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.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Stewardship of Souls

“Leave people better than you found them.”
(Attributed to many)

The quote above was posted on a friend’s Facebook page several weeks ago . . . and, it has been working on me ever since.  Whenever out in the woods or mountains hiking or camping, the old scouting adage is to “leave the area in better shape than you found it.”  I was not much of a scout . . . made it up to the Webelos (mostly by default) before I gave up on this structured setting . . . but I did learn that statement.  I learned it and have always tried to live by it whenever I am out in woods or mountains enjoying God’s creation.  I always make sure I clean up my mess and the mess of anyone who was before me . . . I attempt to make sure that it was left in the way that I found it, if not better than I found it.  That is just common sense . . . it is just good stewardship.  Thus I was taken back when I read the little twist to the old adage . . . instead of nature it refers to people.

I think that as human beings we do a fairly decent job of being good stewards of God natural creation . . . though I do think that we can do a much better job . . . but, I am not sure we even attempt to be good stewards of our fellow human creations when it comes to stewardship.  I don’t think that we are too good at remembering that we should “leave people better than we found them.”  In looking around the world in which we live . . . witnessing the violence perpetuated against one and other . . . seeing the blatant discrimination and prejudice . . . watching the war that is being waged . . . seeing the hungry who are starving . . . catching glimpses of the “warehousing” of people in society (and this is not a reference only to the prison systems of the world) . . . pushing and leaving others further and further from the so-called acceptable of society . . . I think it is difficult to admit that as humans we are not the best stewards of the human creations of God.  None of us has to look too hard to find this truth as we only have to watch the evening news on television or read the latest edition of the newspaper . . . we are inundated with the evidence that we are poor stewards of God’s human creations.

Which is sad.

Sad because we are called to love our neighbors . . . to love our fellow human creations . . . as we love ourselves.  I would wager that all the major religions tell us this.  I would wager that even those who do not believe in God aspire to this.  I would wager that it is just common sense and good moral living . . . it is the “golden rule”.  Yet, we have a difficult time in doing this.  We are not good at leaving others better than we found them despite the fact that the root of love is to make the “other” better . . . to want the best for the “other” . . . to grow and become who they were created to be . . . to become “whole” and “holy”.  We want it for ourselves, so why wouldn’t we want it for others . . . especially those we say we love.  Yet, the witness of the world in which we live says that we are a long, long, long way from that idea of stewardship . . . stewardship of the soul.

It is also sad because we all do it . . . all of us.

Though I am a follower of Jesus, which in the eyes of many makes me a “Christian”, I believe that all the major religions and belief systems begin in the same place . . . we begin with ourselves.  We are to learn to love ourselves . . . to love ourselves as God created us . . . to embrace that creation in relationship with the God who created us . . . to discover—through God’s eyes—who we are.  Before we can ever love anyone else we must learn to love ourselves.  From there we love others.  Thus it was that Jesus stated that we are to “love one another as we love ourselves.”  As I have said many times before, looking at the world around us, there are not too many people who seem to love themselves.  If this is the case, well then, it is difficult to be good stewards of others in our lives . . . and, that is sad.

We are not good stewards of souls . . . probably ours or others.  Think of life as a journey or a hike.  We move along whatever trail it is that we are tramping down and as we go along we encounter others . . . sort of like natural sites along the way.  Are these “obstacles” or “opportunities” . . . that is the question and dilemma before us on our journey.  For various reasons—some good, some bad, I think that for most of us we view them as “obstacles” or at least “bumps in the road” that slow us down.  In life, as in the journey, we just barrel our way through such things in order to get to wherever it is that we are going . . . we leave them in our wake . . . never realizing the impact we have had on the life of another.  We are not good with others unless they are within our inner circle.

In our lives there are concentric circles of relationships.  In the center stands us.  Radiating out from us are the circles of relationships we have in our lives.  The first circle is for those we are the closest . . . spouses, children, grandchildren, parents.  In the next circle are those who we love, but are not as close to . . . other relatives, friends.  In the next circle are those we work with; the next acquaintances; the next people we know, but don’t know; and, in the last strangers.  As the circles spin outward from our center we spend less and less time and energy on those who occupy them.  We do this to the point that those within the last circle do not even cross our consciousness unless pointed out by another.

Each and every individual in those circles has the same basic need . . . they want to be acknowledged and loved . . . they want to be seen and accepted . . . they want to be a part of the “family”.  We all know this.  Yet, research has shown that the farther that circle of relationship spins the less we “acknowledge” or “love”.  Thus the further out the circle spins the lousier we are at leaving people better than we found them.  I don’t think that any of us wants to be lousy at the care of other’s souls.  I don’t think any of us wants to experience it either.  Yet, we all have experienced it . . . and, we have all been guilty of it.

So how do we “solve” this problem?  How do we become better stewards of the soul . . . especially the souls of others?

One of my favorite words is “hineni” from the Hebrew language.  “Hineni” simply means, “I am here.”  These were the words that Abraham and Moses said in the presence of God—“here I am.”  It is to make one’s self present in the presence of another . . . to set aside all the barriers and obstacles that keep one from being fully in the presence of another . . . it is to acknowledge the other and to make one’s self available—body, mind, and soul—to another.  It is to be “present”.  It is to be still and know.

There is the catch . . . to be still.  We are on a journey.  We have places to go . . . things to do . . . and, maybe even people to see (but apparently not the majority of people we encounter).  We are a busy people.  We are a distracted people.  We are a selfish people.  It is hard to be still, and even harder to be still in the presence of another.  Besides, it is difficult to hit a moving target; thus God tells us to be still and know.

The stewardship of the soul begins with us as individuals.  We be still and know who we are in relationship to ourselves, to God, and to others.  We learn to love who we have been created to be.  We learn to love our relationship with God.  From there we move outward into the world to share this great love with others . . . but, it can only happen if we can be still and know others where they stand.  It is a courtesy that comes out of respect that we owe to all people we encounter on the journey we call life—we are to be still and know them.  We are to practice “hineni”.  It is there that we have the opportunity to leave people better than we found them.  It is there we begin to practice the stewardship of souls.

“To leave people better than we found them.”

I think it is the goal of life . . . the challenge of living a good life . . . something that we all need to work on.  It begins where we are . . . always where we are . . . and, it radiates out from there.  It is the least we owe one another if we are ever going to make the world a better place for others.

Mother Nature . . . Identity Problems?

I think Mother Nature has been struggling lately . . . at least around these parts she has.  Seems that she cannot make up her mind as to what season we Montanans are supposed to be experiencing . . . winter, spring, or something in between.  Seems like she is conflicted . . . confused . . . or even lost.  In the past month—the heart of winter here in Montana—Mother Nature has been kind of all over the board.  You name it we have probably had it as we have had snow, rain, wind, sub-zero temperatures, and temperatures nearing 70 degrees.  We have had snow piled on the ground and we have seen the snow completely disappear.  This is not like Mother Nature . . . or at least the Mother Nature we Montanans have known over the years.

I am a little concerned.

Last winter we had over a hundred inches of snow . . . this winter we will be lucky if we breach the sixty inch level.  Last winter we had below normal temperatures . . . and lots of sub-zero temperatures . . . while this winter we have had above normal temperatures more often than sub-zero temperatures.  Last winter my yard was only snow-free for about a week between November and the end of March . . . this winter I have seen more of my yard than I normally do in the summer!  We have been lacking in snow!  We have been lacking in cold!  Mother Nature seems to be AWOL from out neck of the woods.

I have read in the newspaper that it seems as Mother Nature headed to the northeastern part of the United States this winter.  It seems as if the northeastern part of the country has been getting what is normally reserved for our part of the country . . . snow—lots of snow, sub-zero temperatures, and more snow.  Last I heard Boston was complaining about nearing a hundred inches of snow . . . and, they don’t like it.  They don’t like all the attention that they have been receiving from Mother Nature this winter.  While on the other hand, we Montanans are wondering what we did to offend Mother Nature . . . why she is punishing us like this.  This is not normal!

It is confusing.

With the snow melt we have had in the lower elevations and the rivers flowing freely due to no ice, the plant world is taking notice . . . in places the grass is greening, trees are budding, and flowers are sticking their heads out of the ground.  It is way too early.  Critters, too, are noticing.  One of the “signs” that Spring is on its way—at least for me—are the number of smashed critters on the road, especially the skunks.  Skunks have always been a “sign” for me as they always seem to come out of wherever they hide during the winter to announce that Spring is here.  Well, not live skunks . . . just the ones that get run over on the roads.  The more road kill skunks I see, the closer Spring is getting.  I have seen three in the past month . . . poor, poor critters . . . they are confused.

But it is not only the small critters.  Over two weeks ago, in Yellowstone National Park, they spotted their first grizzly bear out of hibernation feasting on the carcass of a dead bison.  The hungry grizzly was a couple of months early . . . and, a little confused.  Now they are warning visitors to the park to make sure they travel in groups, wear their bear bells, and carry bear spray.  Bears out of hibernation is a usual “sign” that winter is waning and that Spring is just around the corner. 

Another “sign” is the return of those birds that head south for the winter . . . especially ospreys.  A friend of the wife said that she has spotted a pair of osprey nesting down by the Yellowstone River on her property.  Again, these birds usually don’t show up until early April . . . but, here they are!  Confused!

Dogs have been shedding their winter coats.  Horses have been shedding their winter coats.  Newborn calves have been thriving in better than normal numbers as the temperatures are nowhere near their normal “freeze you buns off” temperatures during the calving season.  Farmers have already disked their fields.  We already had one range fire.  And, no one froze during the annual Polar Bear Plunge at the river; nope, they were setting up beach chairs and slathering on the sun block.  Out-of-state fifth wheels and campers have been spotted on the highways.  The masses are losing it . . . they are confused . . . it is not even March yet!  Why, oh why, has Mother Nature abandoned us!

As I stated earlier, I am worried about Mother Nature . . . this is not like her . . . this is not her “normal” pattern or activity.  I don’t understand why she is acting so erratic.  Could it be “global warming”?  Could it be a glitch in the universe’s karma?  Could the easterners have done something so terrible that Mother Nature got perturbed and changed her focus on them for a while?  Could it be some dastardly plot by the political forces in Washington, D.C. to blame it on the president?  Could it be that her mind is starting to go . . . after all, she is not as young as she used to be?  Could it be she forgot how to use the weather remote?  Or that the “replay” button got stuck?  Has she been drinking?  What is her problem!

All I know is that I feel abandoned.

It is true that most Montanans believe that winter is the ten months we have to endure for the two months of summer we experience every year.   But, we also do not let the winter stop us from living . . . lots of us do enjoy getting out in the winter.  We like to ski . . . downhill and cross country.  We like to snowshoe.  We like to go sledding . . . snowmobiling . . . skating.  We like to appreciate the winter from the warmth of our homes . . . to see snow-covered mountains . . . while sipping on hot chocolate and Peppermint Schnapps.  Though we gripe about the winter, we appreciate the winter . . . we respect the winter . . . even when we are shoveling snow for the millionth time.  We appreciate and respect it because it is a part of who we are as a people . . . a part of our identity.

So, when all the snow is getting dumped on the northeastern part of the nation . . . sub-zero and near-freezing temperatures are bring the south to its knees . . . and, people in Texas are experiencing the white stuff and running to dictionaries to find out what it is called . . . we Montanans are missing our winter.  This is not “normal” . . . and, we are concerned . . . concerned for Mother Nature.  We hope it is only a “phase” she is going through.  In the meantime we have put her on the prayer list at church . . . we have rattled the ol’ rosary beads a few times . . . and . . . well, to be honest, we have laughed.  We have laughed at all those people back east who can’t handle a little winter . . . wimps!  If they can’t handle the winter tell Mother Nature to bring it back.

But, we can wait . . . until November.

Beer: Moving On Up

I like beer . . . the wife likes wine.  The wife and other wine lovers regard beer and beer drinkers as something less than refined when compared to wine drinkers . . . that they are second class citizens.  Often the reasoning for this is because wine is good for one’s health when imbibed in moderation . . . it is good for one’s heart and health.  Beer, on the other hand, isn’t.  At least that is the line beer drinkers have listened to for many, many years.  I think that is the propaganda of the vineyard lobby . . . a sort of stomping out the competition.  Yet, the bottom line is that for a long time beer was the second fiddle to wine’s more illustrious place in the world of drinking.

Not anymore!

Beer is moving up!

According to an article on the “never can miss or be wrong” Internet . . . put out there by the reliable MSN website . . . beer—in moderate consumption—can be healthy for those who drink it.  Based on three medical research projects the writer of the article even suggests  that this information is grounds for switching up the nightly red-wine routine.  Yeah, I heard a few corks pop on that suggestion.  Yet, facts are facts . . . beer—when drank in moderation—can provide health benefits.

Beer can reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease.  One of the greatest myths about drinking beer was that it killed off brain cells . . . well, it’s not true!  Now, if you drink too much beer, or any alcohol for that matter, it is a proven fact that you can become stupid . . . but that is not because your brain cells are dropping over dead . . . nah, they are just drunk.  But that is a post for another time.  Researchers at China’s Lanzhou University subjected rat brain cells to a host of stressors, mimicking the conditions thought to cause diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  What they discovered is that there is a potent antioxidant—Xanthohumol—that is found in the hops that make beer.  This antioxidant is found to protect brain cells from damage.  The conclusion?  Drink a beer a day and there is a five percent reduction in the risk of neurodegenerative disease.  I’ll buy it . . . the Chinese have never lied to us when it came to beer drinking.

Research shared in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (has to do with the study of kidneys and their function) over an eight year period shows that beer is more effective than coffee, tea, or orange juice at preventing kidney stones.  In fact, it slashes the risk of kidney stones by 41 percent!  Now, get this, wine was a distant second only reducing risk by 31 to 33 percent.  The researchers credited the beer’s diuretic effect for this particular benefit.  Now a logical person knows that beer makes you want to pee.  Peeing apparently has something to do with getting rid of all those chemicals that congregate in the kidneys to form kidney stones.  Thus, the more you pee the better for you.  Beer makes you pee.  Everyone knows that you don’t buy beer . . . you rent it.

Lastly, Harvard researchers pooled self-reported drinking data from more than 100,000 female nurses and found that women who drank beer two to four times weekly lowered the risk of rheumatoid arthritis by 31 percent.  They determined that it was the beer’s ability to suppress inflammatory proteins.  Hey, this comes from Harvard so it has to be true . . . drink beer and avoid arthritis . . . drink enough beer and you don’t care.  Yet, at the same time, this research concerned me . . . 100,000 nurses!  Makes you wonder about the state of health care.

Apparently the writer believes these health findings and benefits warrants a move up for beer in the world of “folk” and real health life styles . . . but not to the point of knocking wine off of it pedestal.  No, the anonymous writer only suggests that these findings open up the door for switching up the nightly wine consumption.  Instead of drinking wine all of the time . . . drink a beer every now and then.  Shoot!  If one is good for you, two should be even better . . . right?  Drink them both!  That is what I say!

Of course, the wife and my other whiners . . . I mean, winers . . . don’t agree.  They still point out that wine is the better of the two . . . has a lot more research to back them up . . . and, besides, wine doesn’t create the infamous “beer belly”.  When was the last time you ever saw a “wine belly”?  They rest their case.  The benefits of beer for health research is catching up . . . beer is moving up.  Someday beer will climb up onto that pedestal alongside wine . . . in the meantime, both sides disagree.  I can live with that . . . let’s disagree to disagree and go on.  I can drink to that . . . but a bunch of Chinese and Harvard researchers can’t be wrong!  It was on the Internet!  It has to be true!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Passing it On

We have another one on the way . . . grandchild, that is.  The due date is in early July.  The family is growing.  The youngest son and his wife are getting into the mix with their expected child.  Both the wife and I are really excited to welcome another child into the fold . . . especially as grandparents.  Grandparents get all the fun and then get to send the grandkids home at the end of the day!  The whole family is excited . . . especially my daughter as her daughters will have an actual cousin . . . something she and her siblings never experienced.  Let’s just say there is excitement in the air.

When the youngest announced that he and our daughter-in-law were expecting on social media he used the hashtag: #KeenersLiveOn.  Of course this is a reference to the fact that the child they are expecting is going to be a boy . . . a male heir . . . and, the “Keener” surname will live on for another generation.  After a couple of granddaughters this will be the first grandson.  Kind of cool.

Now we live in different times.  When the wife and I were expectant parents it was rare and unusual to know the sex of the unborn child before his or her making a screaming appearance in the delivery room . . . nothing was known until the medical team checked out all the equipment and made the announcement.  As expectant parents the wife and I played a guessing game based on myths and stories about determining the sex of a child before birth.  Trust me . . . it didn’t work.  In today’s age it is only a matter of using science and really high-powered technological devices to find out the sex of a child before he or she is born.  Our son and daughter-in-law were told the sex of their unborn child shortly after the first trimester.  There was no guessing . . . one glimpse and they knew . . . it was a boy.

When our first child was born a little over three decades ago we had to wait until that revealing moment there in the delivery room to learn that we were the proud parents of a boy.  We were quite ecstatic . . . our parents were excited by the news . . . even my grandfather on my father’s side was pumped.  He even called.  My grandfather never called . . . ever.  It was the first and last phone call I ever received from my grandfather.  One short conversation that consisted of a simple question: “Well, what is it?”

My grandfather, on my father’s side, had three children born to him and my grandmother . . . three girls and one boy.  That one male was my father.  On my father laid the mantle of providing an heir to pass on the Keener surname . . . which of course, meant that he would have to have male children to accomplish the task.  It was the only way to carry on the Keener name for another generation.  This he accomplished when he and my mother had four children . . . three boys and one girl.

Between my siblings and me I was the only one who got married and had children.  The burden of carrying on the Keener name fell upon me.  Like my father before me there were four children born to my wife and I . . . three boys and one girl.  It so happened that our first-born was a boy.

When I got home from the hospital the night that our first son was born, the phone rang.  As usual, I answered, “Keeners!”  From the other end of the line came the question . . . no greeting . . . no identifying who was calling . . . just a question, “Well, what was it?”  Caught off guard, I answered, “A boy.”  Click . . . the line went dead.  Only later, after talking to my father and mother, did I learn that it was my grandfather, my father’s father.  Without even realizing it I had accomplished the task . . . the Keener surname would live for another generation.

My father explained that it was important to my grandfather that the Keener surname be carried on . . . that the name did not die.  Growing up I had very little contact with my grandparents, thus there was not what I would call a real intimate relationship there.  As an adult I can only remember his presence in my childhood twice . . . once at his place and once at ours . . . and, they were short visits.  As an adult the wife and I took our first two born children to visit them for two days.  Growing up there were no phone calls . . . no letters.  Thus it was quite a shock to get a call from him on the eve of our first-born son.  Apparently I did well . . . I accomplished the job . . . the Keener name was saved for another generation.
In all honesty I never really gave it much thought about the Keener surname being carried on.  Without even realizing it I did what had been expected of me . . . I took the baton from my father . . . and, I have now passed it onto my sons.  The burden is now upon them . . . primarily because they are the only ones with the Keener surname.  It is up to them to keep the name alive for another generation.

As I said, I never really gave this much thought.

Of our four children, there are three males and one female.  Of our four children only two are married . . . one daughter and one son.  The daughter and son-in-law have blessed the wife and I with two beautiful granddaughters.  Unfortunately in the baton passing category they are of no use in making sure that the Keener surname is carried on . . . our granddaughters do not have the same surname . . . they are no “Keeners” . . . they have their father’s surname.  The baton was not even passed to them . . . it has been given to the three boys.

Of the three boys only one is married . . . the youngest son.  They are the ones who are expecting . . . the baton is firmly in their hands . . . the burden lies upon them.  And, they have confirmed that the child to be born is to be a male . . . an heir to the family name . . . the Keener surname will live for another generation. 

I imagine that the old man is spinning in the grave.

Yet, I understand my grandfather . . . who doesn’t want the family name carried on?  When I actually think about it, it is kind of cool.  The family name . . . the Keener surname . . . will live for another generation.  That is pretty neat to see that it is now in at least its sixth generation with the grandson on the way.  I can understand that, yet it really is not that important to me.

It is only a name.

What is important to me is what the people . . . the families . . . the moms and dads . . . the children . . . the grandchildren . . . embody as a family.  That means a lot to me.  To be a family . . . to love God . . . to laugh and cry together . . . to have relationships and bonding with one another . . . to love one another . . . to have compassion and passion for each other . . . to hope . . . to dream . . . to be proud of one another . . . to enjoy the presence of each other . . . to be good, caring, and loving to others . . . to be there for one another . . . to be a “family”.  It does not matter to me what the surname of those people are as long as they are a family . . . a loving and caring family.  That is what is important to me.  I do not care whether or not the family surname is passed on from one generation to the next as much as I want the “family” passed on from one generation to the next.

Someday the family surname will run its course . . . will come to the end of the trail . . . and the baton will be dropped; but the “family” will always be there . . . always.  I love the “family” that is growing with the present generation.  My son-in-law and daughter-in-law are exceptionally caring and loving individuals who I enjoy being around . . . they embody the good in life . . . and, I know that they will be wonderful parents.  The son-in-law already is and the daughter-in-law will be too . . . after all she has been taking care of our baby for a couple of years now.  My granddaughters are fun and loving and wonderful little people . . . the future looks bright.  The “family” is growing and the legacy of being “family” is growing too.  That is neat . . . and, I want “that” to carry on for generations to come.

That is the real “baton” that must be passed on.  That is what is important.