Archive for March, 2022

March 27, 2022

Inside job

by Rod Smith

Peace, goodwill; listening, kindness; generosity, respect, safety, and mercy, all these wonderful community builders, things that make life around us richer and more trustworthy and enjoyable, begin with you and me.

They are inside jobs.

We cannot expect the world to deliver to us that which we are not willing to offer.  

It is irrational to want something in the broader community that you and I are not willing to pursue first within ourselves.

If you want to live in a generous world, be generous.

If you want to live and know mercy and kindness, express both to all whom you know.  

Show what is possible in your every encounter.

If I am harboring anger and resentment toward another how can I wish for a world where people are kind and forgiving? I can hope and hope for a kind, forgiving world, but I am making it impossible while at the same time spreading the opposite of what I hope for.

I see this time and again, and sadly, within myself within the contradictions I know that live within me. 

Then, when I confront myself with the truth of which I am fully aware, and face these contradictions within myself and am on occasion successful in doing so, the result is sheer joy.

March 22, 2022

Stay out of control! What do you mean?

by Rod Smith

A reader asks why I so often write “stay out of control.” Am I endorsing chaos?

I am hearity amused. Chaos is the last thing I want. I have spent a career listening to women (mostly) and men (often) describe how they have confused trust and love with manipulation and submission.

“I trusted him because he said he loved me and he said a man is the ‘spiritual leader’ of the woman.”

Such statements usually precede horrific stories of stalking, jealousy, and determining how she should dress, who she cannot spend time with, and which of her families she may not see.That is the kind of control I want people to “stay out of.”While my illustration is extreme (although not unusual) my suggestion is that all reasonably sane adults manage their own lives all the time. Why not? Why surrender God-given autonomy to anyone ever, I don’t care who they are or how much love is purported to be involved. Love never robs others of their autonomy. Not ever. If you take responsibility for your adult life, make your own decisions about your life you will authentically be in a position to deeply love and unreservedly trust to the fullest extent of your choosing and stay out of control.

If you have a better definition of adulthood and selflessness I would love to hear it.

March 17, 2022

Breaking my word

by Rod Smith

After-Sermon #15

I’m breaking my pledge, treasured readers; I’m going back on my word.

You may or may not recall, pastors, church members, business leaders, school administrators, the men and women who are faithful After-Sermon readers, something I wrote in my first After-Sermon column.

I said I would never ask you for money.

I am going to, now.

When I made that pledge months ago there were not hundreds of thousands of women and children fleeing Ukraine.

There were not multitudes leaving their dads and husbands at home to fight off a Russian invasion.

When I wrote I would never ask you for money there were not hordes of innocent children clutching onto a few treasured possessions, often a puppy or kitten, onto life itself, flooding neighboring countries of Romania and Poland, to name but two, fleeing for refuge and safety.

I reference Poland and Romania because it is with these two countries that I am most familiar. They are places I have visited. I have, and have had, personal connection with people I deeply trust.

Marta and William Shaw and their two young sons, live in Krakow, Poland. They have opened their home to mothers and children from Ukraine. More than that, they continue to network and reach out daily to many other local families in Krakow and beyond to do the same. This has resulted in a network of safe homes for women and children fleeing Ukraine for Poland. As you can imagine the needs are overwhelming.

Marshall McKenna, who pioneered ManaDeschia (Open Hand) in Campina, Romania, is driving to the Romanian/Ukraine border and rescuing women and children and bringing them to reside in short and long term housing. This is in addition to what his busy mission is already accomplishing. As you can imagine, the needs are surely overwhelming.

I am asking you to give to these efforts.
Your gift, 100% of it, will go directly to the point of need. There will be no processing fee, no administrative costs, no salaries to cover or facility expenses for which to pay.

It will all go to William and Marta Shaw and to Marshall McKenna each of whom I know will apply it to urgent needs.

Marta and William are friends of mine. Marta is a PhD in Education and teaches at the University. William, originally from Minnesota, is a Family Therapist. He has a side interest which involves creating and marketing tasty and magnificent hot sauces.

Marshall McKenna is a South African who has spent most of his adult life in Romania. Decades ago he began providing an avenue to rescue homeless street children from the sewers of Bucharest to a safe haven built by Marshall and his many friends.

These are educated, kind, visionary, determined, and street-wise people.

The elders of First Presbyterian Church New Castle gave an immediate and resounding yes when the idea of a congregational offering was proposed and we will take up an offering during our worship on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

Please, join us in this effort.

Perhaps even suggest your church does the same.

If you’d want to participate with First Pres you may drop your check written to “First Presbyterian New Castle” or mail it to PO BOX 491 New Castle, IN 47362. Please place “Romania” or “Poland” in the memo. If you indicate neither “Poland” nor “Romania” we will split your contribution down the middle and send to both!

Better still, cut this column out of the paper and give it to your pastor and send an offering from your church to a related cause of your church’s choice.

Generosity opens the heart to beauty and possibility, it magnifies hope, leads to further acts of kindness, drives away bitterness, and expands vision.

You can count on me to break my word every time if the result is food, warmth, clothing and safety provided to women and children fleeing war.

March 9, 2022

White Trash – by Terry Angelos

by Rod Smith

Durban’s own Terry Angelos’s “White Trash” deserves acclaim and attention. 

The cover-quip by Jane Linley-Thomas says it is “flipping riveting.” 

That it is, indeed. 

And, more. Far more. 

If any venue on the planet where I teach Family Therapy had the courage to allow it, I would use the book as an essential text. I’d make it required reading for anyone wanting to study Family Therapy – in fact I’d come to Durban to do just that – because the memoir offers a graphic window into several pivotal elements of Systemic Family Process. 

It is all there: triangulation, the power of invisible loyalties, our deep connection to our place of birth, family process  – how the generations before us impact our individual lives for good and ill and how we potentially get to shift the future. It demonstrates the primal drives we each must fight, and how the search for survival and love can make or break us. 

Then, it is about grace, intervention, wholeness, wholesomeness, love and reconciliation.     

If you have ot yet read it, please, do yourself and all of humanity a favor and do so.

It will challenge our every possible stereotype about the darker side of troubled women and men and remind you of the human ability to hurt, harm, judge and condemn.

Above all, you will be reminded that grace, redemption, and the possibility of reconciliation really is available to us all.

One man’s “trash” really is another man’s treasure.

Thanks be to God.

March 8, 2022

Mindsets

by Rod Smith

While there are more than 3, here are individual and organizational mindsets I have run into lately. There are people and organizations (schools, churches, businesses) who have: 

A visionary mindset – possibilities of life and creativity are endless. They can hardly wait to get started or continue building and participating in doing wonderful and challenging and adventurous things. They say “yes” more than “no.” They seek to solve encountered problems rather than search for them, or create them, before they start.

A victim mindset – possibilities are very limited because people perceive they are downtrodden by the choices of others and large opponents like “the education system” and “the government.” Every hurdle faced proves success is impossible. This is a platform of “let’s just say no” to almost everything before knowing what is being asked. 

A safety mindset – the world is such a dangerous place that every effort to ensure safety and reduce risk must be taken. These groups and individuals focus so much on prevention of failure and risk that it warps and robs participants of the innate human desire for adventure. These groups and individuals seldom seem to consider how dangerous a perfectly safe world would really be.

Evening – #beautybeautyeverywhere
March 6, 2022

Heart of hearts

by Rod Smith

What do you want in your heart of hearts? 

Not for others, for yourself. 

This is not a selfish way to think unless, of course, you stop there. 

For this exercise, think only of yourself. 

It is a good and essential place to start. 

Examining this question and writing your answers using a few pages of bullet points is about getting your own house in order before you act on the inevitable impulse to arrange and rearrange other people’s lives. It is well understood that those who mess with the lives of others are usually avoiding their own inner-turmoil. 

It is hard to be in touch with this deep place of “what do you want in your heart of hearts” if we are always on the go. It takes closing your door, switching off the screens, perhaps dimming lights. It is making the effort to consider where you are right now in your life journey and how far you may be removed from what you want in your heart of heart. 

Where does your mind rush to if you insist on stillness and quietness? 

What does the quietness want to say? 

Outer quietness can offset inner storms of loud inner-voices competing for attention. 

Given time you will be able to cut through all the mind clutter and get in touch with what you really want in your heart of hearts.

Artist: Willem Onker

March 4, 2022

Getting in the way

by Rod Smith

The Courier-Times / today

If you ever want a beautiful picture of mercy the Biblical account of the life of Joseph is the place to go.

His response to his desperate, begging brothers embodies the quality of mercy I have often received.

While in Genesis, you will encounter with Joseph moments of extraordinary grace and healing, while you are surely bombarded with the impulse to burst out in songs from the Rice-Loyd-Webber musical bearing his name.

Following a rather violent and involuntary departure and after decades of separation from his family, Joseph abounds in kindness and mercy and humility exercised towards his undeserving brothers.

This same band of brothers found young Joseph so threatening they discarded him into a well as a kinder option to killing him, and then sold him to a traveling caravan.

As a result of their jealousy and violence, Joseph spent years in isolation and torment.

When, decades later and faced with his brothers, Joseph would be justified if he chose to have nothing to do with them or exercised his extraordinary endowed powers in the pharaoh’s domain to have them arrested and held accountable for their crimes.

But no, recognizing who they are, knowing his brothers have come in search of help, he discloses his identity.

“I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”

His first question is about their father’s wellbeing.

I cannot imagine being cut-off from my extended family, all of whom live in distant countries. I cannot imagine not knowing if one of my closest relatives is living or dead.

When legitimately, there could be anger, Joseph expresses none.

He fosters no desire for pay-back.

Joseph’s retribution quotient rests firmly at zero.

“Come closer,” he says and weeps with relief and gratitude for the opportunity for reconciliation.

“I will provide for you,” he tells them and there are hugs and kisses and weeping all round.

What a reunion!

Many families long for such a reunion.

Do you?

“Something got in the way,” I hear a woman say revealing she has not spoken to her sister in decades.

“I will never talk to that woman again. She got mom’s dining room table she knew that I wanted.”

A table got in the way.

A dining room table was enough to sever a family tie?

“Ah, it is not about the table,” may be a legitimate retort.

I concede it may well not be about a table.

Give me a few moments and I could suggest a variety of possible explanations for the schism a table may conveniently represent.

Family estrangements can be horribly painful but, even sadder, we grow accustomed to them. We live with them. It becomes how life is.

“Something got in the way,” would have been a gross understatement had Joseph chosen victimhood.

May we each do our parts in getting whatever got in the way, out of the way.

Joseph embodied mercy when he had the choice to extract vengeance.

Joseph chose humility, when he indeed could have demanded his brothers bow before him and beg for their lives.

By grace-upon-grace, may we each do the same.

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