Sitting down and shutting up is good for you sometimes

I was having a conversation with my wife recently about quiet. This conversation developed as we were discussing some collection of current, popular, so-called news-worthy stories of the day. I recalled, as we were talking, how I would slip off into the woods near our country ramshackle-house when I was a boy. Although we lived in the heart of Cross County, Arkansas, where rural was the only thing you could called it, there were still times when solitude was cherished by me. I grew up as the oldest of four siblings. The age differences between the three of them and me were: five years, eight years and twelve years. If you have siblings, you can probably imagine the conflicts that naturally arise within these blood groups. In retrospect, I think some of our conflict arose out of the “lack-of-so-much” environment in which we were reared. There was always a lack of the over-commercialized creature comforts we now see routinely advertised on television every fifteen minutes. Maybe the lack of things wasn’t the reason; maybe siblings are just naturally combative?

As I write this piece, my mind is still reeling from the noise I was just exposed to on Facebook. Noise, you might ask? Isn’t Facebook, for the most part, a virtual cornucopia of cutesy sayings, plagiarized placards and photos of who knows what and what nots? True, but amongst all of this, there’s a lot of noise. When you think about it, our whole world is replete with noise. This has been a particularly noisy year, with the presidential election topping things off like no other political show I’ve seen in my sixty-six years. However, even if you remove the presidential campaign and its aftermath from the equation, there’s always an ample amount of noise around anxious to capture our attention. The noise often tends to steal our attention away from the heart of the things that count. We’re, each of us, part and parcel of a whole. The whole consists of the three hundred million-plus individuals that comprise the citizenry of the Unites States of America. There is meditation and meaningful conversation hankering to caress our attention, but the noise acts as a greedy opponent, victoriously stealing our attention at every opportunity.

A couple of days ago, Steve Harvey, the fellow who seems to be in all places all the time, hosting TV and radio talk shows, met with Donald Trump. News reports indicate that Mr. Harvey was asked to meet with the President-elect about urban issues that plague our inner cities, more specifically housing. The sort of noise that bombarded social media about this meeting was deafening. The unbridled hatred for Mr. Trump-which I can understand- blinded so many from even considering that this meeting might have some positive outcomes. Did the authors of all this noise think about the reality that oftentimes one must meet with those in power, though you may not want to, to start the process of talking, negotiating, bargaining? Mr. Harvey made a statement on his syndicated radio talk show, after the meeting with Mr. Trump, that it would not have been wise for him to turn down an invitation such as this. This was an invitation to discuss an issue that’s dear to his heart; an issue that he knows about personally. Mr. Harvey is a product of the inner city and the poverty-stricken conditions which have so many young people trapped. Do we not collectively remember a time when civil rights leaders had to meet with folks who obviously didn’t have their best interest at heart, in order to talk about justice, dignity and equality? Noise can evidently be entertaining to many. Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets have made that clear, but do we just need entertainment? Don’t we need meaningful conversation, resulting in useful information; information that can be used to bring about needed change?

I’m a victim of the nosie, too. Maybe admitting it isn’t a bad thing. After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step to correction. Now, let me make that first step on a thousand-mile journey. I’m tired already. In the meantime, I’ll sit down and shut up a bit; that could help with some of the noise pollution.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Looking for joy when gray abounds

I penned the following thoughts between December 25, 2016 and January 1, 2017. I wanted to make it clear that I did it during a time of the year when these words have stark significance.

I’m a member of several social media groups. Cyber space is a wonderful place to connect with people from all around the planet. One particular group that brings me touching social interaction consists of members who have various chronic illnesses. The people who occupy this space are forthcoming in sharing their experiences brought on by pain and suffering. This sharing brings relief to many who’ve found a place to converse with others experiencing similar trials. Oftentimes, a testimony or a devotional penned by someone provides powerful encouragement to others who might be hopeful for an appropriate word from some quarter.

This time of year, presents many dark corners in the fabric of life for several folks. Depression and the unfortunate byproduct, suicide, are not uncommon for a time when holiday cheer is pedaled as the norm by commercialism everywhere. I’ve been reading some of the postings contributed, by several members, to the social media group to which I referred above. Some of these postings tell the story of somber attitudes attributable to agonizing pain, with no end in sight; death of friends and loved ones, resulting from prolonged illness, and an overall challenge to muster up joy during gray.

One of the hallmarks of strong faith in God is the ability to be able to find joy amid whatever the prevailing circumstances may be. The older I get the more I’m convinced that that is one of the primary principles of faith many Christians just don’t get. I seem to be continually presented with some professed believer in Christ who goes on about what they would do if: (if they had x amount of money, if they didn’t have to deal with this person, if things on their job would be different…). As I listen to them talk, I can see the gray they’re describing in their lives. The gray they present is no different than the same or similar hue of circumstances we all see in our own lives. Why is it that folks like this testify profusely about the faith they have in Christ, yet act as though Christ has no control of conditions that present obstacles in their life’s path?

Let me be clear. I’m not one of the heroes of faith described in the Bible (Hebrews Chapter 11). I have my ups and down. During some seasons, the downs seem to have me in their cross hairs daily; however, I try my best to demonstrate the attitude my Lord and Savior wants me to exhibit to the world. I emphasize, “I try.” It’s a constant daily effort. As with doctors and lawyers, who practice their craft, I practice, practice, practice. The effort expended is to make the practice of finding joy during gray a life style. Entrenched life-style habits become as involuntary as breathing over time.

When all is said, we are only human. Sometime it’s next to impossible to find joy, because the gray has the viscosity of sorghum molasses on a cold winter’s morning. But that’s alright. Our faith, no matter who we are, if plotted out graphically would be portrayed by graphic line that’s up and down. Some of us have a line that is more jagged than others. Given that truism, it’s important that our faith shows a continually line of rising, getting stronger, as we make our path through this life, riddled with pockets of gray.

I once read somewhere that the late Alex Haley, author of Roots, was known to say that we should all look for the good and praise it. My prayer to God is that He will bless me during each day I have left with the attitude that allows me to continuing looking for joy among the gray. One thing is for certain, the gray will come. I’m charged with ushering in the joy.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Family and friend’s gatherings: memories in the making

I sometimes joke about the lack of some attribute being due to me not being present when God handed them out. My wife would be the first to tell you that I have one of the worst memories on the planet. Our children would enthusiastically say amen to that. I’ve finally reach a point in life where I preserve my breath and choose not to argue with either of them about facts surrounding some memorable incident that happened long ago. No matter the doubt I feel burning inside of me about the details, my presenting arguments to the contrary is an exercise in imprecision better left alone. With oftentimes less than functional memory, which I possess, the only conclusion is that I must have been absent the day God issued the ability to memorize to humankind.

We had our traditional New Year’s Day family and friends gathering at our house this year. As we talked about how long we’ve been doing this, I depended on my wife’s memory to retrieve when this iconic event started. She stated, with absolute certainty, that it was thirty years ago; that sounded good to me. Why in the world would I argue the point? The gathering is one of those warm and toasty family affairs where we host; prepare the traditional black-eyed peas (for good luck); along with a few other tasty items. Everyone else brings a pot of something, and we end up with more food than a high school football team could devour. The last couple of years, however, I’ve done a better job of gauging just how many vittles to prepare. I don’t mean to brag, but I do most of the cooking; thus, I have a vested interest in not working more than necessary. Trying to save labor has become more important in recent years, because I’m getting older. I don’t possess the level of energy I did in times past. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the event, it takes me longer to recover now from all the work invested in preparing.

This year, I noticed something I hadn’t really been paying too much attention to: the fellowship. Those in attendance ranged in ages from early twenties to mid-eighties. I took a little time to meander around the house and listen to the conversations that were taking place. I didn’t necessarily want to insert myself in what was being discussed, I simply wanted to listen. I noticed the older folks were spending time reminiscing about stories from decades gone by. These were stories drenched in the thick basting of time, creating drama effortlessly. And the younger folks were talking about more contemporary occurrences, not as interesting, but certain to be stories of old in the decades and scores to come. Everyone was enjoying the food, however, it all seemed to be going down much more pleasantly with the added ingredient of conversation. It occurred to me more so this year than ever before that the priceless quality of this gathering is the relational dynamic that occurs, people doing what God made us to do: interact with each other.

Although I’ve confessed to the fact that my memory is far less than digitally perfect, I think I’ll remember the 2017 New Year’s Day family gathering better than any of the others prior. This was the time I understood more fully the value and the purpose of family gatherings. I found myself being more Mary than Martha. Holy Scripture (Luke 10:38-42) tells of the occasion where Jesus is visiting the home of Martha and her sister Mary. Martha is rushing about, trying to be the perfect host, making sure all is done well in the name of service. Mary, on the other hand, is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him talk. Although food and how things are logistically handled are important, it’s the fellowship that takes place which leaves lasting memories. Folks attending our annual New Year’s Day gathering may only remember the black-eyed peas among all the other foods served; however, I’m sure they’ll remember the fellowship and the warm hearts that come as a by-product of the gathering each year.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.