Thursday, May 20, 2010


We don't like other people telling us what to do. We don't want to be manipulated or controlled, and we hate feeling like someone else's puppet. We don't appreciate being used to further someone else's cause without regard to our own interests. Power struggles are not fun, and that is in part we often yearn so strongly for our own independence.

As children, many of us reached a point where we were ready to rebel against our parents. We wanted to throw off the yoke of their control and flout their rules. We wanted to make our own decisions without regard to their opinions, and we no longer wanted to do what they told us to do. We wanted to be released under our own supervision, free to make our own choices as we see fit. We wanted to call the shots. Those of us who wanted freedom badly enough did sometimes throw off the advice and control of our parents. I never completely shut my parents out of my life, but I have felt the stirrings of rebellion in my own heart, and sometimes I still feel it today. On some level, I want desperately to be my own master.

The truth is, however, that none of us lives in a vacuum. We are all influenced by other people and other ideas. No matter how independent we are, we cannot control everything that happens to us nor arrive at every conclusion on our own. We use information from all around us to make decisions, sometimes without even realizing that we have been influenced. We will always see and react to the world around us, and we cannot shield ourselves completely from the influence of others. So instead of rebelliously trying to block everyone out to create an illusion of complete independence, we ought to choose more openly and responsibly just what we want to be influenced by.

There are both positive and negative influences in this world. There are people who want me to do certain things because those actions would benefit them, and there are people who want me to do what's best for myself. I can't shut them all out, so I need to be able to tell the difference. My parents, for example, did not create household rules out of a desire to manipulate me and make me jump through hoops. The rules were about my safety and well-being and the health of the family as a whole. My parents were a good influence, and I would have been foolish to try to expel them from my life. Some of my peers were not good influences. They weren't telling me what to do as an authority figure, but that didn't necessarily make them a healthier choice for me to listen to. Some of them were making poor decisions and would have tried to encourage me to do the same had I gotten close to them. But I recognized that they were not good influences.

Today I still make those types of decisions. I still have moments when I want to just run off and do my own thing without listening to anyone because I don't want to be manipulated and pushed around, but I realized that those feelings don't reflect reality. I can choose who and what to listen to without being manipulated, and I can make choices because they are good, not because someone is telling me to act accordingly. I can accept others' advice and direction and still be the primary actor in my own life. I can follow whatever path I deem to be best, even if it was laid out for me by someone else. Influence is inescapable, so I must choose the right people and ideas to influence me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sunshine On My Shoulders

Last week was cold and rainy. We'd been spoiled with some nice weather and then suddenly it felt like early spring again. We were so relieved when the weekend arrived and brought some sunshine and warmer temperatures with it. Now every morning when I wake up, the sun is streaming through the windows of my house, making everything seem bright and inviting. I've had the windows open for several days, and all the cooped up, stale smell of winter is gone. Just being in that sunshine perceptibly improves my mood. I wake up happy now, thinking about the lovely bike ride I'll have to work instead of all the tasks I'll have to do when I get there.

Everybody loves sunshine, and there are lots of reasons why. Our bodies like the vitamin D we get from the sun. We like to be warm, and we enjoy the light that the sun gives us. We like not having to turn the heat or the lights on in our house. We like being able to go outside in lighter clothes and enjoy outdoor activities. We like being able to see and appreciate all the colors in our world by the light of the sun, and we love the plants and trees that grow because of the sun's energy. The sun (and its location in relationship to the Earth) is what makes life on our planet possible at all.

But when I bask in the happiness that the sun brings, there's more than biology and physical comfort going on. God engineered all of us to respond well to reasonable levels of light. Light is at the foundation of the entire creation, and He uses it to remind us that He is taking care of us. God's first act of creation was to declare, "Let there be light!" and that command rings throughout our entire existence. As John so poetically put it, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5) God has cast himself in the role of light, the one who shelters us from the life-quenching darkness. Without light—without God—we cannot exist. But we need not fear, because God will always be with us. The regular rising of the sun reminds me of that and teaches me to appreciate and expect God's tender care.

Sunshine is one of the most basic and universal gifts that God gives us. We need light to live, and therefore we are glad to have it. The sun shines for everyone, whether they love God or not, and that reminds us that God will be with us, trying to take care of us, whether we are faithful or not. I am thankful today for the sun and for everything it represents—health, warmth, happiness, and a loving God.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Let's Get Civil

I recently read through my alma mater's latest edition of its alumni magazine. One of the articles was titled "The State of Our Uncivil Union" and explored the epidemic of rudeness in today's society. The article discussed how ratings-driven journalism showcases bad behavior for entertainment value, how the Internet allows us to filter the information we receive so that we limit our exposure to viewpoints we already share, and how we form communities based on exclusion or derision of other groups. Bad behavior is becoming more and more commonplace, and we're no longer surprised when people use loaded and dismissive language to pick apart their opponents. As one quote in the story proclaims, "You can't get away from it. When you hear extremist rhetoric everywhere, it becomes a certain state of normal."

As a Christian, I do have passionate opinions on some controversial subjects. However, I do not need to employ rudeness, name-calling, antics, or disrespectful language to defend my ideas. There is absolutely no reason why we should need to shout at each other, post online comments filled with (frequently misspelled) insults, or try to shun members of our community simply for disagreeing with us on some issue. My friends are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and some of them even have socialist or libertarian leanings. I hang out with Christians, pagans, Buddhists, atheists, and agnostics. I love people who both support and oppose abortion rights and gay marriage. The baseline in all these relationships is that we have to agree to disagree about some things. I don't have a single friend or family member who agrees with me on every issue that's important to me, but I make a commitment not to fight with them about these issues. We can discuss ideas respectfully, but if we allow ourselves to be rude, our relationship could be torn apart.

I don't think Jesus would endorse all the fighting, name calling, and back stabbing that goes on in our culture today. I think he wants us to be civil, to love peace, and to respect one another. We can have opinions, but we don't have to be mean or combative about them. We can defend the rights and the dignity of others without completely disregarding the rights and dignity of our opponents. With that in mind, I am copying the list of tips for civility that I found in the magazine article that inspired this post.

Let's Get Civil
It's not that hard to rein in our tempers and restore some civility to our lives. Follow this simple advice:
  • Slow down and think before you speak or fire off an angry e-mail or text message.
  • Accept that often there is more than one legitimate point of view.
  • If saying something would get you punched in a bar, then don't say it online.
  • Watch your tone—calm and conciliatory is infinitely more successful than critical and challenging.
  • Share the glory.
  • Accept the blame.
  • Ask "Can I help you?" and mean it.
  • Let someone else go first.
  • Don't cut in line.
  • Live by the Golden Rule ("Do unto others...")
  • The Democrats and the Republicans aren't the Saints and the Colts. One side shouldn't have to lose for the other to win.
  • The freeway is neither a battlefield nor a playing field.
  • Checking your iPhone at a business or social function is rude.
  • Checking your iPhone while you're ordering your decaf skinny mocha is rude.
  • Checking your iPhone while you're driving is dangerous.
  • Your children are watching—and modeling—your behavior.

Monday, May 17, 2010

All Nature Sings

Yesterday the youth choirs at my church presented a lovely musical titled All Nature Sings. It was a poetic collection of songs that illustrate how nature can remind us of God. When we see God's creative power in nature, we remember that He created us. When we see how God cares for the natural world and establishes an order for it, we are reminded that He also has a plan for our lives. Below are some excerpts from the musical and what they say to me about God.

  • "Breath of God, breathe one me. One breath from God creates the apple tree, the sea, the creatures of the ground and me. . . One in life, one in death, we are in God's breath." God created everything, including us. We are connected to all of nature and to each other because everything is connected to God. We are never alone because God—and everything He has made—is always with us.
  • "Sing, sing, sing to God on high. Sing, sing, sing oh earth and sky. Hills and mountains, rivers and fountains, sing, sing." There are so many psalms that speak of nature praising God. This is figurative, of course, if we assume that trees and mountains don't have active consciousness. Still, nature does magnify God simply by being what He created it to be. Every time a bird sings or a waterfall casts a rainbow, God is honored. His creation is magnificent, and therefore is evidence of its Creator's magnificence. Likewise, we too can praise God simply by being what He made us to be—creatures fashioned in His own image. By following the path God lays out for us, we render great honor unto Him.
  • "In the greening of the apple tree, the winter sleep the waters deep, the fruit and bloom of the budding tree, we hear the voice. Let it be and it is so, it is so, it is so." The trees bloom every spring because God makes it so. That is just one small miracle that we can see in nature. God has a plan for everything He has made, and He's in control. Just as God's voice bids the apple tree to blossom, it will lead us through the wintry perils of our life to eternal life.
  • "All that lives in land and sea, angels from eternity, meadowlark and tiny wren, you are now the great Amen." God's beauty, wonder, power, and kindness are all around us. All we have to do is look and listen. I hope that nature can help teach me to grow, live, and praise God. Amen!
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