Archive for January, 2022

January 31, 2022

Reflections for those in conflict

by Rod Smith

Reflections for those in conflict with others

Try to clarify matters for yourself first. This may take a few days. What do you want? Even if you do not get what you want, what will be the best outcome of this conflict as far as you are concerned? Are you aware of what will satisfy or placate your desire for justice or bring you a measure of peace? Will you feel better for being proved right and your opponent (former partner, friend, whomever) for being proved wrong? Is this even about who is right and who is wrong or winning and losing? Are you able to say what it is about?

Are you able to see and articulate the perspective of he or she or they who are on the other side of this conflict with you? The opposing views may seem ridiculous and unreasonable to you but until you are able to see things from your opponent’s point of view you may be blinded to some aspects the opposition find reasonable. We all have blidspots. There are far more than two sides to every story (conflict, breakup, cut-off) and trying to see as many as possible will empower you for greater humility and equip you with kindness you may now not feel you want or need.

January 27, 2022

Fillies and Goeda

by Rod Smith

Edwin Fillies and Wilson Goeda – in Durban this week – are a formidable team. They have unparalleled face-to-face experience with diverse cultures and have paved the way for many with deep divisions and historic conflicts to find unlikely reconciliation. 

Yes, unparalleled experience. Addressing audiences in excess of 75 countries between them is hard to match. 

Fillies and Goeda have offered seminars and orchestrated encounters with tens of thousands world-wide.

Although hard to prove, I should think their track records and flight patterns place them among the most well-traveled of all South Africans, ever.  

Hailing originally from Brandwag (Western Cape) Humansdorp (Eastern Cape), they are miracles, practiced artists in matters of understanding and reconciliation, approaching opportunities with tranquil humility, embodying courage demanded of their high calling.

One of them, and I don’t say this lightly, is even very funny. 

“Our message is restoration of identity, dignity, destiny of individuals, communities and nations. We work in the area of peace building, reconciliation, mediation,” says Edwin.

If you run anything involving groups of people and you want to expand your knowledge of your nation, its diversity, complexities, its vast potential for grace, let me know. I will put you in touch with Wilson and Edwin.

Part of their appeal is that they have chosen to spread a message of humility and love, a tough sell, often resisted, anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Edwin (left) and Wilson
January 25, 2022

Driving brings out the worst in him

by Rod Smith

“I am married to the nicest man, loving, caring, generous. However, put him in a car and we have road-rage coupled with racism. We are about to embark on a very long road trip and I’m already wondering how I’m going to cope. Presently, I just look the other way and try and try to ignore it, but I find it so stressful. It is not easy at all. Can you advise me on this?”

So, driving “transforms” your “nicest man,” who is “loving, caring, generous” into a road raging racist. This backdrop – the fact he is capable of being loving and caring – suggests your husband is fully capable of a heart-to-heart conversation with you before you leave the house.

If such a conversation ignites his anger then I’d suggest you are in some understandable denial about how loving and caring and generous he is.

Tell your husband that his raging and racist responses to the environment when he is driving ruins the trip for you. Tell him what you experience when he rages. While you “look the other way” he has no need to try to control his lurking unresolved anger and race issues.

Driving doesn’t cause anger and frustration and racist attitudes, it exposes what is already living within the heart.

January 23, 2022

Walking Away

by Rod Smith

“I’ve had worse partings, but none still so gnaws my mind,” writes Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis in “Walking Away.”

Observing from a distance, Day-Lewis sees his young son disappear into a throng of boys each beginning a new phase of life at boarding school.

“… like a satellite

Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away,

Behind a scatter of boys.“

Day-Lewis knows the inevitable separation that is necessary for his son’s selfhood, independence, then, interdependence. It nonetheless “gnaws” despite his acknowledgment of “nature’s give and take.”

“Selfhood begins with walking away and love is proved in letting go,” concludes Day-Lewis.

I have treasured this poem for decades, read it many times while growing up.

It helped me to know my own walking away was indeed necessary.

It helped me frame the pain, the confusion I caused and saw evidenced on my beloved mother’s face, when on rare occasions, I had the humility and awareness to see it. It gave a glimpse into my father’s helpless shrug admitting powerlessness over my aloof, indifferent swagger.

I knew instinctively that everything living requires space, room to grow, a safe and secure nest; a den simultaneously free and open, open to accept the ebbs and flows of life, growth, success, and disappointments, angry departures, humble returns.

Now that my sons, both of whom I adopted at birth, are young adults I read “Walking Away” differently than I did before.

I have had a ring-side seat.

I’ve watched two boys learn to crawl, walk, then run towards manhood and the only thing that “gnaws at my mind” about their reaching manhood is that it all happened so rapidly.

My sons are warm men. They are respectful of authority, hard-workers, each earning an honest day’s living, both of whom I have watched learn to walk, and walk away, and walk alongside, and walk behind, and rush on ahead. In all this walking, miles, miles, and more miles, they have become magnificently more and more of the man each is ordained to be.

Yes, like Day-Lewis, I have pained at certain times, during certain phases, as I have watched them walk and watched them fall. Their “falls” are cushioned with the knowledge that I too have run ahead of myself and yes, fallen myself, more often than I have been open to admit – especially to each of them.

But, preeminently, the pain that has persistently hit me hardest, and gnaws at a primal depth, is the ongoing awareness of what it took for their birth mothers, defying even “nature’s give and take,” to Walk Away.

Day-Lewis says the separation gnaws at his mind and I get that. I know that pain. But, it is “clean” pain. It is a pain that every rational, reasonable parent knows is inevitable and accepts with accommodating grace, even prepares for it.

When juxtaposed with what our two heroic birth mothers volunteered to endure, our pain, Cecil Day-Lewis’s and mine, and perhaps yours, is surely a mere, ever-healing, diminishing bump or bruise, a “charlie-horse.”

I indeed have gotten gifts from two women, gifts that “keep on giving” but they, these two powerful and generous women, gave gifts that surely keep on wrenching, churning, gnawing and pulling, shoving, year-by-year, birthday-by-birthday within the deepest recesses of their minds and souls.

How much thank you is enough, all birth mothers everywhere?

Take a bow.

Hear a thunderous applause from men and women whom you made dads and moms in every time zone and on every continent.

There is no thank you loud and broad and high and deep enough that will ever suffice.

Then, I am amazed at what strength and resilience has been demanded of each of my boys to know his mother walked away and was motivated to do so by love.

Love, love, and more love, drove their choices in the hopes, belief, faith that each boy would be positioned to walk away and walk toward a life each birth mother had the foresight, the strength, the humility, and the character to know that she herself would find impossible to provide for this newborn baby whom she so dearly loved – and loved enough to walk away.

Rev. Rod Smith is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New Castle.

January 16, 2022

Suicide

by Rod Smith

Writers search within themselves for opening lines. Like athletes may recall a winning goal or an impossible rugby try, we admire a good one. My all-time favorite is Frederick Buechner’s opener of his memoir “Telling Secrets.” It lulls. It seduces. Then, all in one sentence, it delivers an unforgettable punch. I’d love to know how long it took him to perfect.

Buechner’s opener recalls that early one morning his father popped into the bedroom preteen-Frederick shared with his brother – the sentence suggests something habitual or repetitive is occurring – and then made his way to the garage, where within minutes, his father died at his own hand from exhaust fumes.

The sad event, the dad, the loss was never explained or referred to or talked about. Not ever.

The opener hit me hard as intended. Bullseye. The words on the page parraleled what suicide does to survivors. It takes us by complete surprise and it is then often locked away within forever, layered in shame, buried in secrecy, hidden like a lost or hidden grave.

Please, get the help you need, before you make a permanent choice over what are most surely powerful and driving destructive emotions. Help is available. There are armies of people waiting to help you.

January 12, 2022

Walking Away

by Rod Smith

“I have had worse partings,” writes Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis in “Walking Away.” 

“Like a satellite wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away,” writes Lewis, having watched his son, “a hesitant figure, eddying away like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem.” 

Lewis, observing from a distance, sees the boy disappear into a mass of boys each beginning his new phase of life at boarding school. 

Lewis knows the inevitable separation necessary for his son’s selfhood, independence, then, interdependence but it nonetheless “gnaws” at his soul. 

The poet accepts the process of “nature’s give and take.”

I have held onto these words for decades, tried, for much longer, to live within the idea that everything that is living requires space. Everything living desires room to grow, room to be free, openness to leave the nest, and access to a “nest” willing to accept the ebbs and flows of life and growth.  

Now that my sons are both young adults I read Lewis’s closing lines – in fact the whole poem – vastly differently than I did before. 

I have had front row seats, watched two boys learn to crawl, then walk, then run towards manhood. 

“Selfhood begins with walking away and love is proved in letting go,” concludes Lewis.

January 11, 2022

Friends

by Rod Smith

The fingerprints, handprints, voiceprints, and footprints of really good friends

Friends are gentle and kind. They listen to you without judgment or assumption. They respect and honor you just as you offer respect and honor when the tables are turned. Friends are generous and kind. They often intuitively know exactly what you need, be it a good laugh, a welcoming shoulder for support or tears.

Friends learn to hear each other even if no one is talking, mutually hearing what is said and not said. You can read between the lines with each other and yet be careful to not jump to easy conclusions.

Your good friends will go the extra mile with you and for you so you may not have to leave your home. They will also go the extra mile with you in the event a literal journey is inevitable.

Your friends let you know you are not alone without having to say so. They bear your load, serve you in ways you may never thought necessary. Your friends know you well and want the best for you and mutuality, respect and equality are the hallmarks of what you enjoy together.

January 9, 2022

You have superpowers

by Rod Smith

I would like to remind you that you are endowed with superpowers. 

While you may not feel powerful or think of yourself as powerful, you are. 

It comes with your humanity. 

The superpowers to which I refer have nothing to do with money or status or what are generally considered necessary to be influential and, and this is most important,  they cannot be taken from you. 

You can only give them away. 

When you use them, by giving them away, they are immediately replenished so  you will never run out.  

You have the superpower of friendship. This is the capacity to reach out to people who think they have none.  

You have the superpower of generosity – the power to give of your time and talents to others and the ability to share what you have in excess. 

You have the superpower of grace – the ability to offer others room for error and failings and the privilege of being as imperfect as each of us is. 

You have the superpower of forgiveness. You can offer people, even those who do not deserve it, a clean slate and the opportunity to “start over.”

You have  the superpower of hospitality – the capacity to be open and welcoming to others, all others. 

Five radical powers all wrapped up in one person, you.

January 4, 2022

Larger than life

by Rod Smith

I know you have met or read about people who are “larger than life.” Perhaps you had a teacher or two who you may now describe as such. I was posed the question, “What makes somebody larger than life?” I’d like to hear your ideas and I am pleased to share mine with you.

The men and women I have met who are so described have all, without fail:

Been committed to purposes larger than themselves and from a long, long before that commitment made them appear larger than life. They never set out to become larger than life but wanted without fail to make life larger for others, even others whom they would never know or meet.

They embraced their own failings and shortcomings and decided these inevitable wounds and scars would  not impede or limit their passion to advance the causes in which they believed. 

They were and are listeners – regarding others as important, not as a trick, but because they are. When with them you feel as if you are the only person he or she has ever encountered. 

They have all had a handful of close friends who are unimpressed with who and what they are and who are able to tell them the truth as they see it. People who are larger than life are accountable to others.