Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Talking on Things We Don’t Know About

Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about
(“Ten Thousand Words” by the Avett Brothers)

A couple of weeks ago my son and I were standing in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.—one of the fine museums of the Smithsonian Institute.  We were standing before a picture as man walked up to us, pointed at the image, and firmly proclaimed that the man in the picture was Sitting Bull.  I said, “I beg your pardon.”  The man said, “That is Sitting Bull.”

Now typically I do not correct strangers in public when they are wrong, but this guy was wrong . . . way wrong . . . had the wrong guy  . . . had the wrong tribe . . . and, even the wrong generation.  That was not a picture of Sitting Bull . . . Sitting Bull was not a Crow Indian . . . Sitting Bull was a Hunkpapa Lakota.  The picture was of Plenty Coups . . . a Crow Indian.  I told the guy that, but he insisted that it was Sitting Bull.  I pointed to the name plate under the picture that read “Plenty Coups”.  The man’s response?  “All them Indians look alike.”  Then he proceeded to tell my son a whole lot of mythic tales of how the West was won . . . John Wayne sorts of tales that were wrong.  I just walked away because the guy was talking a whole lot on things that he truly knew nothing about.

His ignorance reeked.

I sat with a group of people a while back as they debated those dastardly Muslims with all of their hatred and jihad attempting to rid the world of all the other religions . . . especially the Christians.  Listened as they rattled on and on about how all Muslims were the same . . . just a bunch of terrorists out for vengeful blood.  They are all the same, they said.  But I asked, “How many Muslims have you ever met?  How many do you actually know?”  The silent stares were answer enough . . . none.  They were talking a whole lot on things that they truly knew nothing about.  I walked away.

Their ignorance reeked.

Such conversations are all around if one has ears to hear.  Ten thousand words on things none of us know nothing about.  Words about other religions . . . about other races . . . about other cultures . . . about other generations . . . about other nations.  They all look alike . . . they all act alike. They are all the same.  By that it is usually meant something that is not good.  If they are not like us do we really have anything good or nice to say?  Not usually . . . but, we still have a lot to say.  We all have opinions . . . opinions based on myths, lies, and misinformation . . . myths, lies, and misinformation because we really and honestly don’t know what we are talking about.

Sadly I have learned that if a person speaks out of his or her ignorance with enough force and conviction others will believe . . . they will believe the myths, lies, and misinformation.  All Muslims are alike . . . blood-thirsty terrorists.  All Indians are alike.  All old people are alike.  All women are alike.  All black people are alike.

I went to a small college in central Nebraska . . . a state with a minority population of less than three percent . . . and that was reflected on campus.  There was practically no diversity as nearly all of the student body was white.  People of color were few and far between.  While at college I ran track with a young black man from Washington, D.C.  One day as we were running he stated that he was dropping out and moving home.  When I asked why . . . he stated that he could not take any more of the passive aggressive racism he was experiencing.  He said he was called a “nigger” by some guy while walking back to his dorm room one evening.  He confronted the individual . . . asked the offender how many blacks lived in the community that he grew up in.  The guy responded that there were no black people in his community, and none even in the county he was from.  “So, if there are no blacks from where you are from,” asked the black man, “how can you hate someone you have never met or encountered?”  Because, replied the offender, all blacks are alike. 

His ignorance reeked.

Ignorance reeks.  That is a fact . . . especially when ignorance is pawned off as fact and truth.  Sadly, as the lyrics above state, “Ain’t it like most people? (we) are no different.  We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”   I have been known to razzle and dazzle with bull poop a time or two . . . we all have.  But, it does not make it right.  Does not make it ethical.  Does not make it fair.  Mostly it disrespects others . . . puts them down . . . oppresses them . . . makes them “less than” us.

I try really hard not to get roped into discussions based on ignorance . . . try real hard not to be baited into arguments based on myths, lies, and misinformation . . . try real hard to razzled and dazzled by a whole lot of b.s.  I try real hard not to display my ignorance when I really don’t have a clue about what people are talking about . . . instead I try to ask questions so that I can learn and become knowledgeable about what others are talking about.

I am trying real hard to base my thoughts, ideas, statements, and opinions based on experience, research (on all sides of an issue), and a whole lot of discernment and prayer.  I am trying real hard to have more conversations with people and things and situations where I am the one who is the fish out of the water.  I am trying real hard to be one who is willing to walk in another’s shoes before I pronounce judgment.  I am trying real hard to be open . . . authentic . . . and willing to listen to everyone’s stories.  I am trying real hard to understand.  I am trying real hard not to be like everyone else . . . I do want to be different.  I want to be who God wants me to be . . . I want to be me . . . a person called to love God and others . . . to love others even if they are different than me and I do not understand them.

That is the point.  None of us is created the same.  Why in the world would we ever think that we are?  There are so many colors in a rainbow . . . why do we all have to be the same one?  That was never God’s intention, so why is it ours?  Ignorance reeks . . . let us not sit in our stink.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tell Me What I Need to Know

“It wasn’t in books. It wasn’t in a church. What I needed to know was out there in the world.”
(Robert Fulghum)

I guess I have been slacking off lately . . . at least it feels like it.  I haven’t quite been keeping up with current events as well as people think I should.  Seems that I have not been vocal enough on a lot of the issues effecting the world in which I live . . . whether it be on the local or world scene.  It seems I just haven't been keeping up with the issues facing the lives of people in the world.  I’ve been slacking off . . . been missing the boat . . . just not getting it, and it does not matter who you ask.  Seems that all sides of any issue actually agree on one thing—I have been missing the point!  The problem is . . . I am not sure what the point is anymore!  I just wish someone would tell me what I need to know!

Locally, in the little town I live in, the big issue is an increase in the sewage rate that everyone is going to be charged in order to do the necessary work that needs to be done to bring the community’s sewers up to state standards.  Not being up to code is not new “news” to the community . . . the community has known for years that there was work that needed to be done to meet code . . . work that the council and community chose to ignore for a whole lot of years.  Now the piper wants to be paid and the community gets to carry the burden of paying for it.  There are opinions on both sides of the issue.  At the council meeting in which they were announcing the increase I listened to people argue . . . and argue . . . and argue a point that was basically moot.  It was a done deal.  My head was spinning after an hour of arguments having people attempt to convince me one way or another about what should be done.  The bottom line was that it was too late . . . apathy reared its ugly head and bit the town and its people right in the butt! 

Down the road in the “big city” the city council voted down a Non-Discrimination Ordinance that would have insured equal rights for all people in the community . . . and, I mean all people whether they were male, female, or anything in between.  On both sides of the issue there were lots of words and opinions thrown around . . . thrown around with conviction and belief that what was being said was the bottom line.  Pretty divisive issue with lots of heated conversation.  It was enough to make anyone’s head spin. 

Then, of course, there are the issues surrounding the shooting of a teenager in the community of Ferguson . . . a suburb of St. Louis.  The teenager was black and the shooter was a white police officer.  Pretty violate situation that has torn apart that community . . . and, the nation.  Lots of opinions being spouted out on both sides of the issue.  Lots of hot words.  Seems everyone has an opinion about the issue.  Both sides are arguing out of all sides of their mouths.  Everyone is claiming that their truth is the only truth.

There is the issue of the Middle East and all the news about good Christian people . . . about the Jews . . . about just about anyone who does not believe in the political party (if they are that) who wants control.  Both sides argue that theirs is the “right” way.  I just wish I could a straight answer from either side.

Politics in the United States . . . plenty of opinions on both sides of the coin and everything in between.  There are opinions on the “right” side . . . on the “left” side . . . and, everywhere in between.   There are “liberal” and “conservative” opinions . . . Republican and Democratic opinions. 

All around me there seems to be a million, billion opinions of what I should believe . . . what I should think.   It seems everyone is willing to tell me what I need to know.  There are plenty of talking heads out there willing to fill me in on what is wrong or right . . . plenty of opinions that are pretty much cut and dry . . . damn if you do, damn if you don’t.  It is like there is some sort of common belief that no one can think for him or herself . . . and, the sad thing is that most people seem willing to let someone else do their thinking for them . . . willing to let others opinions to become their opinions without checking it out for themselves.

More or less I quit watching television over a decade ago.  I pretty much quit listening to the radio about the same time.  I still read the newspaper and news magazines.  I peruse the Internet.  I take the time to glance at what is trending on Facebook and Twitter to see what is going on in the lives of friends and family.  In all of them there are plenty of people willing to tell me what I need to know.  It makes my stomach hurt that so many people are so willing to tell me what I need to know . . . thus I quit watching television and listening to the radio. I am really tired of being told by others what I should think and believe.  The noise of all these opinions is drowning out the life that is within me.

M. Scott Peck wrote years ago that the root of all sin is laziness . . . that the human race is always looking for the easy way out.  If someone else can think for us—right or wrong—we are willing to accept their assistance without any questions asked.  If it is good enough for a talking head, it is good enough for us.  And, the scary thing about all of it is that it is true.  In what I am seeing on Facebook is downright scary.  What I am reading in the “letters to the editors” is frightening.  What I see on so-called news sites on the Internet—on all sides—is espoused as the gospel truth whether there are facts to support it or not.  It is like the human race was gotten itself stuck in neutral  without having the ability to move.  It is scary because it seems as no one can think for him or herself.

I learned a long, long time ago that the truth is rarely found in the extremes, but rather somewhere in the middle.  Yet we live in a polarized world when it comes to the opinions that people have about so-called “current events”.  And, boy, if you don’t take the time to understand where you are standing on certain events . . . well, let’s just say it is not good.  Hell is going to be crowded with a whole lot of people on both sides that were certain that their side was right.  The truth is somewhere out there in the middle of it all waiting to be discovered.

A sign of maturity—which is something we all seek in our lives no matter how young or old we are—is the ability to form and state one’s own opinion.  An opinion that is based on experience and on one’s ability to check the “facts” out for him or herself.  From what I have been seeing lately . . . well, let’s just say that the human race is moving faster towards immaturity than fully coming to accept reality of being able to think for itself . . . of discovering one’s own beliefs.  And, that my friends, is scary.  When people quit thinking for themselves and start espousing some talking head’s opinions . . . well, it is scary.  Scary because it leads to places that end up repeating history . . . history like the Second World War and all that lead up to it.

Truth of the matter is . . . I do not need someone else to tell me what I think of what I believe.  I do not need the television to do this for me.  I do not need the radio to do this for me.  I do not need the opinions that my friends re-post on Facebook or Twitter . . . no, I would rather have a thoughtful and honest statement about what they really think and believe.  I just do not need others telling me what to believe or think . . . I do not need that noise rattling around in the ol’ rock garden I call my mind . . . nor do I need it to be bouncing around in my heart. 

I think I can make up my own mind.  In fact, I think that is exactly what God wants me to do . . . to make up my own mind based on my love for God and others, not on what someone tells me I should believe or think.  I want what I know and believe to be based on what I have experienced in my life, not in someone else’s experience and life.  I truly believe that God wants us to think for ourselves . . . to be ourselves . . . not someone else, not something else . . . but ourselves.

I truly believe that each and every one of us has the ability to think for him or herself.  The truth is out there.  We do not need others to tell us what to think . . . to tell us what matters.  God trusts us to make these decisions on our own . . . why don’t we trust ourselves? 

Of course, this is my opinion . . . do you have one of your own?  Or, do you let others think for you?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Written in Chalk

All our words are written in chalk
Out in the rain on the sidewalk
If all our heartaches were in a stack
They’d go all the way to heaven and back
(“Chalk” written by Buddy and Julie Miller)

One of the gifts that we have given to our granddaughter, at least the one who is now two-years old, is sidewalk chalk.  With the wife having artistic tendencies it was only natural that the granddaughter got some chalk to draw and scribble on the sidewalk . . . after all, we have plenty of sidewalk for her to let her artistic side rip.  Of course, a two-year old is not much of an artist—mostly colorful scribbles of the abstract variety . . . and, not always on the sidewalk.  But, it is cool as her sidewalk art is always a wonderful reminder of her presence in our lives well after she and the rest of her family have headed back to the big city.

One of my favorite episodes of Happy Days happened in the first year of the series when Richie Cunningham was attempting to woo a young lady.  One of his friends suggested that he draw the young lady a chalk picture on the sidewalk that she walked to go home after school each day.  With great thought, Richie drew a message . . . and eye, heart, and a female sheep.  Of course everyone—including the object of his infatuation—thought that the message read: “I love sheep.”  Now a female sheep is a ewe . . . Richie’s message was: “I love you.”  Thankfully, with the first rain, the message was washed away.

That is the problem with writing things in chalk . . . the first rain that comes along washes it all away . . . washes it gone.  Nothing is left but a memory of what was declared.  Isn’t that a lot like life?

Lately I have been thinking that much, if not all, of life and what it holds is written in chalk.  There are no promises in life . . . no guarantees.  Life is a journey . . . an adventure . . . in which there is nothing that is assured outside of a beginning and an ending.  Nothing.  It is all written in chalk . . . waiting to be erased by the first drops of the rain.

I have a friend whose sister has been struggling with cancer . . . a roller coaster battle.  This sister is a really neat individual.  I really like her and what she represents . . . to use vernacular that is no longer used, she is cool; but cancer has really derailed her in the prime of her life.  Cancer came out of the dark and threw her life in disarray just when it seemed like everything was falling into place.  And, like just about anyone, she has tried to fight the good fight to beat the cancer . . . she clung to hope . . . but, there are no guarantees, no promises, no assurances that everything will work out the way that we all hope it will.  Today, in hopes of removing the tumor, it was discovered that it was pretty much inoperable . . . that there was nothing anyone could do despite all the prayers and words of hope.  In flash the words—written in chalk, were washed away.  It breaks the heart.

When our daughter had our first grandchild she struggled with post-partum depression.  It really threw her for a loop.  It was not easy to watch her struggle with the darkness that enveloped her life.  It was far from what she imagined the birth of her first child would be.  This happy-go-lucky individual who loved to embrace life and dance its dance, was floored.  It was not what was written in chalk . . . but, she got through it.  With the second grandchild things looked better . . . there was no darkness in the beginning, but it came knocking on the door once again.  The picture she had pictured . . . the image drawn in chalk on the sidewalk of life . . . was washed away in the rain of depression.  But, she is steadily beating it.  Yet, parenthood hasn’t been everything she imagined it would be.  Written in chalk . . . and, it breaks the heart.

I think that is true for most of us.  I think that we all grab that sidewalk chalk and create masterpieces of life that we want . . . beautiful images of what we hope will happen for each of us.  Yet, we forget that there are no promises . . . no assurances . . . no guarantees . . . that those drawings will ever be what we drew them to be.  No, because the rain always comes to wash them away.

People are not always who we think they are.  Illnesses wreak havoc on our bodies and lives.  Accidents happen.  People fall out of love.  Pregnancies don’t work out the way we expect.  Children choose their own paths.  People lie.  Wars break out.  People kill.  Old age comes along with all of its friends.  People cheat.  Prejudices erupt.  Rules are broken.  As they say in all twelve-step programs . . . poop happens.  Yet, we still draw in chalk on the sidewalk . . . hoping.  Hoping it never rains.

But it rains . . . it always . . . eventually rains.

The quote at the start of this blog is from a song by Buddy and Julie Miller called Chalk.  It is a haunting song about an individual’s love for another . . . another with a problem that renders him or her incapable of overcoming the issues that weigh him or her down.  In their minds there is one image, in their lives there is a whole different reality.  The relationship is going down the drain.  The image in chalk is being washed away in the rain of life.  No promises, no assurances, no guarantees . . . all our words are written in chalk . . . out in the rain on the sidewalk.  So goes life . . . written in chalk on the sidewalk.

Now, don’t get me wrong . . . life is good despite the fact that there are no promises.  Life is what it is.  Most of us try to make the best of what it deals us.  Yet, it is good to remind ourselves from time to time . . . especially when we get hung up on how crappy it can get for us, that life still goes on.  With or without us, life goes on.  And, it helps to remember that there is a hell of a lot of chalk in the world . . . chalk of every color under the rainbow . . . chalk to grab and keep on drawing on the sidewalk.  Over and over again, we have to keep picking up the chalk and drawing the pictures . . . drawing our dreams . . . drawing our hope.  We have to because sometimes they come true . . . sometimes they are better than we ever imagined, better than we could ever draw.

At the end of the song Chalk, the singer sings: “We don’t know all the trouble we’re in, we don’t know how to get home again, Jesus come and save us from our sin.”  We are never alone . . . we are never abandoned no matter how abandoned we feel.  If the rain comes down and washes our chalk away, pick up the chalk and draw again.

For my friend whose sister has relapsed into cancer with very little hope . . . whose mother is struggling with the curse of dementia . . . I grab the chalk and draw.  I draw of our relationship over the years . . . I draw the laughter and the tears . . . I draw the love . . . and, I always will.  For my daughter who struggles with the darkness of depression caused by the crazy way that the body responds to birth . . . I grab the chalk and draw . . . I draw sunshine and light . . . I draw laughter in the midst of tears . . . I draw love . . . and, I always will.  For all those whose lives have strayed from where they had hoped . . . I draw.  The rain may come and wash the chalk drawings and words off the sidewalk, but it can never remove the images I hold within my heart.

I realize how fragile life is whenever I reflect upon the chalk scribblings my granddaughter has left behind . . . but, I have love.  Love generates hope.  No matter what life throws at any of us, we always have love and hope.  It is written upon our hearts . . . no rain can ever wash that away.  Upon our hearts we draw an eye, heart, and ewe . . .