Archive for December, 2017

December 13, 2017

Definition of family…..

by Rod Smith

When my first born was a few days old a woman whom I had known for a few years, and was really well-meaning, arrived at my house and suggested I give the baby to a real family.

Her understanding of the context and reason my son’s birth mother choose me to be his (solo) parent was very limited. While the immediate (minimal) shock and pain of that encounter has long worn off (and healed), the exchange – which happened to be the first of many strange or unexpected encounters – did give me what I believe to be a greater acuteness or awareness of what it is that makes a group of people family.

I’d really like to hear your views. Here are a few of mine. A family:

  • Is a place where people are most often related by marriage or blood but often they are not.
  • Is a place where people, who usually share space (but not always), are enduringly committed to each others highest good even if and when the highest good is painful and costly.
  • Is a platform where people can express their differences without being alienated or made to feel bad or wrong for expressing or embodying differences.
  • Is a place where members feel safe (mostly) and when they don’t (feel safe) they can say so and someone in the family will listen and hear and try to understand.
  • It’s a place where, if someone doesn’t feel safe and says so, the person who listens and hears will be able to help discern if feeling unsafe or unsure is appropriate. The process of growing and learning can be very unsettling and feeling unsettled can lead to increasing feelings of vulnerability.
December 10, 2017

My view of what people want…..

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Friday / What people really want….. readers, please add your added insights…..

What people want as far as I can discern:

1. Significant, intimate connection with a select few people – this has nothing at all to do with sexual activity. The word intimate has sadly become somewhat synonymous with sex.

2. Regular inclusion in the activities of a small group of close friends – most people can handle occasional exclusion but when it is repeated it can be very painful.

3. A voice (to offer suggestions, voice opinions, express thoughts) that is (usually) heard and always respected – talking ought not be confused with having a voice. I know a lot of talkers who have no voice.

4. A platform, a context to express uniqueness – a place to shine on occasion is good for the soul.

5. Validation, a sense of belonging – this does not necessarily mean agreement or endorsement.

6. Some say and power in planning the future – no one has ALL say over the future.

7. Credit for work well done even when it is a group or community effort – a good and authentic thank you can be remembered for years.

8. Useful and helpful guidance and criticism – usually when requested.

9. Involvement in the lives of immediate and extended family – being excluded from a family can be the most painful cut of all.

December 9, 2017

Of course I believe in Santa

by Rod Smith

I saw Santa at the Children’s Museum with a feather of a child pleading her case. They were locked in discussion, a confessional of sorts, as she entered into detail of her every Christmas wish. Hands, eyes, and all of her face enticed Santa closer lest he miss a detail living so clearly I her head.

“Oh, you want, oh, I see it. Why yes, of course. Perfectly,” Santa said, his voice tapering off into her ear, “I will see what I can do about that.”

Then she nestled into his side, her shoulders comfortably enveloped by his plush red suit as if to declare her mission accomplished. He was a perfect depiction of everything I imagined him to be and the sight easily immersed me in the voices and music of my own Christmases past.

Santa came all year round to our home. I’d look through the window in April or mi-August and Santa would be strolling up the driveway on his return from visits to every home on the street. He’d be wearing dad’s shoes and one of his ties underneath the tatty red coat, but I knew better than to expose his identity. I wanted to believe in Santa and he I turn needed me to believe. Such faith had rewards and I knew better than to dash my own hopes. I wasn’t ready to lose my trust in Santa for anyone and certainly not by my own hand.

He couldn’t resist visits to the whole neighborhood and would drop in from time to time and inspire children toward good behavior, perfect obedience and remind them to count their blessings one by one. At every appearance in our home we’d sing “The Little Boy that Santa Clause Forgot” and we’d all have to cry. He insisted on it.

The lines “he didn’t have a daddy” and “went home to play with last year’s broken toys” really got us going.

It was clear he sang to all the children I the world who’d had to skip childhood and known poverty, children who’s fathers had gone to war or whose fathers or mothers had fled their families.

Donning the suit, surprising the children, was Santa’s way of making the world right.

His visits created intrigue in the neighborhood, and to every child he repeated the promise that this Christmas, no child of his street would be forgotten. As far as I could tell none ever was.

The last Christmas we had together was in August of 1994. We were riding in a car and in the curves of Bluff Road when spontaneously he began to sing, “Christmas comes but once a year.”

The car became a holy place as I heard once more of the boy who “wrote a note to Santa for some soldiers and a drum and it broke his little heart to find Santa hadn’t come.”

The tears we both shed required no encouragement for we both somehow knew this would be the last time he’d sing this nostalgic hymn.

Now, to this old song is top of my list of Christmas songs.

The melody emerges randomly in my awareness, most particularly when faced with children who are in need, and I have had to silence it at all times of the year.

It was the little girl’s confidence, Santa’s grace, and the loving parents looking from the side that caught my attention last week. As she touched his flowing beard and told him her every Christmas dream I was listing my own requests with childlike zeal. It gave me renewed hope that you and I, the real Santas of the world, could deliver a more hopeful tomorrow for “those little girls and boys that Santa Claus forgot.

First published December 9, 2000 in the Indianapolis Star     

December 8, 2017

Let’s teach our children….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Tomorrow

Parents, please teach your children as I try to teach mine….

• There is no substitute for hard work. If you cut corners, avoid doing things well, you will probably have to pay for it in the future.

• “Please” and “thank you” are beautiful words and they should be used as often as possible.

• Don’t interrupt adults who are having a conversation – and saying “excuse me” as you interrupt doesn’t make the interruption acceptable.

• Wear clean clothes, use deodorant, and brush your teeth – do all this without having to be reminded.

• Stand up for adults when they enter a room; offer your seat to adults if all seats are taken, open doors for adults. Stand back.

• Ask politely for what you need; don’t demand what you need.

• Listen when people talk to you. Checking your phone in the middle of a face-to-face conversation is downright rude.

• Although you may not think it is so, your elders have a lot to teach you and you have a lot to learn.

• When you are more aware of your rights than you are aware of your responsibilities the imbalance will ultimately lead you into trouble.

• Earn more money than you spend – it’s as simple as that – or you will land yourself in trouble.

December 7, 2017

The hope of artful parenting….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Friday 12/8/2017

Knowing when to step in, when to step up, and when to step out, and understanding that in some odd dance you may have to do all three all at the same time.

  • Accurately sensing when to ask for more information and when to mind your own business. Understanding that not everything pertaining to your child is your business. There are things he or she will really have to face and deal with without you and in his or her own way.
  • Learning to accept that some of the things you will hear and some of the things you will see are to remain hidden in your heart forever. This includes discerning when to tell stories about your children and when to keep things private. Some things you think are cute and funny your child may prefer be kept out of your volume of told and retold stories.
  • Developing the skill to know what to regard as important and what to ignore.
  • Facilitating independence and its possibility and its inevitability from day one. Yes, day one.
  • Being able to listen to what is said and to what is not said and resisting the urge to hear what you’d prefer to hear in both.
  • Developing your own healthy boundaries even if it feels that you love your children so much that you don’t need them.
  • Resisting the use of guilt as a motivator.
  • Learning to sufficiently love your own life, pursue your own goals, embrace your own dreams, so that your children are loved and encouraged with your divided attention.
December 6, 2017

The two E-s

by Rod Smith

Enabling is rampant in many families.

It can involve:

  • Covering for someone so outsiders do not notice or find out about his or her undesirable behavior (drinking, gambling, addictive habits).
  • Relaying lies to a workplace – calling in to say he or she is ill when he or she is unable to work because of the addiction.
  • Permitting, turning a blind-eye, cooperating, letting things go unnoticed to keep the peace or because it feel easier.

Enabling behaviors are often subtle way of disguising who it is in a family who is in need of help. The enabler often appears to be the strong or the healthy one. Control is the name of the game – and family life can feel like one.

Empowering is common in healthy families.

It can involve:

  • Getting out of each other’s way so people can learn from errors and get credit for their successes.
  • Allowing natural consequences to follow choices so people can learn just how powerful really are.
  • Trusting and believing in each other even when things do not go to plan or appear to be falling apart.

Empowered people require the company of other empowered people and all require a strong sense of self. Freedom to discover and to learn are the hallmark of the empowered.

December 4, 2017

Talk therapy…..

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Monday

Effective counseling or talk-therapy…

• Will help you see that you are not that special.

• Will help you understand that you are absolutely unique and an incredible gift to your family, to your community, and to the world.

• Will help you see that you don’t need help as much as you perhaps think you do.

• Will help you see that there’s wisdom in seeking help regularly.

• Will help you see that life itself is doing its very best to help you grow up and all you really have to do is to cooperate with its efforts.

• Will help you see that you have a very specific calling, a role to fulfill, a task to complete, and this greater purpose will be difficult to find, pursue, enjoy while you think life is about meeting your needs, feathering your nest, or looking for happiness.

• Will help you leverage your skills and talents and desires for the greater good of all.

• Will help you identify what you want and what you need to do to get what you want.

• Will help you show up, stand up, and speak up for yourself in ways that are really good for you.

• Will help you see that it is possible to live without being a victim.

December 3, 2017

Ego rush

by Rod Smith

You’ve heard about an adrenalin rush. I’ve seen ego rush. I see it in in groups, teams, and in classrooms. I detect it rumbling in me. Perhaps it’s natural and part of survival.

Symptoms of an ego rush occurring:

  • Authentic conversation – the give and take and the sharing and building on ideas of others – seems impossible. It’s verbal arm-wrestling or nothing.
  • Perceived insults, rebuffs, refusals, or dismissals are stored. They lurk in awareness, crouched for attack when the timing is right.
  • What a person knows must be known and he or she will nudge and provoke until you share his or her belief in his or her superiority.
  • The ego will win by winning or it will win by losing but humility and backing down are not options.
  • Actual loss, perceived as humiliation, is temporary – a matter of perception. The “loser” will circle around and get even.
  • Everything spins around hierarchy and real engagement, the wrangling, is delayed until the hierarchy is figured out.
  • Conversations are calculated and are a means to advance an undisclosed agenda.
  • The presence of authentic humility escapes or confuses those caught up in the ego rush as much as witnessing or trying to engage in a conversation using a totally foreign language.
December 2, 2017

Shopping for Jesus

by Rod Smith

If Jesus would remain a baby, I would find Christmas shopping much easier. But every time I venture out to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, by purchasing a gift for someone I love, I am stumped. I do not know what kind of gift to buy that will somehow declare the birth of the Son of God. I do not have the where-with-all for a gift that marks the birth of a King. Besides, every time I begin to shop in honor of Baby Jesus, I see him whipped unmercifully upon a cross. Nothing so confuses my shopping at Christmas than the sight of blood spilling from his side and, although I resist the thought, it will not go away.

Before I can do much looking around the malls, Jesus jumps out of the crib, fully adult, onto the streets in front of me and I can hardly keep up with him. He’s healing people and getting into all kinds of trouble with medical experts. I am lost about what to do. Besides, any free moment he goes to the wrong places. He goes to the seedy parts of town. He goes to places I have never been before. He mixes with rejected people. He goes to City Hall and hurls insults at those in leadership who are without mercy.

Downtown, he is outspoken and scathing to those who are unfair in their business practices no matter who they are or what positions they hold. Jesus detests double standards and addresses them at every encounter.

I want to shove him back in the crib where he was safe. I want him back in the crib where we were all safer. Then, just when I thought he would stop in at a church or two – perhaps a cathedral built in his honor – he’s off into a bar befriending losers. He’s talking politics in a way I have never heard. He’s talking about fairness and justice and mercy and truth. I want to tell him not to mix politics and religion but I hold my tongue and blush with the absurdity of it all.

If he would just stay in one place like a baby should is all I can think.

It’s not long before he gains in popularity and I am in a jostle with the crowds for his attention. But it’s not the kind of popularity I was expecting. I will never be able to get a gift at this rate. Prostitutes love him. Drunks run to his defense. The poorest of the poor are out in their masses. He dances in the streets with children and people he has only just met. Young men and women with piercings all over their bodies form a circle with him, and they celebrate like long lost friends, reunited. Then, instead of heeding the city ordinances and honoring the local businesses, he feeds the entire crowd by some miraculous display.

Now what do I buy? Clearly, anything I spend on any gift, if I am really out to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child has to be grand. Yet it has to be modest. His birth couldn’t have been more modest: a shed was the delivery room, an animal feeding trough, the crib. Secrecy, shame and danger were the backdrop of this dramatic night while poverty dictated the details. So I cannot spend much. Yet it was the greatest night the earth had ever seen. It was the greatest moment in all history. It was the night angels sighed! It was the night the hosts of heaven longed to witness; the night the order of everything was disturbed forever by Love’s intervention.

I try to tell him he’s ruining things: that he is too quick to befriend the wrong people. Clearly his mind is elsewhere. I plead with him to befriend the religious and civic leaders but he will not listen. Soon, as if to prove me right, they are up in arms against him. Everybody who is anybody wants him gone. They call him a hindrance to tourism, a threat to peace and they accuse him of not attending church!

Next, he’s looking crucifixion in the eye.

If only he would remain a baby.

It is so much easier to shop for a baby.

(First published in The Indianapolis Star – who knows when…… but it sure got me some mail……!)


December 1, 2017

7 Longings….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Monday

Seven longings I have for myself, my children* and students (past and present):

• Personal Responsibility: that we live without blame, without the belief that someone, or something, is responsible for our futures, or, has caused our failures.

• Absolute Forgiveness: that we become women and men who are able to forgive others even when it’s neither deserved nor necessarily recognized as needed.

• Radical Hospitality: that we live with open doors, hearts, hands, and minds, ready to welcome strangers, waifs, loners, dignitaries, politicians, pastors, prostitutes, presidents, addicts, and enemies into our homes with generosity, love, and kindness.

• Self Definition: that we are able to stand up for ourselves, think for ourselves, express our unique views, beliefs, and vision, without harming others.

• That we be Interesting and Interested – given that there are enough lifeless, bored and boring people already.

• That we Love and Trust God – not a weird (often dangerous) perversion created and perpetuated by anxiety-ridden, budget-driven pastors and politicians, but the Exciting, Vibrant, Intimate, Brave, Edgy, Deliberate God of the Ages, Who, without question or reservation, loves ALL people with clarity and passion and Who gives dignity and inestimable value to ALL.

• See Beyond: that we be men and women who can see beyond the limitations we set for ourselves and the limitations others set for us (usually in “love”).

* no pressure boys