnout, do more.

The most expensive part of traveling for me has typically been moving from point A to point B. Traveling like a maniac can be a lot of fun, but you’ll save money and get to really know places if you take your time.

#18) You can’t work and travel at the same time.

Okay, you sort of can, you just won’t ever get nearly as much done as you want to…. (read more at his article).

#19) When everything gets irritating, it might be time to head home.

That pretty much sums it up….

#20) Long-term traveling can teach you more than almost anything else.

About yourself, about life, about what you need to be happy. It also really highlights just how different home is from everywhere else, especially when you start to get a large sample size to compare it to.

For some, this can mean going home with a heightened perspective. For others, it may mean never going home. For everyone though, long-term travel will change your life. (Quote source here.)

Now that I’ve read through his list, I feel better prepared regarding what to expect, and I was happy to read that rent in other countries is often much cheaper then right here in America. I think I’ll be taking a closer look at his website, SpartanTraveler.com. And if wanderlust has struck you, too, you might want to check it out.

I’ll end this post with a reminder from Proverbs 16:9 (NLT) when it comes to making our plans…

We can make our plans . . .

But the Lord . . .

Determines our steps . . . .

YouTube Video: “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Traveling Mercies

“…because when people have seen you at their worst, you don’t have to put on the mask as much.” ~Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on my other blog titled, Unshakable Hope.” The title comes from a brand new book with the same title by Max Lucado, best-selling Christian author and senior pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. A couple of excerpts from Chapters 11 and 12 in the book are included in that post, which you can read at this link.

In the first chapter of the book, he states:

Could you use some unshakable hope?

If so, you’re not alone. We live in a day of despair. The suicide rate in America has increased 24 percent since 1999. Twenty-four percent! If a disease saw such a spike, we would deem it an epidemic. How do we explain the increase? We’ve never been more educated. We have tools of technology our parents could not have dreamed of. We are saturated with entertainment and recreation. Yet more people than ever are orchestrating their own deaths. How could this be?

Among the answers must be this: people are dying for lack of hope. Secularism sucks the hope out of society. It reduces the world to a few decades between birth and hearse. Many people believe this world is as good as it gets, and let’s face it. It’s not that good. (Quote source: Unshakable Hope, page 10.)

“Wait, you’re not going to leave us there, right?” No, I’m not, but you’ll have to get the book to find out what Max has written about the promises of God that do come against this age of despair.

Since I lost my job almost a decade ago (well, in another seven months it will be a decade), I’ve run into a side of life in America I didn’t think about all that much except for when it was reported in news stories. And the advances in technology over the past decade have exponentially spread it around the globe, too. What we might have thought was a minority of people (I’m not referring to racial minorities) has exponentially grown over these past ten years, especially with the raise of the “Nones (the religiously unaffiliated). It has become apparent, as Max stated above, that many of us living today have reduced the world to a few decades between birth and death, and if this life is all we get, empathy for others tends to go down the tube as we are seeking to get everything we can get out of life. While there has always been a philosophy of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours approach to life, now the scratching has become more knife-like.

I have no idea what it’s like to live as if this life is all there is and there is nothing beyond the grave. Being a Christian since I was a very young girl, my faith in God has been my anchor throughout my life, and He has seen me through some pretty unbelievable stuff especially over this past decade that I could never have navigated through on my own. I could list a few of the miracles He’s given me, but I’d rather just be incredibly thankful for them. In some corners of Christianity in America today we’ve been lead to believe that Christianity is some kind of “magic carpet ride” of success and/or prosperity in life. Persecuted Christians around the world today would tend to greatly differ with our brand of Christianity, and a reading of Hebrews 11 should clear up that fallacy pretty quickly, too. Most people look at “outward appearances” and judge accordingly (as in, well, gee, he or she doesn’t look, act, or dress like a Christian as “Christian” is defined by our culture). Fortunately, God doesn’t judge by outward appearances; He looks at the heart (see I Samuel 16:7). Outward appearances are often deceiving.

As our society becomes more secular, it makes for some rather interesting interactions with those who want something we might have to increase their own standing and/or wealth, or to get their own way, etc. It gives rise to a belief that there are no consequences for our actions in life or even after death. In a world like this there should be no surprise that the suicide rate has increase 24 percent since 1999 given that fact that God is too often viewed as a sort of “killjoy” to life, or He is blamed for the bad stuff that happens to us, or that we have reduced Him to a religious symbol of sorts or allotted Him one hour of our lives on Sunday morning, or, worse yet, made Him into a nonentity altogether. In a world where God doesn’t matter or exist to a growing majority of people, who cares how we treat each other in this life if this life is all that we get and there are no consequences for our actions.

God have mercy on us all, even those who don’t believe in Him.

The title of this particular blog post, “Traveling Mercies,” is not just about a Christian definition of that phrase that started in the 19th Century. According to the Dictionary of Christianese,” it is defined as follows:

The term arose in the late 19th century and was used at first almost exclusively of church workers who were on a long journey for the purpose of ministry work (see sense 1), but by the mid-20th century the term was being used in a general way of any Christians who were on a journey for any reason (see sense 2). Sense 1: God’s blessings and protection on missionaries, preachers, and other church workers who are traveling to or from a place of ministry, usually at some distance; and Sense 2: God’s blessings and protection on any people who are traveling. (Quote source here.)

The traveling mercies I am referring to are the mercies we receive from God throughout our lives as we journey through life (and yes, those mercies are extended to those who don’t believe in God), and they are not specific to any subset of people (as in only to Christians). God, in His great mercy, is no respecter of persons (e.g., God shows no partiality–see Acts 10:34-43). God pours out His mercy even on those who don’t believe in Him. As 2 Peter 3:9 makes very clear, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

In answer to the question, What does it mean that God is merciful?” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

God being merciful basically means that, when we deserve punishment, He doesn’t punish us, and in fact blesses us instead. Mercy is the withholding of a just condemnation. Throughout the Bible, God gives many illustrations of His mercy. God fully demonstrates His mercy in Jesus Christ.

God was merciful to the wayward Solomon in 1 Kings 11:13. God was merciful to Israel in captivity (Psalm 106:45Nehemiah 9:31). David illustrated God’s mercy when he showed kindness to Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:7). God’s mercy was illustrated every year on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest entered the Holiest Place and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice before the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14).

Another illustration of God’s mercy is found in Matthew 18:23–27. In this parable, Jesus describes a rich ruler who was owed a large sum of money. The ruler ordered that money be collected, but then the debtor came and begged for mercy. The ruler, in turn, graciously forgives the debt. Here’s the point: we owed God a debt we could never repay, and He has freely forgiven us that debt in Christ! Interestingly, after the ruler in the parable forgives the debt, the person who owed the money refuses to forgive someone else. The ruler then judges that ungrateful person. God requires us to be merciful and forgiving to others here on earth (see Matthew 6:15). We who have been forgiven so much have no right to withhold forgiveness from others.

Mercy is coupled with other attributes of God in Psalm 86:15, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (ESV). God’s mercy is rooted in His love for us. He is merciful, in large part, because He is love (1 John 4:8). As sinners, we deserve punishment (Romans 3:23). God’s righteousness requires punishment for sin—He wouldn’t be holy otherwise. Since God does love us and is merciful, He sent His Son (John 3:16). The fullness of His mercy is seen in Matthew 27. Jesus is brutally beaten and murdered on our behalf; Jesus received our just condemnation, and we received God’s mercy.

Because of His love for us, God wants us to be with Him. His mercy is required for that to take place; there is an inseparable connection between God’s love and mercy. Jesus laid down His life and became the sacrificial lamb (Isaiah 53:7John 1:29) so that God’s mercy could be extended to us. Instead of punishing us for our sin, God allowed His Son to take the condemnation in our place. That is the ultimate act of God’s mercy (see Ephesians 2:4–5). To our eternal benefit, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13b). (Quote source here.)

Even as our society becomes more and more secular, we ought to be incredibly grateful that God’s mercies endure forever (see Psalm 136). As noted by GotQuestions.org regarding the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:

The prophet Jeremiah wrote Lamentations [in the Old Testament] in a time of grief and national mourning, after the once great city of Jerusalem fell to Babylon, circa 586 BC. The book describes great anguish—and great hope—in poetic form. The main theme of the book is God’s judgment on Judah’s sin as well as His compassion for His people. Lamentations contains “laments” or “loud cries” for Jerusalem and many expressions of anguish and pain, but in chapter 3, right in the middle of the book, there is a beautiful passage of confidence and hope.

Jeremiah’s tone changes from despair to hope in Lamentations 3:21: “Yet this I call to mind / and therefore I have hope.” From this and ensuing verses, we know that, even in the darkest times, God is faithful and will not cast off His people forever. Every day, every morning, God shows His mercy and compassion.

Taking a closer look at Lamentations 3:22–23, we notice a couple important themes. First, the Lord’s “great love” (“steadfast love” in some translations) abides even in times of trouble and divine judgment. God never stopped loving Israel, despite His discipline of them. The Hebrew word translated “great love” is used about 250 times in the Old Testament; it refers to love, of course, but it also encompasses elements of grace, mercy, goodness, forgiveness, compassion, and faithfulness. It is because of God’s “great love” for His people that spared them from being utterly wiped out by Babylon. As we know from history, God later restored His people to their land and blessed them again.

A second theme is God’s unfailing compassion or mercyMercy in the Bible is God’s withholding of a just punishment. The particular Hebrew word used in Lamentations 3:22 has to do with tender love, great and tender mercy, or pity. The same word is used in Isaiah 63:7 and translated “compassion”: “I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us—yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.” The Lord has pity on His suffering children; in fact, His mercies are new every morning.

Jeremiah’s statement that God’s mercies are “new every morning” is related to the statement that follows: “Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23). God is unchanging, and His mercies toward Israel were unfaltering. His covenant with Abraham’s descendants would be kept (see Jeremiah 31:35–37). This was the bright ray of hope that shone through the smoke of Jerusalem’s ruins.

The dawning of every new day could be seen as a symbol of God’s light breaking through the darkness and His mercy overcoming our troubles. Every morning demonstrates God’s grace, a new beginning in which gloom must flee. We need look no further than the breath in our lungs, the sun that shines upon us, or the rain that falls to nourish the soil. The mercies of God continue to come to us via a multitude of manifestations.

There is no expiration date on God’s mercy toward us. His mercies are new every morning in that they are perpetual and always available to those in need. We have our ups and downs, and “even youths grow tired and weary” (Isaiah 40:30), but God is faithful through it all. With the dawn of each day comes a new batch of compassion made freshly available to us. God’s compassion is poured out from an infinite store; His mercies will never run out. Some mornings we get up on the wrong side of the bed, but even there we find God’s mercies awaiting us. (Quote source here.)

As Lamentations 3:22-23 states, Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 107:1 (they are found in many other verses, too):–Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!

For His mercy . . .

Endures . . .

Forever . . . .

YouTube Video: “His Mercy Endureth Forever” by Bishop T.D. Jakes and the Potter’s House Mass Choir:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here