The Last Chance

I don’t see myself as overly optimistic in the classic sense of my glass being half full. Instead, I believe we all have a hope, or maybe the better word is faith, in things going a certain way. The whole objects in motion tend to stay in motion idea is kind of how we live our lives. Flitting about from commitment to engagement to obligation, filling our time with things that let us feel important by how important we make them.

And we all have a trust that in the morning, these social contracts will still be binding. Even those half-emptyers among us rarely see the hit coming. Instead, we expect to have the same marital status, job title, and career outlooks as we did the night before. So we bustle about, ticking checks down the next day’s to-do list while paying little attention to the small things. Paying little attention to all those possible last chances we let slip by.

Today, I attended the funeral for a friend. David wasn’t someone I’d been close to for a few years but was one of the first friends I made when first moving to Clinton. He and I bonded over a shared love for basketball and eating our sandwiches with chips layered on them.  Dave was one of those guys that everybody liked. Easy going and hilarious, we used to joke about him possessing a hundred different laughs.  From the fall of 1996 until a little after high school I stayed pretty close to him. In recent years, however, we’d barely spoke at all. We’d talked a few times about shooting some hoops together but just never seemed to get the timing right.

I just hoped that it would work out. I had faith that eventually we’d find a hoop and talk about old times and how we wish we were still in the shape we were back then. I often fall back to an “It’ll work itself out” line of thinking. And that can be a strength for me. When going through tough stuff, I believe in making it work. I don’t get deterred easily by a roadblock. But relying on that hope instead of intentionally seeking out to do the right thing for the relationship is just easy. It’s not putting in the hard work of what a relationship of any real value takes. The kind of love that means something in our relationships is tough and real and has a grit bore out of working to stay side by side. It involves not taking for granted all the possible last chances.

I’m not some huge John Mayer fan and while the song may be a bit cheesy, I think the message in ‘Say’ is both simple and impactful.

Take all of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all of your so-called problems,
Better put ’em in quotations

Say what you need to say [8x]

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you’d be better off instead,
If you could only . . .

Say what you need to say [8x]

Have no fear for giving in
Have no fear for giving over
You’d better know that in the end
It’s better to say too much
Than never to say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open (a wide heart)

Say what you need to say

Our relationships are more important than our commitments. We all know that logically. But we all at least temporarily get caught up in cycles where we don’t act like it. We pass by so many possible last chances. And we hate ourselves when we actually miss the real last chance we have with somebody. Regret is a powerfully destructive force. I’m betting there’s at least one someone out there you know that could use a phone call or a session of hoops just to say thank you, give an apology, or tell them you love them. Or to talk to them about Jesus. It’s something that really struck me today after the service. How many chances do I let slip? So think about those people and figure out your next step. It’ll at least be worth not being left clinging to regret years later as you realize you let that last, last chance slip away. So if you’ve got something to say, go ahead. Say it.

Advertisements

Voting from the Heart 

This 2016 presidential election is a big deal. In the moment, it feels impossibly big. To some, it feels end of the world type big. The two main presidential choices currently have approval ratings ranked lower than Mondays and homework. It’s easy to find reasons to not vote for either candidate. It is still utterly amazing to me that we’ve ended up with two completely unlikable people in this position. Yeah, I get that being likable is not a prerequisite of being an effective leader. But it sure seems like a lot of the reasons these two are for reasons that would make them poor leaders.

To be clear, I don’t think either option deserves to be anywhere near the office. But I do take particular issue with Donald Trump. He’s got a sexy slogan. We all want to be great. And the good old days always feel too far away. Recency bias is at play here too. Today’s problems look greater, yesterday’s good times are remembered a bit sweeter. I’m definitely faulty in that kind of thinking too. I don’t see many of the qualities I’d like to see a leader in Trump. Honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, humility all seem to be lacking in him. Part of me here is wanting to tell you how lacking I can be in those qualities too. I find myself playing apologist in many arguments, finding fault with myself or the side of the argument I’m weighing in on. But the problem is that I’m not running for the most important job in the entire world. The standard I should be held to is high, but the one I have to be held to isn’t that level. Luckily, my inability can’t cause wars, lose lives, create economic turmoil. There are lots of policy reasons to consider on both sides. Lots of things to be angry about.

I won’t apologize for wanting more in a candidate. Someone who’s respectful of those they disagree with. Someone who’s view of women, minorities, and those who can’t help him isn’t less than. There are many examples of his words displaying that kind of thinking. I could post them all here, but the truth is probably that as you’re reading this, your mind is made up. Instead, I want to get to the heart of it. Not the most central point of dissension, but the point that is most central. Where I always want to land with my writing. That we’re all human. That we need to be viewing everyone as if we’re all in this together.

I forgot that for a moment while posting something on Facebook recently. A friend pointed out that I lost my way. I let my disdain for a candidate emotionally get in the way of me viewing them as a person. A person that needs love, forgiveness, and is made in the image of God just like the rest of us. I still won’t be voting Trump (or Hilary for that matter, Johnson isn’t great but the only place my conscience can rest). He doesn’t show off the qualities that say he values others in that same way. I just can’t put my faith in that.

When the Talking Heads Get Too Loud

“Forget cocaine or heroin, there is no drug more dangerous than being right.” – pastor Jonathan Martin.

Louder.

The world that we live in can get pretty loud. Everyone has an opinion and a burning desire to share it. Politics, religion, family structure, the environment, race, taxes. These are heavy topics that will have emotion packed behind the words used to articulate feelings on them. It seems more and more, there’s a call to put more emotion into our words we use to disagree with others on these and other topics. The internet has surely made this worse, adding a layer of anonymity to further distance us from the power our words can wield. The call to mix anger with our opinion is strong. And the talking heads around us have become very loud. They drone on in concert, like angry war drums.

Louder.

I’m not sure we are even aware of the polarizing effects that culture has on us in the moment. It’s pretty easy to get carried away into the stream of insults, claims, and boasts. Goodness knows that I’ve let myself fall into that mindset. If I can just tell you what I’m saying loud enough, you’ll agree with me. If I’m louder, surely I must be right. And being right feels so good.

Forget cocaine or heroin, there is no drug more dangerous than being right.” – pastor Jonathan Martin.

Louder.

Isn’t that the truth? In an argument, we’ll forgo the idea of getting our point across and aim more squarely at getting the other person to submit to our correctness. Power and not peace becomes the point of the conversation. It’s not enough to be heard and understood, but they must admit that we were right. And if they won’t do it, then we’ll find others that agree with us and rile each other up with the mantras we share.

Louder.

Confrontation can be healthy and lead to a resolution. But discourse seems to rarely lead to that any longer. Our current political climate encourages using a heavy hand when entering into any debate on stance and policy. The war drums want more than polite discussion. They demand us to be loud.

Louder.

And we want so badly to be right. We need it. If it sounds like we’re losing the argument, we’ll change it to avoid the weight of being wrong. And we’ll align our views with those closest to us and join in on the chanting.

The quickest way to find common ground with someone else is by listening. Not just pausing while grasping for spaces to make counterpoints. Society has little time for something so passive. How counter intuitive it must sound to so many. But that’s where we need to start. I have a few ideas on what to do when the talking heads get too loud.

  • Start by listening. There’s already enough noise going around. There are times to speak up for what you believe. But try listening before you do anything else. You don’t have to have a take on every topic.

  • Pause and consider. While you’re listening, you might hear something you don’t like. It can be easy to write it off as someone hating or being argumentative. But just because someone says something you disagree with, that doesn’t make it wrong.

  • Don’t trust your opinion too much. If the other person has space to not be wrong, that creates room for you to not be right. That’s actually a freeing thing to not have to trust our own judgment to be perfect. Trust in the things you know, realize the rest is just your opinion, man.

  • Think about how you sound. You might be completely right. The other guy might be totally in the wrong. But he’s not going to listen when you’re badgering him and attacking his character. People don’t respond well to hate.

  • Know that there’s almost always some middle ground. Okay, you’re right. And you’re even being nice in the way you discuss it. But the other guy still isn’t buying it. The thing is, there’s basically always room for both sides to have some ground to stand on. They might be coming from a good place too. Rarely is a situation black and white. Be okay with exploring the nuance.

I get it. It’s not easy. I can be pretty difficult and cling tightly to my own perspective of correctness. But that’s what it really is, my perspective. And perspective changes everything.

A Legacy of Love

Legacy isn’t really a thing I’ve lived most of my life concerned with. I spent the majority of my days content to simply dwell on daily pleasures. And there is definitely merit in learning to enjoy the moment. I just found myself too often caught up in it, unable to look ahead. But the steps in my daily walk have ripples beyond what I can immediately see. I am now more aware of that. But it’s tough to tell what kind of impact your actions will have without the benefit of hindsight. ​I think it’s often right after loss we come the closest to fully realizing the personal legacy others leave behind. It’s sad that it can take a broken relationship, a friend moving away, or the death of a loved one before you can come closer to framing what they mean to you. It’s not like we’re not aware of loving the person, but that shock of the loss has us thinking about all the small and large ways in which they actually changed our lives. I’ve had several opportunities to experience that and I bet you probably have too.

 ​Recently I attended the visitation for one of our church elders. Ron Wagoner had been ill for a while but it was still a surprise to hear of his passing. I drove alone and sat out in my car for a moment before entering the building. My grandmother’s passing was the last time I’d been to something like this. And it was a very emotionally tough time. Immediately I noticed a different feel than other visitations and funerals I’ve been to. It wasn’t a party but did not feel like a somber event. I filed in the line that snaked around and out from the main room and into the entryway with a few friends from church. There were pictures posted by the door, celebrating the life of a good man. The line bent and curved near itself over and over, so I was always close to several others I didn’t know. People who had been impacted by Ron.

 ​What I overheard aligned with what I knew of him. He and his wife Brenda would always take time to invest in my life. They made to sure that I was okay, wanted to know how my sister was. Ron was a man who was always ready to help. A man who carried a great faith. A man who cared. I was in line with people who I shared a connection with because of his and his wife’s love. It took well over an hour to get to the front of that line to hug Brenda. There are never any good words to impart to someone dealing with that kind of loss. And I didn’t have to try and come up with something. Brenda made sure to pour into me and comfort me that day. She told me how good life was because she’d married a man who loved God. She told me to make sure I’d find someone who does the same. I noticed that the people after me got the same treatment. They’d arrive, looking to comfort her, instead they were lifted up by her words. It was pretty powerful.

 That night has weighed on my mind since then. The idea of living and leaving life with a legacy of love. That possibly living in a way that stores up treasures in heaven still leaves a big impact here on earth. I want to live in a way that builds others up. Even after I’m gone.

A Race To Be Heard

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a race to be heard. 

Like the deafening drone of voiced opinions is beckoning me to keep up.

 

This nameless, faceless voice is all at once scary and alluring.

It tells me things I want to hear and places I should be.

It tells me that I cannot pause in contemplation on difficult topics, to do so would be to sit idle.

That there is no room to wrestle with my doubts and struggle to see multiple sides of the issue.

 

Instead, it calls me to quick response.

That what’s important isn’t finding the truth or at least a common ground.

Instead, it calls for me to be loud.

Because surely I cannot be heard, much less correct if I’m not shouting.

 

The chorus tells me that I must be heard.

That if I am not the first, not the loudest, not the one with a definitive stance,

Then I must be worth listening to.

And who am I then?

 

To punch a ticket anything other than blue or red must mean I’ve done something wrong.

And that the next thing to do after voting one of those hues is to hate those who didn’t.

For this symphony of voices doesn’t care which way I vote,

Only that I make sure everyone knows.

 

Oh, but I don’t just feel the pull when it comes to the tough subjects.

It tells me that even how I look should tell others about me.

Or what I find for entertainment and how it too should speak out loud.

So that not quiet footfalls, but loud statements are who I must be.

 

Sometimes it tells me that that others do not appreciate me,

Unless I collect a lot of little blue thumbs.

That if I join the race and try to keep up,

My validation will be found in the approval of others.

 

Most of the time I don’t even realize I’ve wandered onto the winding, twisted track again.

But invariably, I’ll glance up and notice someone else and wish I was in their position,

Not remembering that this course crisscrosses itself into insanity.

That the only true path to victory lies in bowing out of the race completely.

 

Of course there’s no way to be self reflective as I use this words,

and not still be knowing that I’ve got one foot back on the pavement.

And the road always does look smooth enough to travel.

But the sun beats down.

 

And I always get burnt.