Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Civic Duty

#DailyProverbs 24:11 "Don't hesitate to rescue someone who is about to be executed unjustly. You may say that it is none of your business, but God knows and judges your motives. He keeps watch on you; he knows. And He will reward you according to what you do."

"... you may say that it is NONE of your business, but God knows and judges your motives."

Since 1775, there have been 1.32M deaths of US Soldiers in wars the US has participated in - some 900K were in active combat, and the remainder were casualties of war. From the very first act of treason we perpetuated on England, through the Revolutionary War and down through today... that's a lot of dead soldiers. One of the very rights they die for is the ability that citizens of this country have to vote. Exercise your right today, as a free, tax-paying citizen of this country and use your voice. 

Besides your civic and patriotic duty, yes... duty... to educate yourself on issues, candidate platforms and your own conscience as a guide, you would do well to ensure that you are aware of your sovereign and spiritual obligations to "do good." (James 4:17 tell us that to know to do good, and do it not is a sin.) Do not let your opportunity pass you by. Do not turn your head to the need that you can fill and the obligation you have to be an active participant in your local, state, and national elections. If you are seeing entire peoples disenfranchised, abused, and maligned... do your part, civically, to help correct that. While I am a STAUNCH believer in the separation of church and state, and for varied and good reasons, I am also a STAUNCH believer that God can speak to your heart and that you should vote your conscience and ensure that the "least of these" are protected. (Matthew 25:40 tells us that we are to help bear the burden of the lowest common denominator. We are to help with the "least of these.")

I pray every day for my family, my friends, my church, and yes... this country. (Hebrews 13: 17 tells us to submit ourselves to those in authority over us. We are to pray for them, pray that God gives them sense and purpose, and we are to support them through civics. If we disagree, the law has provided for non-violent dissent, protests, and the ability to vote and create change. If we would only do it...) I pray for our country because I am afforded the privilege being a citizen of this country brings: unencumbered, unadulterated, religious freedom. I am afforded the ability to worship God as I know Him and see fit. I am afforded the ability to vocalize my beliefs without recrimination from the government, and I am afforded the ability to share those beliefs. I am also afforded the ability to use my vote to support those that I feel do the best job for the local city, county, state, and national governments. Maybe that doesn't always align with ONLY my religious beliefs, or yours, but for the greater common good of an entire society and world... I vote accordingly.

Like I said, and like 1 Timothy 2:2 says, there will be kings and authorities over us. We are to pray. We pray so that we may know peace. I pray. I pray every day that people with power will get some sense. I pray that people with sense will get some power. I pray that God sees fit to sustain and protect us in the interim.


#JustBeingMichael ツ

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Secret of Contentment - Part One

This is one of the hardest blogs I've ever written. Mainly, because I've had to soul search what I really believe and if I am truly "happy" or if I'm really "content." That's a raw look in the mirror to have to take. I've also had to search out my spiritual beliefs and if I am "really" applying those to my daily life. Also, because this will be a multi-part series blog, I don't like to always point out the negative, but this first piece is setting the stage for our current state of affairs and how we can be content, even in the middle of chaos. So, read at your own risk and realize... 

Contentment is a hard word to really work with. You never really hear contentment talked about. Peace is the poster child for Christian mental well-being. Contentment is the one we gave up on and sold down the river. The world offered us some bling and we bought it. Even songs rally around peace, but you never really hear contentment in songs. Lanny Wolfe wrote “My House Is Full” and that is the only song I know that has the word contentment in the verse. Maybe it’s just harder word with which to rhyme. We feel pressure to be content, yet the world around us is always pressing us to be discontent. We claim peace as our promise from God, but we leave contentment to our whims and choose to say we will be content LATER in our lives, once accomplishments and goals have been achieved. But we won’t take responsibility for our contentment. Our society has evolved to the point that we bear no personal responsibility for our actions.

Let me paint a picture for you of why we are discontent, it’s easy: we are told to be discontent. I could technically end this here, but some folks will need examples. We are told we are not good enough, not smart enough. We are told we need to make more money, lose more weight, spend more, work less, and promote the path of least resistance. We are told that if we differ in any way, then we don’t fit and we are “wrong.” We are told that anything less than homogenization is an aberration. We are told to strive for the exact, cookie-cutter level of success, want, and path – or we don’t love our fellow man, our country, or our God. And most of us are miserable. We can get everything we want, and usually very quickly, but we are not content most of the time.

  • Food? 30 years ago, a good meal took hours of preparation. Now, we get antsy if we have to wait 5 minutes for gourmet. Are you content?
  • We eat American-sized portions. They are literally 1.5-2.5 times the size of FDA portions from 20 years ago – are you content?
  • We wear American-sized clothes. We keep altering the tags on the clothes so we “don’t feel bad” about our bodies. Sizing charts from Europe to America vary. Now, they vary from retailer to retailer. We all know that a size at American Eagle is different at Hollister is different at Pac Sun is different at a boutique store. Are you content?
  • We get everything delivered, but WOE to the driver that is more than 4 minutes late. Are you content?
  •  Hold music? No thank you, I’ll enter my number and have you call me back when my turn in queue is up. Are you content?
  • Do you feel like having an expensive toy NOW? Well, charge it. Pay later, or never depending on your circumstances. Are you content?
  • If you don’t have the latest smart phone, just have your provider break out the cost over several months on a payment plan. You NEED an $800 phone that is meant for traveling professionals. You need to check your email and be able to blog and take photos and instantly share your thoughts to a world of strangers. It’s not your fault – you felt pressure to be like everyone else. Aren't you content?
  • Tired of corporate greed? Aren’t we all! Let’s just default on the contracts we signed. If you cannot pay your bloated mortgage, it’s the banks’ faults for giving you a line of credit, not yours for not managing your money. Are you content?
  • Outraged at your student debt? No one should have to work for an education, that’s just absurd… you should be forgiven that debt instead of paying the debt you signed your name on a contract to pay. Be content.
  • Oh, was it an exorbitant and unfair deal to begin with? I didn’t realize that knowingly signing contracts and agreements that you didn’t intend to honor was still okay, just because you morally disagree with the lender. Are you content?
  • While you are in school… don’t worry that the self-same education you feel entitled to is being squandered. Are you content?  
  • Don’t worry about grades, spelling, grammar, diction, facts, and “the curve.” It’s the professor’s fault for expecting YOU to know and grasp English, right? Be content.
  • Michael Kennedy! You can't say that! It's practically racist if you expect someone to sit in an American classroom and know the language of the country in which you are being taught!!!! (Some white right-wingers will AMEN this without thinking! ‘Merica!) Are you content?
  • I hope those people didn't "Amen!" too loudly, because I don’t mean Mexicans and Blacks not knowing English or using Ebonics. I mean uppity white kids that are so lazy they cannot speak or write their own native language, in a country where they are afforded every privilege possible to be able to do so. In my mind, you are the racist for automatically connecting non-whites to lower expectations for education and presentation of language skills. Are you content?
  • No one "likes" dead kids. No one "likes" murder, street violence, gang violence, and no one "likes" school shootings… But we cannot continue to be devastated every month because people refuse to believe the cause. Speeding is regulated. Pharmacology is regulated. Beverage consumption is regulated. Why is this even an issue? Maybe... I mean, it's like rational people just throw everything out the window. Don’t worry so much about mental health checks and waiting periods because Jim Bob needs to be able to get his gun TODAY. That’s just the American way. As long as we shuck and jive and just blame a few folks here and there and let those kids keep dying, it'll all blow over, right? It’s only a few crazies here and there doing all the killing – NOT normal God-fearing, sane folks. Could you be more content?
  • Or let's overlook the fact that they seem to have unlimited access to those weapons. Or let’s overlook the fact that it’s almost always white, religious males that do the shootings. Or let's overlook the fact that it’s almost always religious white males that wage most wars of any kind. Point: Just because you are religious doesn't mean you know Jesus. Are you content yet?
  • Oh, Michael, you have gone too far now! How would you feel if someone held you up at gunpoint and robbed you or killed you or raped you? Well... to be honest... I’d feel awful. I’d feel robbed and raped. Just like you would feel awful, robbed, and raped if that person did that to you, did so with a gun they got easily, the day they got out of prison instead of making it as hard as possible to be a law-abiding gun owner through background checks and following up on crazy folks. Be content.
  • Don’t like that you have found yourself unhealthy, overweight, and disease-ridden after years of chemicals, fake food, and any and every vice you ever encountered? Don’t blame yourself for picking up a cigarette and getting cancer – you are NOT at fault! Take comfort in the fact that it’s your genes, and your poor family’s socioeconomic status. If you had only been a little richer, you could have been exposed to better habits! And the company that made those things are at fault for providing them to you. They should pay! Are you content?
  • Ugh, "those" people on welfare are just moochers and they should be taught a lesson for expecting handouts! Let's compare them to animals and the "No Feeding" signs at zoos, instead of respecting them as created and designed creatures of God. Let's make sure that we teach them that handouts are not the way! Handouts and welfare only breed dependence and failure! Just like every major car corporation under the last three presidents and every bank under the last 2 presidents!!! Teach people that if they can’t make it on their own, if they make poor financial choices that negatively affect their long term fiscal health, then they don’t deserve to be saved! Leave it up to a free market and capitalism, right, Corporate America??!?! Hello? Just me? Are you content?
  • McDonald's should be sued for selling burgers that make people fat! It’s not YOUR fault you ate 3 a day for 10 years! You cannot be expected to care, know, or control what goes in your mouth. Remember that $800 phone you got on credit through your cellular provider and the $45 a month for data? Well, you have access to the entire knowledge base of humanity in the palm of your hand. Don’t plead ignorance. You can Google song lyrics, statistics, jail terms per crime, your favorite sports statistics, your local wages and tax credits per child. You can watch your favorite television, tweet your experience, look at a stranger's genitals, and calculate how much you won't be tipping with that plastic device - but you can’t look up cheap, healthy meal alternatives? You didn’t eat right because it wasn’t important until it was too late. Don’t blame anyone but yourself now. Just be content.
  • If you don’t like your spouse, then don't worry. You can get rid of them. Do they want you to treat them well? Do they expect you to be home, help around the house, and take an active role in your relationship? Ugh, what a drain on your emotional reservoir. Leave them. They should have known better than to age or change physically. They should have known better than to act bewildered and confused when YOU changed after a decade. Trade them in on a younger model! Most marriages are just starter marriages now anyway, right? Forget those pesky “vows.” Contentment is just a secretive rendezvous away! Be content.
  • Don’t want to be faithful? You don’t have to be! Monogamy is a fake creation. We are animals, programmed to just drop and rut on any street corner as the mood hits. Don’t worry about consent or faithfulness. I mean, male privilege and "rape culture" are just touchy-feely words that man-hating liberal lesbians made up, right? If you are in heat, or you have a need, fill it. Better yet... the real key is to have an open relationship OR just don’t get caught cheating. That solves so many pesky questions and issues. If you don’t get caught, it didn’t happen. If you DO get caught, just use the phrase, "God made us sexual creatures; therefore, He obviously knew what He was in for with mankind." That’s not your fault. You can’t be expected to control you mind or your body. Are you finding contentment?
  • Don’t want to be bothered with societal niceties? Blame the latest boutique syndrome. There is something for everyone… if you are hyper, shy, slow, lazy, have thin eyelashes, want less cramps, can’t focus, can’t cry your own tears, don’t like bread, like bread too much… whatever. All of it is able to be solved with a focus group, a pill, a few side effects and the following class action law suit. Are you content?
  • If you don’t like your child’s behavior, they need a pill. Children, at the genetic level of their cells are predisposed to be hyper, loud and find the world infinitely interesting. It's their mitochondria and the Kreb's cycle. They have many times more mitochondria at birth than they ever will at death. And, sadly for us and the aging process, mitochondria do not replenish as we get older. That's why as the cells don't create any more, people get slower, more tired, less interested, and it becomes harder to learn, assimilate, file, and then retrieve information. Children are practically wired to be inquisitive and want to know things. But, if they won't be quiet, or want you to participate in their journey through the world, they must just be oppositional and need a pill. Don’t worry about taking a moment to educate them and explain that just because they see you act like a demon to servers, wait staff, the help, and people in labor jobs doesn’t’ mean THEY get to act that way to people. They will repeat every action they see, even if buried for years. Are you content with your children?
  • If your child sees you disparage and malign your own parents, why do you act so upset when they speak like that to you? It's not your fault that you are already overextended emotionally, so it’s not your fault that you chose to procreate and be responsible for another human’s emotional and mental development. Clearly it's the childrens' fault that the world is worse and that society is in free fall. They are the ones that changed the world, not the adults in charge, right? Are we content?
  • If you cannot shoehorn your poor behavior into a syndrome, don’t worry! The answer is to just blame the action of another of THEIR syndrome and say you had no choice to but to react poorly, and that your actions are dictated by others. You cannot control yourself, you are at the mercy and whim of how others act. Are you content?
  • Don’t like your latest syndrome? Take a pill.
  • Don’t like the side effects, blame big pharma…

 …the list goes on and on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

We are a society that has found ourselves hurtling towards chaos… quickly. But we don’t know why and we cannot seem to apply the brakes. Nothing is no one’s fault anymore. There is no personal responsibility for anything you do, say, or fail to do. (Unless you are on the opposite side of our two-party partisan political arena, THEN, it’s ALL the fault of the other side, right?) I mean, if you believe in personal responsibility and liberty, then you MUST hate poor people and don’t believe in public assistance. Or if you believe in helping people that are down on their luck, or going through a tough period, you must be someone that promotes dependence and welfare queens. Let’s say a single mom that had a military husband that died and the government paid them nada, then you must be a liberal hippie that wants to give all your money away, right? (I mean, Michael, do not be absurd - THAT situation is fine. Military wives are practically saints that should be revered.) It’s only bad to help out single moms if they are black sluts that have lots of babies – THEN it’s just ridiculous to ensure that those children are cared for. Or if they are the spouse of a fallen soldier that was part of a same sex couple. Those freaks can forget it, too. Forget that some are never taught any better and were trapped in propagating a cultural cycle. No, I think we all agree that only tragedy-befallen-white-women deserve consideration and help. Tragedy cannot befall men, so, if you have a penis, you also are judged differently and shamed if you need help. All others should be shamed and ignored for doing all they knew to do with what they had. 

Pshaw!!!! We’ve been had! Money making is the name of the game now. Corporations, and through their lobbying efforts, the government at large drive society based on financial markets and fiscal bottom lines. They want to separate families. Michael, that's just silly... except for the fact that if you are divorced that's TWO houses, two sets of energy bills, two sets of Christmas, birthdays, etc. You have more vehicles, transporting more kids using more gas to get to more places. They want whites and blacks to NOT band together. Just look at the number of coalitions, jobs, marketing, and "separate but equal" way they do schools and colleges and jobs and "clubs" and drag shows and food and places of interest. I mean, just this week I read an article on why white atheists don't care about the black atheist experience. That's crazy. We cannot believe that we are just an atheist... we have to compartmentalize people to the most granular level or we are "not fitting in to OUR people." That didn't come from WITHIN us. We are taught that. We are brainwashed to believe that. They want gays and straights to hate one another. They want men and women to be at odds. They want parents and kids to not get along, poor and rich to feel ill at ease. Don’t you see how many jobs, books, talk shows, self-help seminars, wars, companies, real estate, creams, and surgeries, make up, hair products… all of this chaos employs a lot of people. Those people work for peanuts and the majority of the profits make a lot of money for a few. WHY would they change that, promote the "right" thing to do, and give that up? Think about that slowly. 

Let the horror of that sink in...

Every time you really get riled up by a lie, a fake picture or statistic on Facebook, and you begin thinking about whatever is making you upset… you spend money. You may not even realize it. And it is ruining this country! You don't even realize that you will spend money on it. But it doesn’t go directly to the cause. Don’t be misled. There are overhead bills to pay. Executives, directors, managers, promotional ads, television spots, and further “spin” on whatever take they need to make extreme enough for you to spend even more money. It especially confuses me when people that are middle class whites agree with this stance. When you get told that it's black welfare queens that are taking the most money, and you buy into that, you then vote for the guy that taxes YOU the most, takes YOUR money, and gives the MOST of it to billionaires, themselves, and government. THEN they still give some to welfare. YOU are the one still paying? WHY would you NOT vote for the guy that makes the billionaire corporations PAY their FAIR share of the taxes they owe? You are essentially voting against yourself and you are essentially falling victim to the lie that big business and government are trying to convince you. They are pitting white men against every other demographic. If we all worked together, as people, to promote people, and not interests, causes and money… this would change drastically. Just ask women about the $8 BILLION dollar a year beauty industry. They pit all women of all colors against one another to make sure that white girls want black booties, and black girls want white hair, and Asian girls have to use sticky tape and contouring tricks to have lidded eyes... everyone spends all of their money to look like someone else. Media, corporate entities, and the government have all worked together to ensure that the flow of money from fear-driven consumer, to corporation, to government and in varying cycles will continue. And yet… we are still overspent as a nation and as people. Credit card debt, surges for the economy, only to pay people in retail, so they can pay people in food industry, so they can pay people in retail, and all of it gets taxed. It’s a cycle. We will borrow money from one country, so that we can give money to another country to show goodwill and keep our national interests in check. Yet, we’re broke. And we have internal infrastructure that we ignore, while we spend American dollars in other countries. That’s not our fault, though… we as a people have overlooked and ignored our leaders for so long, that we’ve allowed them to run rampant. I can hear some people now: “Michael, that’s cruel… tsunami/tornado/earthquake victims around the world NEED our money and our prayers and support.” I’m not saying they don’t. I’m saying that IN YOUR PERSONAL life… if you go borrow money from the bank, and take out loans to the detriment of your own family, and give that money away to needy people… YOU have the right to tell me I’m wrong and to shut my mouth. But if you practice the opposite, and you pay YOUR bills, and YOUR families’ bills first, THEN give to charity and to causes… then you need to recognize that AS A NATION, we cannot continue down this path of funding the entire world, especially if we are going to be fake about it and have to worry about silly things like human rights and collateral damage and war crimes, etc. You cannot give away so much that you are left destitute and unable to take care of your own.

We’ve made entire generations dependent on government. We have taught children how to perform to standardized tests, and made them “one size fits all.” We wonder why there are less and less exceptional people, when we refuse to promote exceptionalism. Everyone gets a trophy. Everyone gets to tout participation, but no one is a “winner.” That would make the “losers” feel bad. We teach students memorization, but not how to research and actually learn something. It’s unheard of to actually expect someone to implement something they’ve learned, unless you languish in academia. I love all night conversations about “what if,” but that’s not going pick up a shovel and move a mountain. At some point you have to learn to put thoughts into action. We’ve taught people that we should be embarrassed to be too successful, or educated. Or that you should be embarrassed if you are poor, or lack education. Parents get upset with teachers if their children perform poorly, instead of expecting a child to study harder, learn more, or take the time to work WITH their child. There is a certain amount of shame that SHOULD go with scoffing at education and bettering yourself. Parents are no longer involved. Parents no longer enforce the full participation of the right of education. They are just too exhausted after long workdays, commutes to suburbs, Candy Crush, and their own “me time.” However, I say, “If you were adult enough to have sex and produce a child. You should be adult enough to be a good parent.” Education is viewed as a right, and I want to say… viewed as an obligation now, instead of as a privilege. But, it’s always been a privilege. You are forced to go to school or you are truant. If you didn’t want to go to school, you used to get a job. For a time, secondary education was a luxury. To complete that meant you studied hard, passed hard exams and it carried clout and respect. Now, students are expected to complete secondary education, or you are a dropout, a loser, a slacker. College was for professionals and for those that truly were meant to be the top tier of knowledge, the best of their fields, and academics that wanted to write and teach and share knowledge. Now, to even be considered for entry level, students are pushed to complete higher education, or you won’t succeed. But… people have turned on education. We act like people that like to learn, study hard, and want to better their situation are nerds, outcasts, and “prissy” know it all’s. We treat educated people like they are these bastions of privilege and we don’t understand that it’s too hard to learn plural vs. possessives. We actively ostracize people that want us to do better, and cry out like crazy street preachers… We strive to be perfectly average. We don’t want to be the one that breaks the curve, so we don’t do TOO good; and we don’t want to be poor (shudder) so we don’t do TOO badly, and we end up being status quo – which is just average. We have been taught that average is just fine. Average is acceptable, adequate, and you should be happy with it. We have even moved the mean of the bell curve and we have changed the first sigma to show that “average” is “good” so that workers don’t have to cry about their Annual Review to HR and so students don’t feel like they are singled out when they are, in fact, average. These help no one. No one is made to try harder; instead we are changing the labels to mean something different - to remove stigma, to remove incentive.

We don’t wage war on poverty, but the poor themselves. We are now shaming the actual humans for their fortune or misfortune. We hate the rich and the poor equally and we assume that both are in that position of their own doing. Reversals of fortune and bad things just happen. Life just happens. We get run over by buses we never see coming. So why are we so hard on one another, and not on the circumstances that cause our fellow race of man- and womankind to suffer? We treat the poor like they always cause their own situation, and we treat them like they are pariahs. But we have also created a sense of entitlement in our poor that creates a further rift. Entitlement doesn’t breed gratitude. No one wants to give to charity, not when it’s looked down upon like you could have done more. Well, I could have done zero, so there’s that you ungrateful wench. We worry more about offending the human rights of another country, when our own citizens are not well cared for and we take our tax paying citizens for granted. We grant complete freedom and amnesty to illegal aliens, but we won’t give tax-paying, natural-born citizens full rights if you disagree with their sexuality. I mean, let’s make sure to spend tons of dollars on someone that snuck here and is wanting a free ride because they had one kid on US soil over someone that pays their bills, YOUR bills, and that illegal woman’s bills by faithfully having 30% of each dollar go to a general fund for all of America. That makes perfect sense.

But it’s not our fault… right? It’s no one’s fault. Not the leaders, because they do what they are told… right? It’s not the fault of the corporations, because they are run by committees and boards. Not the citizens, they have no real power over those in charge. Not the poor because they have no power whatsoever. Not the middle class, they are too busy working to pay for the poor AND the rich. That’s what we’ve all been told to believe. Nothing is your fault.

This seems bleak. This seems pointless and sad and aggravating. (Or, maybe that’s how I feel writing this.) But this is just part one of my series on Contentment. I wanted to set the stage. I wanted to show you that we live in a messed up world, with skewed values and we expect immediate, no-cost, consequence-free results. They are required to convince us to participate, but that’s not our natural state of being. We are made to be content and to live together, it’s the lie we’ve bought into. We are told that if we waver in any way, we are bad. We are an anomaly and we are aberrant. I have literally been told in business to keep my head down, don’t be too good – because that breeds discord and jealousy within a small industry. But, don’t be too bad because we don’t want negative attention either. The perfect place is in the middle, under the radar, doing the acceptable minimum. Don’t be too religious. Don’t be too evil. Don’t be for God. Don’t be against God. Don’t make too much. Don’t be poor. We are told that to be content we must always look to the next step and to keep moving to the next moment. We must always be ready to trade in this year’s model of a phone, car, or house and upgrade to the newest fad and trend of what we “should” want. And we are STILL not content. But we can be.

I can testify and bear witness to the fact that we can be content. We can be in the middle of a great high, and a great blessing, and be truly content. We can be in a trial and facing some truly low points, and be truly content. We can be going through something that would make anyone crumble and assume a fetal position – and be truly content. Peace is available to you, that’s been preached innumerable times. I’m here to tell you, to bear witness and to show you that contentment is available to you.

Lift your head. Do not be discouraged. Understand that you are created, designed, perfected and you are to be blessed, at peace, and content. You are DESIGNED to be content and to be at peace. Stay vigilant. Be aware that everything I’ve said is a trap for all of us. Any of us, if not careful, can be led astray, can be distracted, and can fall victim to viewing each detail in dismay and horror and not bolstering one another in life and furthering our faith. Do not let your mind wander. Do not let your heart be troubled. Your life and your outcome are not tied to peace and contentment. Riches, fame, and “being blessed” are not tied to God’s love for you or your salvation. God does bless people. He rains on the just and the unjust. He gives and He takes away. Your spiritual worth, NOT your material worth, is what is tied to Christ on the cross, peace, and contentment.

This world will not get better. You will always see things that trouble you. But YOU can know peace and know contentment.

Parts Two and Three will be posted in the coming days…

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day...

Father’s Day is bittersweet for me.

I’ve never been close to my father, but I have a great Dad. I have two great dads, from different walks of my life. My natural father isn’t someone that I always understand, even though I can’t help myself from loving him and wanting him to love me. And I have a “dad” that is, admittedly, a great man and would do anything for me, but holds the old-school-hardline-tough-love stance on fatherhood. He’s great.

Father’s Day is a wonderful day. Make sure you are celebrating your accomplishments spent in time and energy with your child. Any man can be a sperm donor. Any man can have intercourse, successfully inseminate someone and be the DNA that some child shares. Not everyone worries, prays, cries, tries, sacrifices, and gives of themselves to their children. Don’t lose the trust that your child has in you. Trust me, once you do, it’s nearly impossible to get back.

We never forget. We don’t forget broken promises, even if you had “good reasons” in that moment – even if your boss is hard on you. We only see that you missed our piano recital. We notice every time you seem embarrassed of us. No, we can’t play sports that well, but we sang every Sunday in church and could pray the paint off of a wall. We weren’t the ladies’ man you were, but we did pick up the spiritual baggage you left us and have to fight against using people for physical comfort and have a daily vigil against building walls against people. But we never forget the good either, that’s why we always get hungry for more. We hang on every look of pride; we hang on every word of encouragement. It ruins us for male authority figures and wreaks havoc in our relationships because we are always seeking some kind of approval from someone that could take us or leave us. Someone that loved us, but somehow that love was either too much, not enough, or caused enough hurt that we backed away.

I have a great man that loves my mother, and works with me – as I am – to make our family work. I love him for that. Plus, he ended up making one of my favorite friends a sister to me. I am grateful for that. His example is what made my heart soft towards male authority and father figures again - soft towards my Father, and THE Father. I always hated God as the Father because I couldn’t comprehend a Father’s love being “good.” I’m grateful I witnessed that, and have now experienced that – even if it was later in my life and after years of wondering and wandering. My Dad is who gives me hope that one day I can make amends and have some type of relationship with my father. He already gave me hope about my Father.

EPILOGUE: And as always, I never let even ONE Father’s Day go by where I don’t give my MOTHER the credit for the man I am and for the prayers and love. She was both father and mother to me. She was both cheerleader, role model, disciplinarian and “dad” during the years where my father was “finding himself.”

#JustBeingMichael ツ

Thursday, June 5, 2014

On Handling Praise: Christian Pride and Prejudice

Proverbs 27:1-2: "Never boast about tomorrow. You don't know what will happen between now and then. Let other people praise you - even strangers; never do it yourself."
Proverbs 27:21: "Fire tests gold and silver; a person's reputation can also be tested."

The Bible often tells us how to deal with correction and how to accept difficult or challenging situations - from slavery to misogyny to spiritual rebukes. But, what does the Bible say about praise, accolades and compliments? How do you respond when someone compliments you? 

Unless you are just weird, everyone feels more self-value and has a swell of pride when they are praised or complimented. Some people absolutely love receiving praise because it lifts their spirits and makes them feel valuable. Others are uncomfortable with it. They look down at their feet or offer reasons why they really don't deserve such praise. Both of those situations are dangerous - one because basing  your self-worth on others' opinions is a trap you need to escape. And the other is equally as bad because denying your worth and devaluing your gifts can be detrimental in allowing you to use and operate those gifts. If you continually have self-doubt, you'll be stuck in a cycle of never stepping up to operate in your talent or gift.
For Christians, there's another dilemma. We're called to be humble, so what are we to do when others say good things about us? Because pride is always waiting to raise its ugly head, we need to be careful not to let praise puff us up. Some believers think that accepting a compliment is a sign of pride, so they make a big show of giving all the glory to God. That's fine, if it's really what's in their hearts, but too often it becomes a rote "Christian" response that's geared to impressing others, or just habit. I know someone that for every compliment, they immediately pass the credit or glory to God. And I believe their sincerity, so I am careful to judge their intent. It is not my place, nor my intent to say it's insincere, because their reputation proceeds this action in so many other areas. Conversely, I see "saints" that live like "devils" that make a show of singing and shouting and bestow all credit to God, even though they are the ones complimenting themselves. It's a fine line to walk.
My advice is simply to say, "Thank you very much." Then whisper a prayer in your heart to the Lord, thanking Him for the blessing, recognizing that anything worthy of praise ultimately comes from Him. If you felt encouraged, let the person know how the comment blessed you. I love it when ridiculously talented people are humble. And I like sharing praise for them. Lanny Wolfe can break your heart with songwriting, so can David Huff. Courtney Ballestero can sing the phone book, but you'd miss out on some powerful theological thoughts if you only listened to her singing. Kellye Huff is just a girl I went to school with, until you realize that she's touched untold hundreds of thousands of people over the years through her talent. Stacey Douglas has the keenest sense of humor and best fashion sense I know, but you'll miss her heart if you focus on her love of fine leather goods. Rachel is a talented painter, but her unique insight into capturing each and every moment are what make me love her. My friend James Wood can make me research a new point of view in ways most cannot. And he doesn't always see his worth. Eddie Outlaw reaches hundreds of people for a myriad of causes, but always shines the light on group efforts. My mother, LaNita Roland is the best pianist I've ever heard, but you are missing her entire testimony if you only focus on music. Her walk with God and the faith she passed down to me is the real legacy, not her talent. If you receive praise for an achievement that was really a group effort, be sure to redirect the compliment to all those who were involved. A blessing is always more enjoyable when it's shared.
Our character is tested by the praise that comes to us. Every compliment that bounces into our ears should quickly rebound up to Christ. If we hold onto it, the poison of pride will begin to infect our hearts. But if we pass the praise to God, humility takes up residence in our souls and we are pleasing to God, and more palatable for our fellow humans, too. 

#JustBeingMichael ツ

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How Do You Respond To Criticism?

"If you pay attention when you are corrected, you are wise. If you refuse to learn, you are hurting yourself. If you accept correction, you will become wiser. Reverence for the Lord is an education in itself. You must be humble before you can ever receive honours.
No one is perfect, therefore at some point in all of our lives, we will face criticism. We will be corrected. We will be subject to someone judging our work, our lives, or our actions. Granted, that is not always comfortable and it is not always received well. Essentially, no one likes criticism, but encountering some is inevitable. What do you do in that moment? How do you handle that situation? We need to learn how to respond in a Godly way, that best represents our ability to learn and grow. Although we might be tempted to become defensive or angry, we must remain calm and listen. The words may hurt, but great benefits come to those who carefully consider what is said.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "Practice makes perfect." Teachers, coaches, mentors, parents, friends, leaders, bosses... they are all there to get our best performance. That performance may be on a job site, or in a musical production, or on a test. No one does something perfectly the first time, and most people need multiple times in practice to be of any skilled level in performance. If we refuse to accept advice, correction, or reproof, we'll limit our potential for Christlike-character development and spiritual growth. Some of life's best lessons come through difficult experiences. If God allowed the situation, you can be sure that He wants to use it in transforming you into His image. Whether the criticism is valid or not, whether it's delivered with kindness or harshness, your goal should always be to respond in a way that glorifies the Lord. Remember that you are responsible only for how you handle yourself, not for how the other person is acting.
Here is what I have learned over a lifetime of public service, government work, ministry, and being someone that builds things for people, I have been given the opportunity to hear many people's gripes and complaints about a process, a software, a policy, or a change to workflow. It can be disheartening when a criticism comes your way, but here are some tried and true tips to get through it with some dignity, some grace, and able to hold you head high and maintain respect for your merit: Be quiet and listen until the other person has finished. Don't interrupt or immediately try to make excuses or deny the criticism. 9 times out of 10, even if you disagree, you must realize that perception is reality to the person talking to you. Their life may seem like it is ending because a button doesn't work, and they don't have access to the bigger picture of other things on your plate. And sometimes, it is a legitimate criticism that you just don't realize about yourself. Make direct eye contact to show attentiveness and respect. Even if you don't have time to process this data yet, and you can't confirm their criticism of you... be an adult that handles yourself with dignity. Look them in the eye. Show respect to them for having them intestinal fortitude to come to you directly, regardless of manner. When your critic finishes, thank them for bringing their concerns to your attention. This seems crazy, but it is imperative that you understand you may be at fault and it is your responsibility to have that gut check and determine legitimacy to their claim. Vocalize that by telling them that you will consider what has been said. And don't make a promise you cannot keep. Don't immediately deny, but don't immediately apologize and promise an easy fix. Pray. Pray and ask the Lord if the accusation is valid. Let Him search your heart and either affirm your innocence or convict you.
Every rebuke is an opportunity from God. Worldly or spiritual, it's a chance to let your Christian character shine by showing Christ's love to your critic. If they are angrily attacking you, your respect and kindness become a powerful testimony. Criticism is also an occasion to humble yourself and accept the Lord's correction. Don't overlook the lesson.

#JustBeingMichael ツ