February 22, 2018

How much do I tell my sons?

by Rod Smith

“My sons are 14 and 11 and are both very close to their grandmother. They know their grandmother is facing some serious health issues. I try to guard them from the harsh realities but I also don’t want to cover up the truth. My mother is a very positive woman and wants to include them in conversations about her health. What do you think?”

I’d suggest you trust the strong bridges you have all already built toward each other for many years.

Tell your sons about your impulse to guard and protect them from what is happening in the family.

Talking about how you want to shield them is as important as the conversations about their grandmother’s health. Open conversations are a means of offering support and love and will feed the hope you all share. Invite your mother to share as much as she is comfortable with sharing and invite her to do it with or without your help or presence.

Meaningful and kind and considerate conversations help families breathe and the legitimate inclusion of your sons will not only help them play their significant role in their immediate community but also prepare them to love and support you and their own families in days to come.

February 21, 2018

Helicopter parents

by Rod Smith

It’s easy to knock so-called helicopter parents – the ever-present, ever-serving, ever advocating parents who are perpetually running interference with schools and coaches, often in ways that can be stifling, even damaging the very children around whom they hover.

All behavior has meaning. Parents “helicopter” their children (I’m amused that I used “helicopter” as a verb) for deep, powerful and hidden reasons, reasons often vastly beyond simple formulae or fixes.

What I do know is that it has nothing to do with the child. I’d motivate for understanding, empathy, awareness, and acceptance for the helicopter parent. Perhaps it is fear driven. Perhaps there’s a lack of trust with that lack originating long before the child was born. Perhaps the child is regarded as a lifeline to something saner, something more tolerable than the parent has ever known. Perhaps the parent has been used and discarded in the past and is dead set on safeguarding the child so history will not be repeated. Perhaps the marriage is perched precariously on hopes of the child’s success.

There are reasons to fear, lack trust, to want a life more powerful and meaningful than the parent may have known.

Empathy, awareness, acceptance, and understanding may go a long way to secure the helicopter’s safe landing rather than the humor or rejection used to shoot it down.

February 20, 2018

Beautiful/brutal

by Rod Smith

I’ve long held the belief and seen repeatedly that life is both beautiful and brutal. The news, while more frequently focused on the brutal, is also full of examples of beauty.

Perhaps where the beauty is most apparent and it’s brutality is toughest to bare, is where I see the brutality of life working its path in my sons’ lives:

·      This weekend I attended an event called “One hundred Men Who Cook” and watched the gathered crowd gather up over a quarter of a million dollars for a chosen charity. Beautiful.

·      This weekend I watched interviews with families who lost sons and daughters in a school massacre in Florida. Brutal.

·      On Sunday I talked to my brother and sister about matters we each find important. Beautiful.

·      My older boy is reeling in the wake of unexpected news from a far-off place (brutal) and I watched his younger brother comfort him as only a brother can (beautiful).

·      When I really am missing South Africa I sometimes will download a sermon from a church I have heard of and find some comfort. This weekend I heard Elliot Sonjica of Hilton Christian Fellowship preach about the role of the deacon. Beautiful.

May there be an imbalance in your life – where the beauty outdoes the brutality by a really large margin.

February 19, 2018

Lifestyle of anger

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – A life-style of anger (Thursday)

Some people are so angry, and have been angry for so long, they would not want to be without it. It is the only way they know how to relate to the world.

Life does not have to be this way for the angry person. There is always the grace to forgive, and the choice to live in peace with all people everywhere.

Obvious (overt) manifestations of anger are outbursts of temper, resentment, and the failure to forgive.

These are the easy clues to detect an angry person.

More subtle expressions of anger are deep cynicism, estrangement from family and friends, the desire to be isolated, and the loss of faith in loved ones.

These are as much signs of anger as is cursing at the traffic.

Anger begins as scaffolding surrounding a life, but then, if it is not dealt with, if matters are not settled; if it lingers, anger can become the very structure itself.

Give some angry people a reason to forgive, to give up their anger and they are left with nothing.

Anger is the lens through which they see the world, manipulate and control relationships, and without it, they become nothing. They have sold their peace in exchange for their resentments and have forgotten that it does not have to be this way.

February 18, 2018

Together…..

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Monday Meditation

• You may earn more than I do and live in a nicer house – but our loneliness is probably the same. When it does it’s horrid trick it doesn’t really matter who has the most cash or the nicest home. Loneliness doesn’t care where we live or where and how much we bank.

Invite me in – perhaps we can be friends and ease our common pain.

• You may be more educated than I am and you may have graduated from a respected university – but I know that if you regard anyone, anywhere with contempt, your education has given you little worth knowing. I may not be very bright by your standards but I do know that truly educated people never use it as a weapon.

Talk to me – I might be able to teach you a thing or two.

• You may be more travelled than I am and can talk about places I have not heard of or could afford to visit in my wildest dreams – but if travel has made you contemptuous of your homeland and its peoples then travel has not done its finer work in you. Citizens of the world find beauty and wonder everywhere.

Come to my house – my culture is as interesting as any you will find on any distant shore.

February 17, 2018

How to burn out…..

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Tuesday

How to burn yourself out in a few (8) easy steps….

• Volunteer with abandon to do things you know very little about and to look good in the eyes of people you hardly know. This ratchets expectations so you have much to live up to and you can put yourself under a lot of pressure.

• Keep lots of secrets, especially those that ought not be secrets in the first place and especially those that are none of your business anyway.

• Take on problems that other competent people have already found impossible to solve. Feeling, at least for a while, as if you are Superman or Wonder Woman, can offer a real charge.

• Gossip with abandon.

• Get slap-bang in the middle of other people’s conflicts, especially if the conflicts are none of your business, and especially if the conflicts have a long history. Being the new hope on the block will get you fired up. You’ll even feel very spiritual.

• Agree to roles (at work and where you volunteer) where you have much responsibility but very little, or even no authority. Guilt and blame are a real grind, and this is one way to ensure the grind begins as soon as possible. Remember, no pain, no gain.

• Take yourself really seriously – important people with important positions and important missions have no time for recreation. Why should it be any different for you?

• Be nicer than Jesus.

February 15, 2018

Tribal code

by Rod Smith

Each of us brings to every relationships a backdrop of how we view the world, understand commitment, view, and value people, join groups, terminate friendships, love, and leave home, nurture babies, pack the dishwasher, engage in or avoid conflict, and many things too numerous to mention.

Everything about our relationships is influenced by who, where, and how we were reared – among countless other variables, including natural endowment, and deeply held dreams and desires.

From these countless sources, experiences, and codes, both known and unknown, each of us was handed a Tribal Code or our truth about how life ought to work. How life was done, how relationships were conducted, talked or not talked about, became the folklore, the “correct” or the “right” way to live.

Your formative years did what they were supposed to do: they formed (and informed) you.

They taught you what, and how, to see, think and feel. They showed you what “normal” is to your family, and your experience became your measure of how life is supposed to work.

Then, when entering relationships, be it in marriage or if you are talking with your child’s teacher – the person opposite you has his/her own, and different, tribal code. He/she has his/her own lenses through which to see the world.

No wonder we can have a tough time getting along!

February 14, 2018

There are worse things for children than divorce

by Rod Smith

• Like being caught in the endless crossfire between warring parents.

• Like switching sides and armies every few days as you switch territories.

• Like being super-over-protected in the name of love and concern when the hyper-vigilance is really a means to get back at the other parent or to suggest the other parent is negligent or not as committed or as loving.

• Like hearing constant threats of court hearings and custody hearings and fights over money.

• Like not knowing what you can talk about and who you can say you love depending on where you are and who you are with.

• Like having your childhood freedoms curbed and stunted because the adults in your life refuse to grow up and so they use you as a trophy in their unresolved stuff that happened years before you were born.

• Like having to keep secrets and face weird punishments if you leak information you didn’t know was a secret.

• Like hearing both parents say they never speak badly about the other and you know both are lying.

• Like loving your mother’s or father’s new man or woman but not being free to say it or show it.

February 8, 2018

My weekend sermon / The Prodigal’s Father

by Rod Smith

A sermon based on the parable of the lost son: The Father’s Heart

Luke 15: 11-32 / Lewisville Presbyterian Church

Rod Smith / 02-11-2018

ProdigalFather

I purchased this painting from a street artist in Gorky Park, Moscow  in 1992. The subject immediately brought the prodigal’s father to mind.

Luke 15

Now the tax collectors and sinners (rejected people, “other”) were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees (schooled, religious) and the teachers of the law (leaders, elite) muttered (expressed dissatisfaction, complaining), “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (He does things that are against our religious laws and ways and things we would never do).

Then Jesus told them (he addresses them – they are important to him) this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (renewal, turns around) than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two (this is a natural triangle – rivalry perhaps comes with the territory – it certainly has in my family) sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ (usually a disbursement reserved for after the father’s death – so the request itself is hurtful – this sounds like something many younger sons I know would do). So he divided his property between them. (I am sure this might have been a painful thing for the father to do. Notice that Jesus gives no inkling as to what it is that motivated the younger man to do the things he does).

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant (perhaps he desires to be unknown) country and there squandered (wasted) his wealth in wild living. (Sounds like he had a plan when he asked for his share of the wealth). After he had spent everything (probably a considerable sum since the father is portrayed as wealthy – he has a large operation with hired hands), there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. (We do know the young man understands the need to work). He longed (suggests cravings) to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (I think Jesus is using a little shock value here to show just how desperate the young man had become. He is apparently friendless – perhaps when he still had money he was not. I have noticed Jesus has a way of rubbing it in – and with a handsome touch of perhaps playful and dramatic humor).

“When he came to his senses (implies he was not sensible to this point, when he got his sanity back), he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare (my father’s servants are better off than I am), and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father (treasured words of repentance) and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son (he is correct); make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. (An act that requires humility – loss of face – and effort.)

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him (notice the father sees him, it doesn’t say he sees his father – the father was looking out for him) and was filled with compassion (no anger, no recrimination, no lessons) for him; he ran (eager, undignified) to his son, threw his arms around (lets any other people who are nearby see his welcome and hi gladness) him and kissed him (the signs of a father who is overjoyed).

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (He acknowledges his sin, he’s correct about having lost his place in the family).

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe (restore) and put it on him. Put a ring (restore his status) on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. (The father orders a party) For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (The father does not have the same view of the son and what he deserves – his response is extravagant, over-the-top, and is in response to the son’s coming home, not in response to his waste or his prior senseless and uncaring actions).

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ (We see his immediate jealousy – even understandable jealousy.)

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded (sad that he had to do this) with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (the older son is correct – but “correct” does not accommodate extravagant love – at least in this case. Extravagant love seldom makes sense. We see the distinction between a place of entitlement and a place of undeserved grace.)

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

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Parable: Story, some long, some very short, to illustrate a larger or deeper truth, often humorous, often wild or outlandish. Once heard or read they seldom leave the searching reader alone. Parables niggle; present a counter view of a prevailing axiom; a good parable can be a bump in the brain of the thinking listener or reader. The upside is that parables are usually universally accessible. The downside, if there is any, is the church-reared has usually heard all the parables at some time or another and can therefore easily believe a particular parable to be fully milked. Jesus used parables as did and do many effective teachers.   

*******************

As you read and read and read the chapter over and over again (the underlining and the parenthesis are mine) kindly note several themes that emerge from the three parables: losing, finding, celebrating the restoration, in community. All three suggest rejoicing when what was lost is found. The man risks in order to find one of a hundred sheep (1/100) and rejoices and wants others to rejoice with him when he does. The woman employs great effort to find her one lost coin (1/10). When she does find it she rejoices and hopes others will rejoice with her. The father rejoices when his lost son returns and wants his family and the community to do with him (1 of 2). Each parable has something lost and something found and a reason for celebration. A wandering sheep and a lost coin suggests no act of will or deliberate action on the part of the sheep or the coin. The younger son is deliberate. His actions are an expression of deliberate rebellion. I will remind you that Jesus is addressing sinners (tax collectors, rejected, uneducated people) and the educated (Pharisees and teachers of the law) are watching and listening and muttering (expressing contempt) that he “welcomes sinners.”     

In the Biblical parable of the prodigal, the son who returns after squandering his inheritance, the father runs to meet the now-humbled penniless son and celebrates his return. A massive party ensues. He who was unreachable and in a distant land (no Facebook; no SnapChat) discovered the harsh truths of the consequences of diminishing and then vanishing resources. His desperation sends him home as one willing to be his father’s hired hand. The parable, the subject of a million sermons and interpreted by the greatest of artists over thousands of years, is about the father’s love. He is generous. He is patient. He is forgiving. He’s spent, we can safely presume, years watching for the son’s return, and when it finally happens, the father is overwhelmed with joy and there’s no a trace of recrimination expressed in his vulnerable, exuberant welcome. Of course the dad could be hurt again. He could use the return as a “teaching moment” but he doesn’t.

The Characters

FATHER: He never regards the son as anything other than a son even though the son has “bought” himself out, moved away, harmed himself, soiled his reputation, and squandered unearned wealth. His deliberate destructive decisions and the actions they birthed have succeeded in depleting his resources. They have have succeeded in knocking him from atop his high and entitled horse. They have succeeded in humbling his now-hungry self.

His actions have not succeeded in destroying or diminishing his father’s love. His father’s love for him is not about the younger son or his behavior. It’s about the father. The Father regards the son as a son and loves him as a son no matter what behavior the younger man has demonstrated. The father’s love is not in response to who the son is or what the son is. The father’s love emanates from who and what the father is. The father doesn’t buy into the son’s line that he no longer deserves to be part of the family. Once a son, always a son – is the father’s truth as revealed by his behavior.  

OLDER SON: He has no joy at his brother’s return. It is as if the return is a significant inconvenience, another expense, another drain on the estate. I can hear him asking, “Has he not cost us enough already? Are there no consequences for his behavior?”  The older brother is focussed on what he’s done (years of faithful hard work) and not who he himself is and what he himself has. He is filled with his own sense of righteousness. As correct as he may be, being right, being faithful, has not succeeded in transforming him into being a loving person, at least toward his brother. My observations and my experience tells me that love becomes generic. We specifically, perhaps naturally, love members of our family but the love we experience overflows into our lives and permeates all of our relationships and shifts everything about us and the way others experience us. Godly love is transformative. It transforms the source and the recipient. I suspect the older son’s attitude to his younger brother is something the father has tasted before today and about matters unrelated to his younger brother.   

YOUNGER SON: He is entitled to his share of the estate after the father’s death but wanting it sooner reveals something about him – perhaps he is precocious, has what we may call wanderlust, perhaps the wealth and the homestead are overwhelming for him. In many formerly British countries and in the UK it is quite common for a young high school graduate to take a “gap year” or a “walkabout” year – to embark on a lone adventure overseas. I know the feeling! Perhaps this is what he wanted.

It’s in being away that he becomes the prodigal (lavish spending, wasteful, extravagant) and is spending and carousing on resources he himself has not earned. In describing the younger son’s behavior Jesus is showing that he is unafraid to talk about such topics.

When he is at his most desperate place his eyes and his heart turn toward his father and his home. This tells us something (actually, a lot) about the father. We know at least that when he left the door was not sealed closed behind him.

Hunger drives him to humility and both make it possible for him to want to go home where at least he knows he will be fed and where at least he knows he will survive. There is no indication in the parable that he thinks he will be fully restored to his place in the family and be celebrated.     

Challenge

I don’t know what went on in his heart (and it is a parable) but I do know what it is like to receive my father’s love after years of distance and rebellion. Dads everywhere – please reach out to your sons and daughters today – young child adult, local or distant, and express the love for your sons and daughters that is burning beautifully in your heart.

What goes on in your parent heart?

I know what goes on in mine, I think. Mine’s like the furnace in middle of winter.

The furnace never turns off. My parent heart (or head) is working, thinking, planning, hoping, watching. There are times it’s distracted, but it’s never off duty. There are times it’s filled with anxiety and it can feel like it’s tumbling out of control. There are times love doesn’t always feel like love and feel like something quite different. It can feel like rising anger or a lightning jolt of protection. I see it expressed as I unwittingly scan the surroundings for dangers and potential dangers. I experience my heart as hoping beyond hope and wanting the seemingly impossible for my sons. I experience it as sometimes ignoring my own needs and placing all things on hold until I know what the boys may need. My heart (or my head) is constantly shifting through priorities, trying to identify what is crucial from what is necessary to what is mere waste. Sometimes, really only occasionally, it feels broken by a lapse in a son’s integrity or a harsh word or a moment of son-to-son betrayal – but it is thankfully, quick to recover.

I have come to see that a parent’s love has many seasons, a variety of intensities, and, while it seeks nothing or very little in return, when return-love and gratitude is expressed, even in the smallest and quietest of ways, the reward is wave-like, even overwhelming.  

Tell me what yours is like – please.

Application

May we all welcome all sinners and see the inner-sinner within us each. I find that I am both sons and I am the father – are you all three, too? I can be even more extreme than each son and fall short of the father but there are reflections of all three within me.

May the prodigal in each of us find the father’s welcome.

May the parent in all of us know how to welcome and celebrate all of our children (adult and youth and those who have left and those who are wasteful and those who are not).

May we have the hungry son’s repentant humility and none of the earlier haughtiness.

May we have none of the self-righteousness and harshness of the older brother.

May we learn the joy and the value of writing about our love on paper and then place it in the mail with a stamp and send it to out to the people we love, for their sakes and for ours.

I close with this quotation from one of my favorite South African novels, Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton.  

The Reverend Theophilus Mismanage says, But there is one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power.
Benediction – from Colossians, chapter 1:

15-20 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Now, go out into the world, and may the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the passion and the power of the Holy Spirit be with you, now and forever more.

Amen  

 

February 6, 2018

Love and freedom and what it is not….

by Rod Smith

Love leads to listening, freedom, warmth, care, and mutual support. It’s sharing dreams; it’s facing challenges together. It’s pooling resources for mutual benefit. It’s providing a safe place for each other and for any children with whom you share your life.

Love is not love when:

  • Coercion is threatened or used
  • There are attempts to seclude or cut off from family and friends
  • Betrayal is threatened or used
  • Love is used to trap, manipulate, or possess
  • Confinement is threatened or used – car keys hidden, doors locked, plans cancelled without consultation or knowledge
  • Privacy is denied (rooms, cupboards, purses, phone, computer, email, conversations)
  • Traps are set to test fidelity
  • Stalking, watching, tracking of any manner is threatened or used
  • Attempt at important talk repeatedly escalate to shouting matches
  • Violence of any kind (physical, sexual, emotional, psychological) of any degree of severity is used
  • Warmth, kindness expressed to others (old friends, family, former colleagues) is given as the reason for jealousy and conflict
  • When the use of alcohol or legal or illegal substances deplete mutual resources and lead to aberrant behavior or conflict