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Posts Tagged ‘Children’

‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
I searched for the tools to hand to my spouse.
Instructions were studied and we were inspired,
In hopes we could manage “Some Assembly Required.”

The children were quiet (not asleep) in their beds,
While Dad and I faced the evening with dread:
A kitchen, two bikes, Barbie‘s town house to boot!
And, thanks to Grandpa, a train with a toot!

We opened the boxes, my heart skipped a beat….
Let no parts be missing or parts incomplete!
Too late for last-minute returns or replacement;
If we can’t get it right, it goes in the basement!

When what to my worrying eyes should appear,
But 50 sheets of directions, concise, but not clear,
With each part numbered and every slot named,
So if we failed, only we could be blamed.

More rapid than eagles the parts then fell out,
All over the carpet they were scattered about.
Now bolt it! Now twist it! Attach it right there!
Slide on the seats, and staple the stair!

Hammer the shelves, and nail to the stand.”
Honey,” said hubby, “you just glued my hand.”
And then in a twinkling, I knew for a fact
That all the toy dealers had indeed made a pact

To keep parents busy all Christmas Eve night
With “assembly required” till morning’s first light.
We spoke not a word, but kept bent at our work,
Till our eyes, they went bleary; our fingers all hurt.

The coffee went cold and the night, it wore thin
Before we attached the last rod and last pin.
Then laying the tools away in the chest,
We fell into bed for a well-deserved rest.

But I said to my husband just before I passed out,
This will be the best Christmas, without any doubt.
Tomorrow we’ll cheer, let the holiday ring,
And not have to run to the store for a thing!

We did it! We did it! The toys are all set
For the perfect, most perfect, Christmas, I bet!

Then off to dreamland and sweet repose I gratefully went,
Though I suppose there’s something to say for those self-deluded…
I’d forgotten that batteries are never included!

[author unknown]

Merry Alien Christmas

Merry Alien Christmas

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I consider myself somewhat of a manly man. I like to do physical things.  Admittedly, I am not the best at fixing things.  But give me a chance to hike, fish and hunt, and I am right there.  I have gutted my fair share of fish and deer and various birds and smaller game.  Like most outdoors men, I have had a chance to push the limits of my own endurance and then take pride in retelling the experience.

There is, however, one thing that cowers me into a namby-pamby girly-man. It is the site of my own flesh-and-blood’s flesh and blood.  The experience of being at the birth of my two sons was not inspiration for me.  It was traumatic.  The birthing instructor was a bold-faced liar when she cheerily told my wife and me, “Blood?  No!  There’s almost no blood involved in child birth.”  Yeah, right.  My wife screaming in pain and the sight of blood sent me into a shock that rendered me mute and useless to my poor wife.  Good thing her best friend was there.  She took over.

When our two daughters were born at home with a mid-wife, it was mutually decided that my wife would be better off with close friends and family at her side than her husband. And so it came to pass.  I do not think I missed anything by not being there to “play catcher”.  I enjoyed my newborn daughters shortly after their loudly proclaimed and bloody arrival.  They were handed to me clean and pretty as all newly born little girls should arrive into the world, not wrinkly and bloody like my two boys arrived (which, come to think of it, may be a proper portent of things to come).

Our oldest daughter arrived into the world with a sweet tooth. As soon as she learned to totter on her own two feet, she could easily be called to one’s side with the sound of unwrapping candy and gum.  Her acute hearing for such sounds was a marvel to everyone.  At the sound of any wrapper crinkling, she would come running.

Unfortunately, for the grandmotherly types in our little church at the time, her cuteness and irresistible personality caused them all to disgorge their purses of any gum or candy they had available every Sunday. So, my daughter would return home from church each Sunday looking like she had just gone trick-or-treating on Halloween.  For her, every Sunday was Halloween.  Church was not a place to find God as much as it was a place to find candy.  After she went to bed at night, we would find candy and gum wrappers under her bed and pillow as well as leftover uneaten pieces tightly gripped in her tiny fists as she slept.

This, sadly, did her no favors as she developed really bad cavities in her baby teeth by the time she was three. Several were serious enough to threaten the budding permanent teeth behind them.  Thus, we were advised by our regular dentist to take her to see a pediatric dentist to have the cavities taken care of as soon as possible.  We made an appointment with one in Gig Harbor, Washington.

I was still a young father then and had not yet learned my physical and psychological limits to familial pain and blood-letting. So, I offered to take my daughter to the dentist.  I figured it would be a good father-daughter bonding time as we had an hour-and-a-half drive to the dentist and back again.  I loaded her into our little red Subaru wagon and off we went.

After a long drive of noticing the passing scenery, singing to the “oldies but goodies” on the radio and chattering away upon childhood topics, we arrived at a beautiful brand new building. The pediatric dentist’s office was located on the second floor of the building, which had a large, airy open atrium with a glass ceiling and tiled floor with a coffee barista right in the middle of it.  As we walked into the main doors, the smell of fresh coffee hung in the air along with the sound of an espresso machine working overtime to satisfy the thirsty and drowsy morning customers.

I decided against the elevator, so we walked up the double stair-flight to the second floor. Soon, we were standing in front of the dentist’s office door.  I looked down at my daughter with her blonde golden curls and bright blue eyes.  She looked up at me and smiled her big, wide toothy smile full of confidence.  I smiled back and opened the door.

The large room we entered was made for children. Bright colors, big toys, cartoon pictures on the walls and balloons decorated the room.  There were children playing and parents looking on, smiling, and talking in whispers to other parents.  Needless to say, I was impressed.  What a great place to bring your very young child to have dentistry work done.

I took my daughter’s hand and we made our way over to the registration counter. After acknowledging our names and appointment, I was handed a clip board with a cord’s worth of firewood for paperwork.  I have never liked filling out paper work.  But I found a seat with my daughter and started on the hundred’s of questions.  Every page needed the same information at the top: name, address, phone number, social security numbers, emergency contact and their numbers and the VIN number of the first car you owned.

I returned the filled-out paper work to the kind lady at the counter and took my seat to wait. It was only a few minutes before a nurse called my daughter’s name and my name.  We were escorted into a small dentist’s work room with the same childhood decor that we saw in the waiting room.  I thought to my self that it would be fun to work in such a bright and cheery place.  Such surroundings couldn’t help but bring out the innocent child in all of us.

Soon, the doctor arrived. She was a very beautiful young doctor, well dressed in a bright yellow colored pant suit that accentuated her red hair.  She looked like she was dressed to go to a professional presentation for pediatric dentists, not about to delve into the mouth of my daughter or any other child’s mouth for that matter.  Her demeanor and look reflected a person who had it all together with her prefect hair, make-up and clothes.

She smiled sweetly to my daughter, knelt before her and engaged her in a friendly conversation. Soon, she easily maneuvered my daughter up on to the dentist’s chair and was looking in her mouth.  I thought to myself, “This lady is good!

I felt myself relax and more willing to place my daughter into her care. Shortly, she turned to me and explained to me what she was going to do.  Then she invited, “Mr. Almberg, you are more than welcome to wait in the waiting room or go downstairs and get a cup of coffee.  We will be about an hour.”  I thanked her and shook her hand, turned to my daughter with a reassuring smile and kissed her on the forehead, which was returned with that big toothy smile.

Confidently, I left the room, walked through the waiting room and headed to the atrium to the coffee stand. As I made my way down the stairs to the first floor, I crowed to myself how easy all of this was going.  The warm fragrance of coffee caught my attention and I was soon focused on getting some caffeine in my favorite latte flavor.  It had already been a long day.  The appointment was made for early morning so we had been on the road since 6:30 am.

I paid for my coffee and found one of the overstuffed leather couches located near by. I selected one that was situated with the sun coming through the window upon it.  I picked up several magazines lying around on various tables and finally settled upon an old dog-eared PEOPLE magazine.  I planned on relaxing and enjoying a few moments of solitude before the long ride back home.

Only into the second page of the first article in the PEOPLE magazine, I heard a faint scream come from a far away room.  “Wow,” I thought to myself.   “That must be what the Spanish Inquisition must have sounded like.  Poor person.  I wonder where that is coming from…who that is?”  There was another scream, but this one more discernible.

Suddenly, a sick feeling came over my stomach as if my latte had been served up with sour milk. I recognized the voice in that scream.  There was no mistaking it as another scream echoed through the atrium.  It was most certainly my daughter.  I looked around at the people scattered around the room.  They all looked at one another and then it seemed as if they looked at me with an accusing stair, “How could you!!?”  I stuck my nose deeper into the magazine trying to find some anonymity.

I tried to enjoy my latte but, with every piercing cry, it was becoming more difficult.  I had given up on attempting to read any magazine articles after the first fifteen minutes went by on the clock.  Fortunately, the screams grew more and more less frequent.  However, this only tended to add to the tension.  The silence in between led to an anticipation of when the next one would come.  Just about the time that I thought it would never come after all, there would come another crying echo throughout the building’s chambers.

Pink Wild Flower, Summer 2009

Pink Wild Flower, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Finally, I could not stand the suspense any more.  I drained my now cold latte and headed up the stairs to the dentist’s office.  After a half-an-hour, I was starting to think that they perhaps needed my help.  I did not consider what that help could possibly be, but I had to find out any way.  I entered the office, only to enter another universe.

As I came through the door, the same calmness that had greeted me the first time was still there.  The room had not changed decor, children were happily playing and parents were mildly watching and chatting with one another.  “Don’t they know that my daughter is being tortured in there?” I wondered.  I went to the front desk.

Yes, I am Ron Almberg.  My daughter is being worked on right now and I am wondering if she is all right.”

The polite lady behind the counter smiled at me and said, “Let me check for you.  I’ll be right back.”  Then she disappeared around a corner.  I could imagine her going down the hall and into the little torture room that they were keeping my daughter in.  I waited impatiently for some news.

Finally, after only a few moments, she returned and said, “The doctor said that they have had some difficulty with your daughter but everything is going fine right now.  She said she should be done in about 15 or 20 minutes.”

OK,” I timidly returned.  “I’ll just wait over there.”  And pointed to a chair in the waiting room.

I took my seat. However, moving into the waiting room only made things worse for me.  Not only was the noise level louder, but one could hear the sounds of dentist tools doing their worst.  My hands grew clammy and I started to shake.

Just about the time I thought that I could not take any more, all of the noise stopped. After several more minutes passed by, the door to the way to the dungeon opened and out stepped my daughter.  Her mouth was stuffed with a few pieces of cotton, her hair mussed up, her eyes almost swollen shut from crying so hard.  Later, we discover that she had broken blood vessels in her face from screaming so hard.

I looked up at the doctor as she came through the door behind my daughter. She was the polar opposite of the picture of perfection that I had seen earlier that morning.  Her dress suit’s blouse was askew, her fair fell out in several places and the make-up on her face was worn and blotched like she had just come from someone’s funeral.  She smiled a crooked but victorious tired looking smile.

As you probably heard,” she began.  “We had some difficulty getting your daughter to settle down so that we could do the work on her.  We finally had to put her in what we call a “papoose”.  I was able to treat all the real bad cavities; however, we just were not able to get to the lesser ones.  I would recommend just monitoring them.  As long as they don’t get any worse, she will be fine until they fall out when her permanent teeth come in.”

Thank you, doctor,” I replied.

Without further comment she turned and disappeared behind the door.  “She looks terrible,” I thought.  “I wonder if she’ll take the rest of the day off.

I picked up my daughter with her swollen and Novicained face. We returned to the car for a long ride home.  I had planned on stopping in Silverdale for a treat, but she immediately fell asleep in the car and did not awake until we got home.  Then I laid down and slept the rest of the day.

The next Sunday, an announcement was put in the church bulletin and made from the pulpit.  “Please do not feed the Almberg’s daughter anymore candy of any kind!  She had to have cavities filled in her baby teeth this last week.  Anyone found doing so will be excommunicated and shunned.  May the Lord have mercy upon your soul.  The Almberg’s thank you for your help.  The pediatric dentists of America thank you.”

Except for one little church grandma lady who turned to sugar-free gum, we had no more trouble with church candy coming home.  Thanks to the pediatric dentist who saved her teeth, our daughter, to this day has a wonderful toothy smile.  But you will always find a piece of gum stuck in it.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Sometimes we just need to remember….

1.  Never give yourself a haircut after three margaritas.

2.  You need only two tools, WD-40 and duct tape.  If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40.  If it moves and shouldn’t, use the tape.

3.  The five most essential words for a healthy, vital relationship: “I apologize” and “You are right. ”

4.  Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

5.  When you make a mistake, make amends immediately.  Crow is easier to eat while it’s still warm.

6.  The best advice that your mother ever gave you was, “Go!  You might meet somebody!”

7.  If someone says that you’re too good for him or her, believe it.

8.  Learn to pick your battles.  Ask yourself, “Will this matter one year from now?  How about one month?”

9.  If you woke up breathing, congratulations!  You have another chance!

10.  Be really nice to your friends and family.  Some day, you may need them to empty your bedpan.

[author unknown]

Say Life

Say Life

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The Guilted Parent

Life offers us very few guarantees. We would like to thing, for instance, that all our efforts at our career would guarantee us success and wealth.  Or, that the time we invest in spiritual pursuits would insure us against troubles and pain in this life.  Or, that the investments we put into the lives of our children would promise us perfect kids who become perfect adults and in return raise perfect grand kids.  But there are no guarantees.

The problem lies in our constant search for those guarantees. We want a secret formula: put this into your life or your kids and this will be the result.  We want magic talismans: quote this Bible verse, pray this prayer, do these spiritual things and this will be what you see.  So, we run from book to book, conference to conference, in an effort to find the magic bullet that will kill our fears about the future.  While self-education and awareness is wonderful, there is no formula, talisman or bullet that will guarantee us against failure and disappointment.

No where is this more evident than in the frantic efforts of many Christian parents. Believing that a child enters the world tabula rasa (with a clean slate) upon which the parent can determine the outcome of a child, these parents go through all sorts of spiritual and mental contortions to do so.  The problem arises when a child does not “turn out” as expected.  This places a considerable amount of guilt upon the parent (and sometimes the child as well).  The rest of the Christian community looks upon the wayward or prodigal child and blames the parent for doing something wrong or not doing something right.  There is not a lot of grace or mercy available for parent and child.

It is faulty think that says the parent can always produce the child. It is a lie that guilts a parenting into believing that good “christian” parenting will produce godly children.   There are instances that we are all aware of where even under the best parenting and spiritual guidance a child has self-determined to go his or her own way completely contrary to how they were raised.  At the same time, there are plenty of instances where a child has come through and come out of a background that is filled with all kinds of social and spiritual problems and obstacles to be a success materially and spiritually.  This defies the psychological determinism that plagues so much of our Christian philosophy and theology about parenting and families.

It is the lie of psychological – or spiritual, in this case – determinism that has produced all the Christian formulas and programs available today. They each offer their own guarantees to raising successful kids as if child-rearing and child-training were a trouble-free, risk free endeavor.  In a B.F. Skinner-like approach, a Christian parent can produce godly children as if they were planting a garden or training a family pet.  One only needs to throw in a few well-placed Bible verses.

Thus, Christendom has produced the guilted parent; an impossible weight of legalism towards the parent-child relationship. It is as if the Bible was a parenting manual filled with formulas and spiritual laws that, if carefully followed just right, would produce guaranteed outcomes.  Thus, if the child did not turn out “right,” then it can only mean that the parent screwed up somewhere and did not follow exactly the prescribed formula or spiritual law.  The guilted parent syndrome is not helped by the “testimonies” of successful and winning parents who have raised obedient, respectful, compliant children who live faithful Christian lives with no missteps or disappointments.

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I have known parents who have carefully read and faithfully followed all the advice of Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Yet, despite all their frantic and careful studies, they had a child(ren) who seemed determined to live a life completely opposite of their parents’ values and lifestyle.  I have other friends who systematically followed all of the rules from Growing Families International and their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum with seeming success, until one of their children did not seem to respond to their carefully crafted efforts.  Both of these parents were at a loss and suffered under a load of guilt and shame for the outcome of their kids.

It is interesting to note that even in Scripture, some of the most successful people of God were followed by ungodly children. At the same time, some of the most wicked characters in the Bible produced righteous children who did incredible things for God.  Finally, if one were to measure God’s success as a successful heavenly Father based upon the actions and activities of all of his children, by the measurement of the material commonly marketed to Christian parents today, he would be a failure!

This has been our experience within my family. My wife, Kelly, and I are well-educated (both with Masters Degrees).  We have read the books, watched the videos and listened to the speakers.  Despite having our home full of books and constantly reading to our children, we have two children out of our four who had a very hard time learning to read and so don’t like to read.  Imagine this from a child who has a father with a personal library that numbers over 3,000 volumes.  Doesn’t make sense according to the formula we were given about helping our children become “readers.”

We also have always been involved in church, spiritual pursuits and openly talked about spiritual things with our children. We read the Bible, prayed around the dinner table, regularly included prayer for missionaries and surrounded our lives with very spiritual people.  We have not done this perfectly, but we have done it to the best of our capability and knowledge we had at the time.  Nevertheless, we have one child who has chosen to live a lifestyle with a set of values that are completely contrary to how he was raised.  Again, this doesn’t make any sense according to what we have been told all these years.

As with so much of our modern Christianity, and much of humankind’s approach to God in general, we have reduced life with God to a formula rather than faith. Like the legalistic religious rulers of Jesus’ day, we have made our own set of laws about parenting that are too heavy for many to bear.  We leave those who are not able to perform according to these rule and regulations outside “the ark of safety” to drown in their guilt and shame.  But Jesus came to introduce a different way.

Living according to these “Christian parenting laws” only proves our failure. The apostle Paul reminds us that “the Law brings death” – and that can apply to just about any spiritual law or legalistic religious system.  Only faith in what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection can bring life to parents who have children who are spiritually and morally wayward.

  • It is a faith that believes that his grace is sufficient for all our sin and their sin.
  • It is a faith to believe that the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is still able to work in their lives and return them to the heavenly Father’s household of faith.
  • It is faith that believes that God graceful and merciful intervention can make up for all of my – or anyone’s – parental mistakes and short-comings.
  • It is faith that believes that the spiritual seeds that were planted at one time in a child’s heart will one day mature into a harvest of righteousness despite what fruit or weeds might be apparent there now.
  • It is faith that believes that God’s love as heavenly Father is greater and more abundant than my earthly parental love.
  • It is faith that believes that God accepts me even as a mistake-ridden and faulty parent to my children.
  • It is faith that believes that just as God’s unconditional love accepts and embraces me; it will also accept and embrace my child no matter where they may be on their own spiritual journey.
  • It is faith that believes that the same God who is our righteous and holy judge is also our merciful and loving counselor.

It is time to set the guilted parent free. It is time to replace formulas with faith.  It is time to reject psychological and spiritual determinism with a trust in God’s power to do what we ourselves cannot guarantee; which is children who worship and serve him.  Let the guilted parent be set free.

These thoughts came about as I finished reading “The Myth of the Perfect Parent” by Leslie Leyland Fields in Christianity Today (January 2010, Vol. 54, No. 1).  There is a follow-up interview with Donald Ratcliff by Katelyn Beaty that the reader may want to see.  Some of the terminology and ideas that are in my Blog came from Leslie Fields article.  Follow the link to see the complete article.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Relationship Scarring

It is impossible to go through life without ending up with scars from relationships. The fact that we wound at all is a testament to our humanity.  The fact that we are often as much the deliverers of scars as the receivers of scars speaks loudly to our own brokenness.  Children are scarred by parents.  Siblings grow up leaving scars upon one another.  Co-workers and bosses leave wounds that can range from minor paper-cut like ones to major open, seeping wounds.

Not all scarring from relational squabbles is the same. Minor ones leave their mark as do major ones.   All of them leave a lasting memory and reminder of a battle won or lost.  It seems that the closer the relationships, the deeper and longer lasting the wound and subsequent scar left behind.  Likewise, everyone deals with their relationship wounds in different ways.  Some people are more resilient and successful than others; while the others languish under memories and unforgiveness.

It may come across as naive, but it seems that people expect fellow Christians to never leave a wound or scar upon others, particularly other believers. So, when this does occur, the surprise and hurt go deep.  There is an expectation that “christians” will somehow exhibit a perfected humanity that is devoid of any ability to wound or scar with words, actions or attitudes.  This is far from the case.

The other day I was listening to a fellow believer share the story of their spiritual journey. Raised in a religiously strict, legalistic home, this person was not able to do anything “worldly;” which included among other things going to movies, playing billiards, bowling, attending dances or associating with anyone who did such things.  When this individual finally left home, they discovered a whole different world of Christian beliefs and practices.  It caused them quite a personal identification crisis.

The biggest problem for this individual, however, was not with the particular Christian expression with which they grew up. Instead, it was the readily apparent hypocrisy that was witnessed among parents, established church members and church leadership.  They could spout the doctrines of the faith, display a modicum of religious behavior and then turn right around and speak evil of one another, attack leadership and hold others in disdain.  Spiritual knowledge was greater than the spiritual fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Once liberated from their past, the person who shared their story with me expressed the joy of being able to work with other Christians. Seeing how others worshipped and practiced their faith gave a new perspective.  Unfortunately, the story shared with me included many places in the journey where terrible wounds were left by those in church leadership positions.  I felt the pain expressed.  I sensed the hurt and frustration over those that anyone would expect better behavior from in spiritual leadership.  I also knew that any such expectations were wholly unrealistic.

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

We are a people of clay feet who follow the leadership of individuals with clay feet. We are a community of broken and wounded sheep who follow broken and wounded leaders.  This is all the more reason that love, acceptance and forgiveness should be the hallmarks of such communities.  Too often these qualities are absent in order to protect the appearance of spiritual perfection.  In the presence of such spiritual “perfection,” one is deemed an authority and a leader, regardless of true inward character.

Too often, what happens behind the closed doors of church offices between staff or at the board meetings or membership meetings of the congregation becomes the place where wounds are given and received. Instead of being the sanctuaries they are touted to be, they become torture chambers of spiritual abuse.  I have personal experiences with those meetings.  Unfortunately, I also have too many friends who have either left ministry or left church altogether because of the stinging scars they still nurse.

The ironic answer to all this lies within the very thing that causes us to hand out scars to others like Boy Scout or Girl Scout badges. It lies in our brokenness.  It is our brokenness within ourselves, towards others and towards God that fails us and causes us to fail others.  Like broken pottery, the shards of our life lie hidden until someone steps upon them or touches them.  Then we leave a wound.

At the same time, our brokenness holds the answer for all of us. Instead of attempting to hold up perfected lives before others to see and applaud, we would be better off acknowledging our broken places.  Instead of playing to our strengths to lord it over others, we would do better to lead and influence from our own woundedness.  Instead of attempting to portray a community of victors and overcomers who have no problems, we would serve ourselves and others better by admitting that we are a community of confessors and repenters.

I am not advocating for a fellowship of moaners and complainers who go around with sullen faces.  I am not suggesting that defeatism and spiritual poverty become the Christian model for spirituality. We have already been down that road before with the Puritans, Quakers and Pietists.  What I am suggesting is a spiritual formation and communal journey that includes a spiritual “sunshine policy.”  A “sunshine policy” is one that allows light upon a situation so that everyone knows what is going on.  It demands honesty, integrity, truthfulness, accountability, and openness.

This approach, of course, offers no guarantee against relationship scarring even among Christians. However, it does offer a more transparent way of healing our self-inflicted wounds upon the body of Christ.  This is much better than just moving from church to church or getting rid of staff for unexplainable reasons.  In this I readily acknowledge that because I am in community with and being led by broken individuals, I cannot expect to never be wounded.  Nor can I expect that I will never deliver a wound because I, too, am broken.  As such, I do understand that continuing in this community will require me to extend love, grace and mercy to others, just as they extend it towards me.

We are not called to lives of perfection on this side of eternity. We do not have the right to expect to come through this life unscarred and unwounded.  God in Christ Jesus gave us the model for dealing with sin and forgiveness.  Only through love, grace and mercy can the relationship scars we receive and deliver become the marks of true spiritual community.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Outward Posture, Inward Rebellion

There is something innate in human nature that makes most people want to conform to the social mores of a group to be accepted. It is the way we identify “those who are like us” and “those who are not like us.”  Even those who consider themselves mavericks, loners and social outcasts often conform to way of behaving and dressing that identifies them with all the other mavericks, loners and social outcasts.  As such, paradoxically, they become a part of their own self-identified group even though they want to exhibit their individualism and anti-group attitude.

No where is the propensity to want to identify with a particular coterie more evident than in or among religious and political groups. Even then, political assemblies do not hold a candle stick to the divisive nature of religious groups.  This is not just an issue with any one particular religion, but all religions.  Christians used to murder one another over doctrinal distinctives as quickly as Muslim Sunnis, Shias and other Islamic sects do today in the Middle and Far East.  Hindu castes war with one another and tribalism is known to rule many parts of the warring factions of Buddhists.

I am not able to speak to the other religions state of division, but I am not the only one among Christians who are dismayed at the lack of charity and love many Christians show one another from different doctrinal streams. This is especially ironic given the particular emphasis its founder, Jesus the Messiah, place upon “loving one another” in the Christian community.  It was these loving, grace-filled communities that were supposed to be a sign and witness to the rest of the world that God’s Kingdom had truly come to earth.

Without denying what is clearly described as the central tenets of the faith that all Christians can agree upon, nor marginalizing what all can agree Scripture clearly identifies as sin, it seems to me that there is a lot of room for allowing others to follow Jesus according to the dictates of one’s own heart and conscience without imposing those upon others.  Alas, this does not seem to be the case.  Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, Christians are determined to cluster in groups for the only particular purpose of identifying “who is in” and “who is out;” like they have some decision in the matter of who actually gets into heaven and who doesn’t.

So, we like to bunch ourselves around labels: conservatives versus liberals, fundamentalists versus evangelicals, pentecostals versus charismatics, dunking baptizers versus sprinkling baptizers, social gospel versus proclamation gospel, baby baptizers versus baby dedicators, congregationalists versus presbyteries, hi-church versus lo-church, liturgical versus non-liturgical, King James version only versus modern translations, traditional church music versus contemporary church music, denominational versus independent non-denominational.  And the grouping goes on and on and on.

It would be one thing if this was simply an attempt to gather like minds and hearts to worship and learn together. This could be done while at the same time recognizing and embracing other Christian fellowships that have different expressions and doctrinal emphases.  Sadly, this is not the case for the vast majority of churches and their followers.  The pride of triumphalism creeps into the gang gathered that emits an attitude that communicates, if not expressed overtly and outwardly at least inwardly, that they are the “only true” believers on God’s planet.  God must laugh, or weep.

All that we seemed to have accomplished with such behaviors is to confound nonbelievers and tarnish our testimony to the One we are striving to follow. Then, to make matters worse, our efforts to ensure group conformity in beliefs and behaviors only produce among us disingenuous and hypocritical believers.  The disciples we produce are able to spout our dearest doctrinal truths and exhibit, at least while within and among the group, the expected pious behavior.  Thus, they have an outward posture that says they genuinely belong to the Christian sect, but inwardly struggle with rebellion that will express itself sooner or later.

Once again, human efforts at religion create a human-focused and human-energized faith system. A faith system that holds in bondage its followers to a scripted religious expression and holds at a distance anyone who is at variant with that particular expression.  Is doctrine important?  Yes.  Is righteousness or right-living important?  Yes.  However, outward conformity to either of these without a change in heart only breeds a deadly religious syncretism where faith and belief do not really change attitude and heart.

Extending love and grace to everyone on their spiritual journeys, no matter where they may be in them, is the only way to live in the communal unity Jesus called his disciple to attain. Instead of attempting to identify “who’s in” and “who’s out,” what if every Christian fellowships goal was to identify where people are on their spiritual pilgrimage?  What if Christians permitted one anther to cluster around like interests and similar spiritual journeys without rejecting or disparaging other Christians of different interests and dissimilar spiritual journeys?

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In my household, all four of my children are different from one another. They have different abilities and talents; dissimilar likes and dislikes; as well as a various mix of personality traits from their paternal and maternal side of the family.  In my household, I do not attempt to make them all like the same thing.  They do not all have to play the same sport or same games.  Even the formation of their behaviors and beliefs has taken on unique and interesting paths.

I do not love any one of them more than any other. I love each of my kids dearly.  I cannot imagine my household without them.  Each of their character, sense of humor, way of doing things, seeing things, approaching things and processing things adds variety to our family life.  Yes.  Sometimes it is frustrating and even maddening.  At the same time, all of our differences can bring hilarity and light moments.

The point is this: we do not sit around the dining room table trying to identify who is really part of the family and who is not.  As amazingly different as we are all from one another, there is enough family resemblance to assure us that there is no mistaking our family tree.  Instead of picking one another a part with differences, we attempt to celebrate them.  And, as we mature, those very traits that once drove us to distraction when we were younger now become the most endearing qualities we love about each other.

We are not a perfect family. We have our dysfunctions for sure; just like God’s family here on earth.  What if God sees his family like this?  What if he loves each of our clusters, fellowships and groups as much as the next one?  What if he looked upon us with loving eyes and just wished we would honor and love each other the way he esteems and loves us?  What if he recognizes our spiritual quirks, illogical dogmas and inconsistent righteousness and loves us anyway and wishes we would do the same for each other?  Imagine that for a moment.

In truth, humanity is broken. Along with the rest of humanity, Christians are broken people seeking healing and wholeness in their Creator.  In the long run, it may suit our efforts toward personal healing and wholeness and seeing God’s Kingdom truly come to earth if we simply stopped and rejected our own religious posturing.  Rather than expending so much energy identifying “who’s in” and “who’s out,” if we took time to recognize our own tendencies toward inward rebellion, we may be more apt to extend grace to others.  This, in turn, may allow us to broaden our acceptance, care and love to all our spiritual siblings in the heavenly Father’s household.  It is, after all, his house and not ours.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Monday A.M.
Dearest: Sleep late.  Everything under control.  Lunches packed.  Kids off to school.  Menu for dinner planned.  Your lunch is on a tray in refrigerator: fruit cup, finger-sandwiches.  Thermos of hot tea by bedside.  See you around six.

Tuesday A.M.
Honey: Sorry about the egg rack in the refrigerator.  Hope you got back to sleep.  Did the kids tell you about the Coke I put in the Thermoses?  The school might call you on this.  Dinner may be a little late.  I’m doing your door-to-door canvass for Breast Cancer Research.  Your lunch is in refrigerator.  Hope you like leftover chili.

Wednesday A.M.
Dear Doris: Why in the name of all that is sane would you put soap powder in the flour canister!  If you have time, could you please come up with a likely spot for Chris’s missing shoes?  We’ve checked the clothes hamper, garage, back seat of the car and wood box.  Did you know the school has a ruling on bedroom slippers?  There’s some cold pizza for you on a napkin in the oven drawer.  Will be late tonight.  Driving eight Girl Scouts to tour a meatpacking house.

Thursday A.M.
Doris: Don’t panic over water in hallway.  It crested last night at 9 P.M.  Will finish laundry tonight.  Please pencil in answers to following:
1. How do you turn on the garbage disposal?
2. Why would that rotten kid leave his shoes in his boots?
3. How do you remove a Confederate flag inked on the palm of a small boy’s forehead?
4. What do you do with leftovers when they begin to snap at you when you open the refrigerator door?  I don’t know what you’re having for lunch!  Surprise me.

Friday A.M.
Hey: Don’t drink from pitcher by the sink.  Am trying to restore pink dress shirt to original white.  Take heart.  Tonight, the ironing will be folded, the house cleaned and the dinner on time.  I called your mother.

[author unknown]

Dog Guardians

Dog Guardians

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