Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Families’

My wife, Kelly, and I will celebrate our 27th Wedding Anniversary on August 27th.  There are couples who have been married a lot longer than we.  Many couples we know have not been married as long but are working hard towards it.  Other couples ended their relationships long ago for various reasons.  All of us will testify to the fact that marriage relationships are hard work, especially good ones.

It seems that God has a sense of humor. When he instituted the idea of marriage between a husband and wife, he could not have picked a more odd way to bring people together in such close, intimate proximity to one another.  Never mind all the issues surrounding the differences between the sexes in how the think, process reality, respond emotionally, communicate, and build relationships.  There are also all the various personality differences to deal with too: introvert versus extrovert; saver versus spender; externalizer versus internalizer; task oriented versus people oriented; verbal versus non-verbal; emotive versus non-emotive; and this list goes on.

What was God thinking? Of course, dumb and numb with overwhelming passions and longings, most couples don’t even consider these issues until it is too late.  This should be reason enough for seeking good premarital counseling before marriage.  Even then, attempting to get two hormonal driven humans to stop and consider reality from an objective point of view is quite the challenge to any premarital counselor.  After all, the couple is thinking, “Our love will conquer all.”  They are too inexperienced to recognize the fallacy of that Disney storyline.

So, hurrying through the preparations for the “big” day, often the real issues of what makes marriage relationships successful are left for a later date. It is a guarantee that, ready or not, that day will come.  And most unprepared couples are left stewing in separate rooms asking themselves, “What now?”  It is then that they realize that it will take more than loving feelings and passions to get through the rocky places of their relationship.

It seems to be part of God’s great plan for marriage to use it as a way to transform individuals. He takes two – or perhaps more correctly, we take two – highly selfish individuals and throws them into the confines of a relationship where they must beat the selfishness out of each other.  Anyway, that is the way it seems to happen.  Then, just about the time that they think they are unselfish and more loving, along comes someone who is the epitome of selfishness – a baby, who then becomes a toddler, who becomes a child, then a pre-teen, and then finally a teen-ager.  Each stage of growth only seems to be intended to increase the self-focused nature of the child to scrape any last remaining scraps of selfishness out of the parent.

White House, Washington D.C., Spring 2010

White House, Washington D.C., Spring 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Perhaps this is one of the only ways God realizes that our sinful and selfish natures can adequately be dealt with – in the context of intimate relationships. It is not the stranger or mere acquaintance that drives me nuts.  It’s my family.  How many children have declared, “I’m not a part of this weird family!”?  Or, wished that they had been born of different parentage?  Alas, it is too true – you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.

So it is also in the marriage relationship – the most intimate of all human relationships. The very one that we often are passionate about and with – yes, that very same one – becomes the very one that drives us mad with frustration and anger.  How many couples have looked at each to realize, “We are not on the same ‘page’ are we?”  It is not unusual for couples at some point in their relationship to wake up some morning, look across the bed at the person sleeping beside them and think, “I really do not like him/her right now.”  All of these are the attempts of our selfish nature to exert itself over us and our relationships.  The only way to defeat it is to allow the relationship’s challenges to transform us.

Marriages that transform individuals and couples help them discover that the “we” is more important than the “me.” They realize that the strong emotions that conflict brings does not mark the end of the world or the end of their relationship.  They know that time and determination are on their side.  They embrace the fact that they cannot change their partner but can only change themselves.  They act so that their feelings will follow because their commitments cannot be determined by ever-changing emotions.  They choose to see the potential in their partner.  They remember what character traits attracted them to their partner in the first place, even though those same traits may today be driving them to distraction.  They recognize that their relationship problems cannot be blamed on either party but that they are common problems that each must work on separately and together.  They grow comfortable with the fact that every relationship will experience times of drifting and times of intimacy, that there are different seasons for each stage of life, and that how their relationship began will not be how it appears in the end.

In short, not only will the relationship be transformed over time, but each partner within it will also be changed for the better if they are willing to allow their personal transformation to take place. It is when one or both of the partners in a relationship determine to hold on to their selfishness that unclimbable walls and mountains are created.  This is often when we hear, “I’m just not happy anymore.”  Or, “we are so incompatible with each other.”  A relationship that was designed to do away with all selfishness only becomes the cause for greater selfishness in these individuals.  This usually results in the most selfish of acts: relational suicide.  This brings about the self-destructive acts that become self-fulfilling prophecy that affirms the relationship was doomed from the start.

Want to change your life? Go ahead; get married.  It will surely transform you.  You certainly won’t remain the same over the years.  Further, add children to the mix and it is a sure-fire way to get rid of the last vestiges of selfishness.  Are you single and think, “Ha!  I don’t have to mess with any of that anyway.”  Yes you do.  You have family that will do that for you unless you safely remove yourself to some distant land.  And even then, you have close friends, unless you become a monk or nun of some order that disallows communication.  It seems that God intended all along for our closest relationships to transform us by beating the living selfishness right out of us.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Read Full Post »

Let’s say a guy named Fred is attracted to a woman named Martha.

He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time.

A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.

And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Martha and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: “Do you realize that, as of tonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?”

And then, there is silence in the car.

To Martha, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.

And Fred is thinking: Gosh. Six months.

And Martha is thinking: But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily towards… I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?

And Fred is thinking: …so that means it was…let’s see…February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer’s, which means…lemme check the odometer…Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.

And Martha is thinking: He’s upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I’m reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed – even before I sensed it – that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that’s it. That’s why he’s so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He’s afraid of being rejected.

And Fred is thinking: And I’m gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don’t care what those morons say, it’s still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It’s 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600!

And Martha is thinking: He’s angry. And I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can’t help the way I feel. I’m just not sure.

And Fred is thinking: They’ll probably say it’s only a 90-day warranty…Scumballs!

And Martha is thinking: Maybe I’m just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I’m sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.

And Fred is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I’ll give them a warranty. I’ll take their warranty and stick it right up their…

“Fred,” Martha says aloud.

“What?” says Fred, startled.

“Please don’t torture yourself like this,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. “Maybe I should never have…oh dear, I feel so…” (She breaks down, sobbing.)

“What?” says Fred.

“I’m such a fool,” Martha sobs. “I mean, I know there’s no knight. I really know that. It’s silly. There’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”

“There’s no horse?” says Fred.

“You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” Martha says.

“No!” says Fred, glad to finally know the correct answer.

“It’s just that…it’s that I…I need some time.” Martha says.

(There is a 15-second pause while Fred, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.)

“Yes.” he says. (Martha, deeply moved, touches his hand.)

“Oh, Fred, do you really feel that way?” she says.

“What way?” says Fred.

“That way about time,” says Martha.

“Oh,” says Fred. “Yes.”

(Martha turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks…)

“Thank you, Fred,” she says.

“Thank you,” says Fred.

Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Fred gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a college basketball game between two South Dakota junior colleges that he has never heard of. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it.

The next day Martha will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification. They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it either.

Meanwhile, Fred, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Martha’s, will pause just before serving, frown, and say: “Say, Norm, did Martha ever own a horse?”

And that, my friends, is the difference between men and women.

[author unknown]

Our Aim - Your Aim

Our Aim - Your Aim

Read Full Post »

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)

Read Full Post »

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)

Read Full Post »

Some wise person once observed that we do not make our technology as much as our technology makes or shapes us.  This is perhaps at not time more evident that in our current technologically driven culture.  Of course, give it a few more years and the evidence will only be greater.  Most people embrace all forms of technology without question or judgment.  This is what the companies who market to the mass of humanity are hoping for from the consumers.

I have been without a cellular phone for over a year now.  After the initial technology withdrawals, I have been observing our culture with a different set of eyes.  It’s kind of like someone who has smoked for years and then quitting.  Suddenly, the world is different with tastes and smells that went unnoticed before under the ubiquitous cloud of smoke.

Now I notice couple and families strolling through the grocery store or neighborhood park together with one or more of them eye-pasted to their personal cell phone texting and receiving text messages.  Spouses and children go unnoticed, let alone their surroundings with its sights, sounds and activities.  Not only can so many of us not drive without attempting to text and receive text messages, but we also cannot sit in someone’s presence without checking out phone after every vibration or beep that emanates from it.

It used to be that “keeping up with the Jones'” meant that you too had indoor plumbing; then it was electricity; then it was a telephone; then it was a black and white television – and then a colored one; then it was the microwave; then it was a cordless phone; then it was the personal tape or CD player; then it was a car phone; then it was a computer; and, now, it is a cell phone.  However, it is more invasive than just having a cell phone.  Now my family must have cable TV with a personal TV in each person’s bedroom.  Each person is expected to also have their own computer – preferably a laptop.  With the phone or cable company’s family plan, each person in my family can also have a cell phone.  Thankfully, the phone or cable company can “bundle” all these services together so that I only get one bill a month – a big bill – instead of several.

Well, to save money and avoid the technology bill, my family is without cell phones.  So, to many of our acquaintances, we come across as Luddites.  On top of that we do not have a television, let alone cable.  So, that puts us in the “weird” category.  We do have two computers – a laptop and desktop – with internet capabilities, so once they hear that then we move up a category just above the Amish technology-wise.  It still strikes me as odd that my family of four cannot get by with two computers in our household.  There is constant haggling over who needs online next.  The rule is:  Work and school before play.

We have friends and family who spend their evenings with each member sitting in different rooms in the house self-entertaining themselves on their personal computers or TV’s.  Car trips are spent listening to personal listening devices and texting on cell phones.  Now there is also DVD players in cars and mini-vans to keep the kids entertained.  Better yet, personal DVD players are now available.  Hardly a church service, wedding or funeral goes uninterrupted from a cell phone going.  Our most important and sacred times together as humans are broken by the sounds of vibrating and beeping electronic devices.

Mink at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, June 2007

Mink at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, June 2007 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

It seems to me that the more our toys and objects become personalized the more we as individuals become impersonal.  We no longer stop to make conversation, eye contact, smile at passerby-ers or connect with those around us.  It is too easy for me to be absorbed in my own little world connected with only what interests me.  In short, I share my world with no one.  It becomes all about me – my texts, my play lists and my messages.

Time will only tell what the ramifications of this technological trend will have upon our future relationships and civilization.  There is already talk of some who are “fasting” from technology for periods of time.  Families are taking “no technology” vacations with no cell phones, personal listening or game devices.  Some radical individuals are attempting to “unplug” there lives as much as possible from all technology.  I do not recommend becoming a Luddite.  On the other hand, these efforts to reconnect without technological interruptions should be applauded.

The new conversation among technology companies and our government concerns “technology rights.” The idea is that every one has the right to have access to technology.  Everyone should have access to the internet, which requires access to a computer also.  My children are required now to use the internet for homework, either for research or to turn it in.  This puts a lot of pressure on even the poorest to have computers and internet access through the telephone or cable company.  Most do not live close enough to the public library to have ready access to those resources.

It is true as someone wisely observed about humans and technology:  What is a convenience today will be considered a right to own and have tomorrow.  When counseling and giving advice to individuals or families during difficult times, they cannot imagine forgoing the cost of cable or their cell phones.  It is unthinkable!  They would rather find ways to cut back on the grocery bill instead or not use the heat or air conditioning as much.  Like it or not, this is the new reality of the 21st century.

Subtly, our own technology and enamoration with it is redefining our existence. Like the humans in the Pixar movie WALL-E, technology appears to be taking over our lives.  Our dependence upon it puts us in a symbiotic relationship where our very existence – life, liberty and happiness – is dependent upon its co-existence.  This may very soon in our future redefine what it means to be human.  It already redefines the “haves” and “have nots.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Read Full Post »

The youngest of our children is a precocious boy. We did nothing to make him that way.  He just came from heaven that way.  As a family, we are learning to deal with it – with him.  This makes life more than interesting on more than one occasion.  On top of that, it has allowed me to learn some great lessons as a father.

His name is Colin. Pronounced like “callin’ home the cows,” not “colon.”  He hates being called a body part, especially the colon, and has no knowledge of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Plus, he has the honor of having two middle names after his grandfathers Charles Stalnaker and Clyde Needham: Colin Charles-Clyde.  Perhaps his nomenclature played upon his early psyche to produce the character in him, but I rather believe God was in a rip-snorting sense of humor the day he came to us on January 15th of 1996.

One particular time in my fatherhood formation involved his duty to pick up dog duty.  We have never owned a dog or cat because of his allergies and asthma.  However, we were renting a house from some friends and offered to watch their dog while they were away for a year.  A parent should always know that there is bound to be adventure when you mix one Doberman-Labrador dog with a 9-year old boy.  Our desire to help our friends muffled our parental warning system apparently.

Of course, as is always the case in any family’s acquisition of a new puppy or kitty, 0ur children were excited to finally have a real pet.  Up until this time, the only pets they had known were a series of short-lived rats and one Siberian dwarf-hamster.  Having a pet larger than a desert plate was a thrill for them.  Cleaning up after something that created poop larger than soy beans was to be another matter entirely.

My youngest soon became “the poop buster”.  Any time the backyard where we kept the dog needed policing of dog waste, he was called upon for his assistance.  I would jokingly call, “Who ya’ gonna’ call?”  And he would smile and answer, “The poop buster!”  This worked well for quite sometime.  But, admittedly, dog poop patrol does get old.

Here lies the advantage of living in the upper Midwest.  A dog owner has a 6 month reprieve from picking up dog crap in the yard.  We lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where the Red River Valley descends into temperatures rivaling eastern Siberia in the winter.  It is flat as a table top.  The wind hardly ever stops blowing.  The snow that accumulates is of the freeze dried variety.  And the temperature is almost always below Zero Fahrenheit thanks to the valley’s ability to suck the air right down from the North Pole.

Thus, in the winter months, the family canine pet is only allowed out very briefly to do its business in the backyard snow bank.  Without any prodding by the pet owner, the half frozen pet scrambles back into the house as soon as the deed is done.  Our Doberman-Labrador mixed dog was short haired and had a disdain for the snow and cold that rivaled my wife’s.  When it hit -30 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, one almost had to pick up the dog and throw it outside to get it to go and do its latrine duty.  This must be done before every bodily orifice is frozen shut.  Then the pet must be allowed in to thaw and the procedure tried all over again.

The plus side to this for the pet owner is that no sane person will bother with the gastronomic remains of the pet until the Spring thaw, which would not be until March or April.  Until then, the owner can be completely satisfied to know that everything will remain where it is in its freeze dried condition until more moderate climates return.  Meanwhile, the pet piles will accumulate under layers of snow.  Any lemony patches of snow will soon enough be covered by blankets of white.  The effect is that the pet owner need not look out at a back yard littered with dog duty.  Nature has performed a wonderful service by covering up the dirty deeds in brilliant white.  It is, however, simply amazing how much one pooch can poop over the course of a winter.

Colin and Ron at Neskowin Beach, Oregon

Colin and Ron at Neskowin Beach, Oregon ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

When Spring did arrive for our family, we were surprised at the amount of dog doo left on the ground once the snow retreated.  One could barely make it out the back patio door and off of the deck.  It took careful tip-toeing to make it around in the backyard.  One miss-step and the consequence was an aromatic disaster as well as denial of re-entry back into the house.  Crossing our backyard was like trying to cross the Korean demilitarized zone littered with its land mines.  Nearly impossible.  According to my wife, if you stepped on one, you were on your own until it wore off or you thoroughly cleaned it off.  Meals could be pushed out the back patio door for you.

Finally, the inevitable day came where the job of thoroughly cleaning the back yard was necessary.  The yard needed its first mowing.  I will admit that it did occur to me that perhaps the mower would be a good way of picking up all that crap.  Upon further reflection, however, sanity returned and I decided that my lawn mower and that many poop mounds was not a good combination.  So, I called to my youngest son, “Who ya’ gonna’ call?”  “The poop buster!”, came the reply, though admittedly not with a lot of enthusiasm.  Seems pet care was starting to where on all of our family.

I recruited him and his sister, Juliann, to help me clean up the dog messes in the backyard.  We worked hard at it.  We had the proper store-bought pooper-scooper instruments and made great headway real fast.  When it was almost finished, I left them to complete the job while I went to get the mower ready.  Now, any parent knows that unsupervised children rarely accomplish anything on their own except for getting into trouble.  I, apparently, forgot this momentarily when I left them alone.

Frustrated at how slow the job was going, Colin complained to his sister that there had to be an easier way to do this job.  She suggested to him that, since they were mostly freeze dried from the winter, it would be easier to just pick them up with his fingers and put them in the bucket.  This bit of pure logic struck him as obvious.  However, somewhere in the recesses of his small developing mind a voice must have whispered a message of doubt.  Or, maybe it was just the “eww” factor.  So, he abandoned the pooper-scooper for a stick he found and attempted to roll the Almond Joy sized doggy chunks into a position to get them in the plastic bag lined bucket he was using.  The inefficiency of this method did not go unnoticed by my brilliant child.

Soon he abandoned the stick idea and bravely went with his sister’s ingenious idea of using his fingers.  Lo’ and behold!  Such speed and efficiency.  This could change pet and pet owner relationships forever!  Or, it could get you into a bit of trouble with your mother.

I returned to the back yard after spending some time getting the mower out and ready.  I was surprised to see the wonderful progress my two youngest children had made.  As I congratulated them and cheered them on to the finish, I noticed the odd way (apparently for older brains, anyway, it was odd) that my son was picking up the dog logs.  Curiosity got the better of me and stupidly I asked, “Colin, what are you doing?”

Rather testily he replied, “I’m picking up dog poop like you told me, Dad.”

Assuming he missed the real point behind my question, I asked more directly, “I see that, but why are you using your fingers to pick it up?”

“Juliann told me to.  It’s easier this way,” he replied as if I couldn’t see the brilliant conclusion he and his sister had come to on their own.  However, a glance over at Juliann revealed to me that she was still using the pooper-scooper.  I looked back at him and smiled.

“He is my son,” I thought.  “I’m going to have fun with this,” and returned to the house to find his mother.

I found my wife, Kelly, perched comfortable on the couch with a book and cup of hot tea.  To get her attention, I asked her, “What are you doing?”  After twenty-plus years of marriage she knows this game and gave the usual reply, “Painting the ceiling.”

I asked, “Did you tell Colin that picking up dog crap with his fingers would make the job easier?”  (I know.  I was baiting her.  I’m a bad, bad husband.)

“No!”, she replied, somewhat offended that I would even think such a thing of her.

I said, “Well, that’s what your son is doing out there…picking up dog poop with his fingers.”  I then disappeared into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and watch the events unfold in the backyard out the kitchen window.

Entering the kitchen, I heard behind me my wife exclaim, “What?!”  And before she was even outside where my son could hear her she started calling Colin’s name.  Very loudly.

To understand what happens next, one must understand my wife’s aversion to any animal waste of any sort.  She cannot tolerate it on any molecular level.  This is why our rat and hamster cages were weekly cleaned and thoroughly disinfected with professional cleaners.  Soap and water was never enough.  I, on the other hand, grew up with a menagerie of animals – dogs, cats, pigs, goats, ducks, chickens – and animal manure was something healthy people just lived with around them.  It boosts the immune system.  That’s why farmers and ranchers live such long lives.  Everyone knows this except my precious wife.

Kelly has a natural gag reflex when it comes to the smell of freshly trod upon dog poop. The hint of the smell will send her running into the house and lighting every scented candle we have available.  So, you can only imagine her reaction to finding out that our prized youngest son, our last son, was violating every code of cleanliness according to my wife.  She would have to do something fast before he would be relegated to a life of going about claiming, “Unclean!  Unclean!  Beware, I’m unclean!”

Once she reached the patio deck she had my son’s attention and probably the neighbors’ also.  “You get right in here, young man!  This instant!  What do you think you are doing?  You don’t pick up dog poop with your fingers!”  She said this as if it was a matter that everyone would understand.  But, alas, my son gets his intelligence from his father not his mother.

Colin protested, “But Juliann said to.  It’s easier and faster that way.”  He was obviously dumbfounded by his mother’s lack of understanding the profound logic of his actions.  “I only pick up the dry ones with my fingers, not the juicy ones”, he protested.

“Eww!  Gross!  I don’t care what your sister told you!” she declared.  “That stuff is filthy and will give you diseases.  Get in the bathroom right away!  And take off your shoes!”

Once in the bathroom, our son was made to wash his hands with hand soap and then Pine-scented Lysol several times.  Judged thoroughly clean and safe once again, his mother warned him to be careful about how he handled animal excrement.  He was sent out with the yellow rubbers gloves she uses to clean the bathrooms.  I returned with him to the backyard where he, Juliann, and I soon completed the task.  I then went to bring the mower around to the backyard and instructed the two of them to get our collections into the garbage cans on the other side of the house.

This should be the end of the story. It is not.  I had more lessons as a father to learn that day; instructions in Fatherhood 101 that I apparently had missed with my first three children.  I didn’t know that I didn’t know so much as a father.  But I am learning something new every time one of my kids gets up in the morning.  It’s truly amazing how much there is to learn in one’s short lifespan as a parent.

We had used plastic bags to line the buckets that we used to collect our doggy stool samples.  All that was left was to tie up the tops of the bags and take them to the garbage bin at the side of the house.  Meanwhile, I pushed the mower to the backyard.  Before starting it, I returned to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee to have with me when I took breaks from mowing.  While in the kitchen, I heard a large “Thud!” on the rooftop and then what sounded like pine cones dribbling down to the gutters.  I quickly returned to the backyard deck.

“What was that?!” I exclaimed to my two youngest children staring up onto the roof.

“Dog poop,” came the reply.  It was said as if I had missed something so obvious that I must be daft.

“What?!” I asked but not really asking.  It came more from an inability to process the information I was just given.  Older brains, it turns out, are less able to manage such simple data points.

“What did you two do?” I queried.

“I didn’t do anything,” Juliann said.  “Colin tried to throw the bag of dog poop over the house.”

“Why?!” I asked.  Again, this was not a question.  My old, wrinkly brain was just not able to process what I was just told.  I looked at Colin.  Probably from his point of view, it was one of those slack mouthed, dumbfounded stares that parents give when their brains are short-circuiting from trying to figure our their children’s behavior.

His answer was simply, “I didn’t want to walk all of these bags around the house.  So, I thought I would just throw them over the house to the garbage can.  The first one didn’t get very far.”

I looked at him. I looked at the size of the bags.  I looked at his scrawny arms.  I looked at the height of our roof.  I looked up into the sky.  I looked back at him.  Obviously, I was missing something.  Or, God was getting back at me for the fun I had at my wife’s expense earlier.

Stating the obvious loudly enough for our next door neighbors to hear, I said, “You can’t throw them over the house!  For the love of Pete, just carry them around to the garbage can.  NOW!”

He and Juliann scurried off with a few bags and I grabbed a few and followed them.  I wanted to ensure that no more monkey business ensued between the backyard and the 30-yard trek to the side of the house where the garbage can sat unreached by the moon shot over our house.  I then returned with Colin to the back yard where I boosted him up on the roof from our deck to clean up the mess he had made.

Looking sternly at him, I told him, “You pick up up every one of those dog biscuits!  Do you hear me?  I don’t want them clogging up the downspouts the next time it rains!  You get every one.  Now, here’s another bag to replace the one that broke.   Try and pick up the broken bag so that you don’t spill any more doggy do’s out of it….That’s it…now, pick up the rest scattered on the roof and in the gutters.  And don’t miss any!”

As I stepped back to get a better view of him, my young precocious son asked, “But what am I going to pick them up with?”

I smiled and said, “Use your fingers!”

I’m sure I learned some valuable lessons from my son that day.  It’s just that, for the life of me, I don’t know what they are.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Read Full Post »

I roared with laughter when I received this from a friend in Washington State.  It’s too much!

Mail Man Male Box

Mail Man Male Box

I love humor that pokes fun at our humanness, even if it takes it to the edge. If you can’t laugh at yourself and life around you, then life will take you down.  Comedy and laughter is our way of laughing in the face of life.  I can appreciate Hawkeye’s sense of humor in the old T.V. sitcom M.A.S.H. Faced with such incredible tragedy, suffering and futility, his humor helped to keep him sane and face each day.

Some people take their self too seriously. This gives to them an overly important view of their self and their life and the part they play in the world.  However, a proper perspective of our lives will reveal that at the end of the day “from dust we came and to dust we will return.”  Someone put it into perspective when they commented that “After people attend your funeral, they will go back to the church basement (or home) and eat potato salad.”  In other words, life will go on.  Babies will be born, children will go to school, birthdays will continue and memories of us will fade.  We will be the lucky ones if anything we have done warrants a mention in a newspaper article (besides the obit) or a chapter in a book.

Humor and laughter helps put us in our place.  We realize that we are frail.  Life is but smoke and mirrors.  Soon our imprint upon earth will fade away and the impressions we made upon people’s lives will slowly dissipate like a morning mist to the Sun.  Humor and laughter lets us laugh at life’s futility and enjoy the existential moment of our existence.  It helps us to be fully present and alive in every way.  To lose it is to lose our way and forget what we are and what we, in the end, will become.

Even in the face of tragedy, we can find humor and discover laughter. This is probably what Hawkeye discovered the most in the M.A.S.H. unit in Korea.  It is not so much irreverence for the seriousness of the moment but bravery; like spitting in the face of your meanest adversary, it looks horror in the eye and laughs in derision.  “You cannot hurt me!  You cannot touch me!”

I remember a friend telling me about the last time he saw his mother alive. She had been very ill with cancer.  The nurses were getting ready to wheel her into the surgery room.  As he watched his mother being wheeled away, neither one knowing that this would be their last moment together, she turned to him with a smile in her eye and…stuck her tongue out at him, then smiled as she disappeared through the double doors.  She would not make it through surgery.  However, he appreciated having that last moment between his mom and him.  She could always find the good, the humor, the laughter in life.

Humor and laughter awake in us the joy of living in the moment.  It enables us to continue life’s journey with strength and poise.  It says to the world, “I know I’m not here long.  But what time I do have I will live in strength and joy.  I will laugh at your attempts to pull me down.  I will laugh at my own frailties and foibles because I know who I am.  In the end, it is I who will have the last laugh.  There is One greater than you or me who will come for me.”

A few years ago, we buried my grandmother, Beulah Stalnaker. According to her family plans and her wishes, she had been cremated.  A small but beautiful memorial service was held in her honor.  A day or so later, at a family graveside service next to where grandpa Stalnaker was buried, we committed her ashes to the ground.  Grandma loved ice cream.  So, someone suggested we go to a local ice cream parlor for some ice cream treats.  As the family was departing the graveyard, the little old undertaker, who had waited patiently while during the final good-byes, was pushing the dirt in the hole that was made to receive grandmother’s ashes before we were even off the property.  As we headed out the gate the family members watched as he jumped up and down on my grandmother’s burial plot to set the sod back in place!  Instead of being horrified, everyone laughed.  They were still laughing over their ice cream a half hour later.  This was no chuckles.  These were side splitting guffaws!

Well, perhaps our family is a little unusual after all. However, laughter and joy suits us well.  It is probably one reason my life’s missions statement is “to finish strong and finish laughing”.  I’m hoping that after my funeral or graveside service, people go back to the church basement or homes and laugh so hard with memories we’ve had together that they blow potato salad out their noses.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: