Living well has something to do with the spirituality of wholeheartedness, of seeing life more as a grace than as a penance, as time to be lived with eager expectation of its goodness, not in dread of its challenges. We are not given life in order to suffer. We are given life in order to learn to love the Creator through the joys and beauty of creation. We are given life in order to deal gracefully with the natural suffering of being mortal creatures. When we fail to meet life head on, we fail to live it fully.
Joan Chittister: The Gift of Years
The prairies are experiencing that ethereal vagueness that is the cusp of Spring. A few days of bright, warm sunny weather, then cold, snow in the air, even rain, and blankets of fog up and down the river. A few snow drifts hang on in the draws, the ice floes lazily drift on the river in some spots where in others the ice is tight. There is an uneasiness among the folks whose lives are dictated by the seasons, watching the river for rising waters. It is rather liking drawing in a deep breath and holding it until it is safe to breathe again.
I was thinking about leadership today and how it is often misunderstood. Now without a doubt, we know we need people who will step into and accept the reins of leadership when no one is available. We know we need people who are good at organizing and who call us to a higher level of commitment in our communities.
What we don’t need is someone who assumes the mantle of leadership only to fulfill some inner need to be the one in charge. In my life, when I have had to take on leadership roles, the first thing I have discovered is there are many people who are much better qualified than I to handle the situation. These may be folks with greater life experiences; those who prefer to remain in the background, but have a wide-ranging knowledge of the situation in which we find ourselves. Good leaders know:
A true leader is one who listens to those he or she is called to lead.
A true leader is a servant of the people.
true leadership is to know that you don’t know.
If you are always talking and letting people know what you know you won’t learn anything. Will Rogers, the cowboy humorist, said, “If you’re talkin’ you ain’t listenin’.” Later to your great embarrassment, you may discover there were folks around you much more versed in what is going on than you ever were. Many people will just sit quietly by and very soon you, who knows all there is, is sitting all alone with the responsibilities and problems squarely in your lap.
A mentor and friend once advised me that if you are leading the charge, be sure the people are following you, otherwise you may find yourself ahead of the pack and cut off from any assistance.
At the national level these days I think most of us are assuming a wait and see attitude about what is going to happen. Our current leaders are billionaires who have never wandered far from Wall Street and what they don’t know about us plain people, especially us prairie-dwellers, would fill volumes on their book shelves. They want to tell us what is best for us and how it should be handled, because, “they” know. Who better than a kindergarten teacher knows how to teach a child to read? A doctor in rural or inner-city America knows best the health care needs of the people he or she serves. A banker in a struggling community knows best how to meet the needs of people who are in economic trouble. No one wants to take the time to listen to the many voices being raised in our country because these ‘so-called’ leaders have all the answers.
State and local levels of government as well as other institutions in our communities need leaders who are compassionate listeners. Who know they don’t know, but are willing to learn. If you are called to serve, it is important to ask for opinions, to seek out those who know the people. Leadership calls us to come together, share what we know, and make good things happen.
Decided I would take time today to update my blog with some new pictures and revisions on my bio. I hope if you stop here occasionally you will take time to look at the photos as well. I take my camera with me wherever I go so I get some little snaps here and there of my country and the good folks who inhabit it.
It is barely a month since the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., and I find it difficult to remember a recent time when Trump, his advisers, and family have not been in the news. I really wonder what the journalists would find to talk about anymore if not for some aspect of the Trump presidency. Of course they are in the business of news, which I understand, and when I can find an impartial newscast I am pleased although the way many groups have been alienated by this administration already it is hard to find "impartial". With news from North Korea, China, Australia, Israel, Russia and Mexico and the confusion among the cabinet and Trump advisors, I find it hard to believe much of anything important is getting done in Washington. I read a letter to the editor the other day that blamed everything on the Democrats and liberals causing problems for Trump. I am inclined to think President Truman's line "if you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen", may be appropriate to this situation. The government is not a business and perhaps the President and his advisors haven't quite figured that out yet. One hopes they have a quick learning curve and can get the country back to some semblance of order again.
The slogan of the Republican campaign was "Make America great again". Personally I don't think any one person can make something "great". Especially for a country of living, breathing people, we have to know that within us. It isn't economics or military power, but rather it is mercy and compassion, that is how we deal with immigrants and refugees, the relationships we have with countries, the way we care for our own people in need. America is great. I see it all around me. We are building on a foundation that was laid long ago. Certainly a few bricks are knocked out of the foundation on occasion, but they are soon repaired as people come together to help each other.
We are in a sad state of affairs right now. I truly do hope there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
Had a long, lovely visit with a dear friend today. We touched on Valentines, families, heart-ache, joy, God's peace and grace and we laughed, that special laughter that people who love each other laugh. There were tears, but more of peace and joy, than pain. There was a depth to the conversation that is often not found in our light banter we so often practice. Life really is about loving each other and caring and just being there. A recent sermon I wrote talked about Jesus compassion for the widow of Nain when her son died. A commentary said the Greek word for "compassion" has roots with the word "intestines", which seems a little odd, but the translation is that Jesus had a gut-wrenching compassion for the woman. Thus Jesus' caring was more than emotional, it was physical as well. And He loves us with that kind of compassion. Thanks be to God.
Those of you reading my blog last fall may remember when Zennie made her appearance. She is the rv in which my cousin's daughter Deanna Keahey is now living. Deanna is traveling and Zennie is her home. Soon she hopes to head into South America, but for now she is exploring the Southwest. Recent pictures of her travels include a shot of the badlands of Anza Borrego, a desert in southern California, and scattered groves of palm trees in the badlands. The lizard/snake/dragon is a metal sculpture (350 feet long) she and a friend found in the badlands among others. To me, her pictures are an awesome reminder of the variety and wonder and beauty of this incredible planet on which we live. Earth must survive in order for us to survive. Each region has its own way of living -- plants, animals and humans. The adaptability of these places to harsh conditions is amazing. More and more the wonder of God's good earth. Thanks for sharing, Deanna. Safe journey.
Lots of us like to piggy-back on Valentine’s Day and use its theme of ‘love’ for many different causes. For quite a few years now, the American Library Association has used the week of Valentine’s Day for ‘I Love to Read Week.’ It is a cause I can support with my whole heart. The value of reading and books is priceless when it comes to creating a basic foundation for life. In past generations reading and books were the privilege of the elite, but with the advent of public libraries, supported at public expense, we all have an investment in what reading does for the betterment of society.
Whether you use your Kindle or Nook or some other technological device, we all love a good story -- mystery, science-fiction, romance. And in like manner we are curious and want books on science and history, biographies. Books on government teach us how our rights developed from ancient Greece and Rome and how we still struggle for basic liberties throughout the world. Books by travelers and journalists are especially important in understanding our fast changing world. Novels, poetry, biographies and histories written by people of other races and cultures open our minds to better understanding them and ourselves and how we are all living together on one planet. Our natural world is more open to us -- the oceans, the stars, the earth itself, because scientists and authors give us the gift of these worlds when they write about them. Moral and ethical values come to us through books and for those deep readers who tackle philosophy, theology, psychology and other such disciplines make us better people.
I have friends who span the spectrum of books and reading. Some are bibliophiles or lovers of the book itself. They love old end papers and interesting bindings. I love to read and except in rare instances do not find a great holding power in the book itself, only its contents. As my eyes get older and less able to stay focused on the printed page I am reminded of my Dad, also a great lover of reading, who eventually had to pass on to books on tape which he listened to on a regular basis as long as he was living. The thirst for learning, for information is never ending.
Libraries, while downplayed by some, are still as one author has said, “the true university of the people.” The gift of freedom of information is one of the gifts of the library movement to the world. Today computers are provided in most libraries so those who cannot afford access to the Internet are not at a loss with the rest of society in being able to get what they need for their lives. Librarians have always been information specialists, but now also perform the role of wizards of technology. The support of libraries by communities large and small is the sign of a progressive community and often a check factor when people are choosing places to go and live.
Reading is the path to learning and it is important we encourage children to read and to listen to them read aloud. Anytime we can curl up with a child in our laps and a book in our hands to share is sheer heaven! I encourage you to find that special book you read years ago that changed the direction of your life; or the one that brought you pure pleasure; or the one that taught you about another time and another world. Treat yourself with a book and chocolate this week!
I enjoy working on my sermons. The task gets me deeper into scripture and forces me to spend time in the stories. One former pastor I knew said that a good pastor always preaches the sermon to themselves first and I agree.
This week the lesson is when the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus and ask if he is the One who is to come. This is a short excerpt from my thoughts.
I ran across a short reading that talks about the question “Are you the one?” I wanted to share it with you. Are you the one who is to come? Are you the one who will walk with the poor and show us how to feed the hungry and ask us to join you? Are you the one who will sit with the forgotten and remind us how to be still, speaking words of compassion in a world devoid of such gifts? Are you the one who will open the scriptures and meet us there, where we sit in silence and listen? Are you the one who will sow seeds of the kingdom and plant words of peace, plough the ground for renewal and sow for harvest? Are you the one who will take bread and break it and ask us to eat and pour wine and bless it and ask us to drink? Are you the one or are you waiting for another? Are you waiting for us? So perhaps as we ask the question, all we need to do is look around and see how Jesus has changed the world for us. Without Jesus in my life I would have a hard time seeing the good in all people; without Jesus in my life I would not know how to forgive my brother or sister who hurts me; without Jesus in my life I would not know that I can share all that I have with someone who has nothing and I can walk away better for it. Is this man Jesus the One who has come? He taught me to hear the birds sing and appreciate the beauty of this land where I live, here in Eastern Montana. Jesus taught me to want to live together with all people in love and understanding. Jesus taught me that when I judge someone else I am forgetting his love for that person. Jesus taught me that the best life is the simple one where possessions don’t count for much and all that really matters are that other people love me. Is Jesus the One? He is the only One for me and I will love him and praise him and follow him all my days. I hope you will too.