Archive for ‘Responsive people’

March 28, 2023

Two stoops or more…..

by Rod Smith

“Writing in the sand” is a strong metaphor for me.

My usage is in reference to a New Testament moment. 

When confronted by men who desire to trap him, Jesus twice stoops to draw or to write in the sand. 

Theologians have postulated much on what it was he wrote or drew.

I believe he was “steel-ing” himself. He was readying himself for a strong, suitable reply to what may have appeared to bystanders to be an impossible dilemma. Jesus was thinking, mulling things over, reminding himself of his calling and the power that was his and and was not his. 

He was doing what you and I are called to do when faced with dilemmas, complex or  easy. 

When we take time to write or draw in the sand we give ourselves the time we need to consider many options when we make decisions. 

Taking the time offers time for increased perspectives. 

He was no loose cannon and we know how damaging they can be. 

I have been writing or drawing in the sand for months, designing and planning suitable responses to tough situations. 

It has taken me far more than two stoops and I know I will make many more. 

But, I will emerge and act on decisions made while stooping these many times and drawing in the sand.   

March 18, 2023

Something a little longer for Sunday….. 

by Rod Smith

One thing I notice about the parables of Jesus and other favorite New Testament events, even Jesus one-liners, is that just as soon as I think I understand the parable, the event, the one-liner, it does a number on me.

Refuses to be conquered.

Reveals I’m scratching the surface in understanding, let alone application.

I know this to be true as I study Jesus’ desert trials, His relationship with Peter, betrayals, the terrors of Gethsemane, The Transfiguration, The Woman caught in adultery, “love your enemies,” to name a few. 

For 10 years (at least) these events in Jesus’ life and many of His sayings have refused to let me go and keep offering me more and more opportunities for understanding and for application.

Who really knows what Jesus meant when he said “a seed must die to bear fruit” (John 12:24) and I am not talking botany?

Every believer worth his or her salt has a go at “unpacking” (my least favorite verb I hear in Christendom) this but I think most attempts at interpretation fail to grasp the larger application of the metaphor, let alone how the “death” occurs and how it applies to you and to me.

 Let me know if you think you know. 

Parables, if we are willing to resist the thought that we already know all there is to know about any one of them, will unfold meaning for years and go deeper and deeper into the willing heart with revelation.

Thinking I know becomes a blockage. My blockage. Time after time reading them I go back to what I already know, which keeps new understanding waiting in the wings for an opportunity to get a moment on stage.

Another thing I find blocks my learning is when I become an insight addict and seek insight and more insight into Scripture but resist or refuse to put the insights into the daily-life action.

Insight, without accompanying action, is not only useless, it blocks further revelation. Then, if I get any insight, refusing to act on what I see becomes a ditch into which my insight tumbles and I become another of millions upon millions of Christains who are incredibly insightful who are very willing to talk, often endlessly, about what they see in whatever be the Biblical topic. And that’s about it.

My gosh, have I met some insightful and loquacious Christians?

Certainty, too, seals shut possibilities of growth and learning. 

It stops discovery. Certainty block’s revelation. 

I find embracing ambiguity and possibility for behavior change opens the floodgates to new understanding and new ways to be in the world.

Understanding Scripture requires change. Transformation. Understanding Scripture will demand it be more than an academic exercise and will seek to influence who and how we are as men and women in our various roles in our various communities and within our families.   

I have read the “Prodigal Son” many many times and have often thought I have a reasonable take on Jesus’ point. My perspectives change if I read it as if I am the Older Brother when my default has always been to read it as the younger, returning son, the “good” guy. When reading the parable from the Older Brother’s point of view I have no problem understanding why he has an issue with the upstart’s return and why he avoids the party. If I read it from the perspective of the Father it doesn’t take long before I am reduced to tears. I think I know that kind of love, at least as much as I am able. My sons have been trying to teach me about it since they entered the world and broke into my heart.

Shifting my point of view when I read “The Good Samaritan” also allows for new insights. I start from the perspective of the “questioning” lawyer. Then I move on through Jesus’ list of characters and end up reading it as the victim who receives assistance from the Samaritan.

When I read it as The Samaritan, I am reduced to tears.

In contrast to the “trained” and the professionals, the ones who should know, the rejected one is the loving one, the one who was never considered a neighbor, the “other,” is the one who goes the extra mile and loves his enemy and models neighborliness.

Have a fabulous Sunday.

March 11, 2023

Are real conversations a dying art?

by Rod Smith

Screen-obsession may be rendering face-to-face conversations a dying art. 

You may have noticed some people can look deeply into a screen for hours but are uncomfortable, even unsettled, rattled really, with the briefest of human eye-contact. 

I acknowledge this idea will not fly in some cultures and contexts and none of which I’ll name.

Adapt the words (adjust, make the idea sound like your own) that follow to avoid sounding ridiculous and contrived, but use the broad ideas in face-to-face conversations.

Be gentle, you may be met with delight or horror!

“I am interested in how you arrived here (this job, predicament, fabulous place). Tell me as much as you’d like me to know.” 

“I will give you an hour (ten minutes, two hours, choose your amount of time) of uninterrupted time to tell me as much or as little about anything you choose. I will listen with both ears, both eyes, and all my heart and offer zero advice or judgment.”

“I’d love to hear about what you want from your life and about your plans to achieve what you want with your life.”

“What are the three or four greatest challenges you’ve ever faced? I’m interested in learning. Tell me as much or as little as you’d like me to know.”

[web only- not for Merc]

Some time ago – my sons. Pure delight.
March 2, 2023

The gift of Fridays

by Rod Smith

I like to think of every Friday as a good one, no matter how trying a week may have been. Fridays announce the fire-break, declare the rest-stop, the opportunity for the breather that’s just around the corner. 

Fridays are for letting things go, the cumulative stresses of all that’s come at me from Monday. I hope it’ll be the same for you.

Fridays are for a few handwritten notes in the mail, notes of affirmation and thanks, not necessarily for what’s occurred in the past few days but an expression of thanks to those who’ve got me to this point. Consider joining me, it’s amazing how good it feels to write without a screen. 

Fridays are for re-envisioning the shape of the future, not only next week and six months ahead, but my role is in creating a great tomorrow for my children’s children’s children. We really do, like it or not, for good and for ill and everything in between, invest in the future.

Fridays are plan-my-weekend reading opportunities and so I rather informally gather the books and articles I’m hoping to start or finish.  I confess, this is an ongoing challenge but remains refreshing because it is unfinished. 

Fridays are for scheduling one-on-one phone-free, screen-free time over the weekend with our most intimate circle of family and friends.

I recommend this fabulous book to you….
September 24, 2019

Have you noticed?

by Rod Smith

• You can “know” some people for years and never have a sense you have really met. They are guarded. There seems to be no gateway, no pass code, to get beyond common pleasantries.

• You can “know” some people for hours and have a sense you have known them forever. They appear open, transparent; common pleasantries are merely a welcome mat to intimate conversations.

• You meet some people and you have the impression that if you give an inch they will take a mile. There appears to be such a hunger for acceptance, for connection, that the slightest indications of welcome will lead to more than you want to handle.

• You meet some people and they have a well-developed shtick, a practiced, often aged routine that everybody gets when they meet someone for the first time. You get the sense that you are just another audience and it’s “here we go again.”

I’d suggest that in the absence of other symptoms you have met “normal.” You have met a cross section of people who can teach you to love and to accept and to understand yourself in new ways.

Listen, learn, take charge of yourself, choose to disclose, choose to remain silent.

You are always in charge of you, no matter how others relate to you.

This is part of what it means to have secure and healthy boundaries.

September 12, 2019

Is it love?

by Rod Smith

When asked to officiate a marriage I ask couples to assess their shared experience and to use these points for discussion:

  • You find it easy, or it seems natural, to include many of your long-lasting friendships in your shared activities and find no feelings of control, jealously, or possessiveness within you.
  • You are each more yourself than ever; there are no eggshells to tiptoe around, no topics to avoid, no lies to continually conceal, no facades to perpetuate.
  • You maintain a distinct life of your own while simultaneously becoming closer to each other.
  • You enjoy working through issues that arise, even if the journey is painful, because the process brings you closer to each other and you have the sense of accomplishing something that is important for the future.
  • You enjoy sharing hard earned resources with each other without the thought that you are giving up something or wasting anything.
  • You have talks about faith, finances, career options, and have discussed the hurdles and complexities that accompany such matters.
  • You have fun together and are not preoccupied with the state of your relationship.
  • You speak highly and respectfully about each other always and to all – no exceptions; and you readily affirm each other both privately and in public.
  • You have met each other’s immediate and extended family and are both doing what.you can to embrace and understand how they view life and live life.
  • You’re getting used to each other and life feels better as you think about a future together.
  • You can hardly wait for each new day so that you may embrace the possibilities each new day offers.
  • You are committed to seeking each other’s highest good, no matter what.
July 15, 2018

Teaching personal responsibility

by Rod Smith

It’s never too early to model and teach children about personal responsibility. There are people of all ages who persistently refuse to assume it for their lives, treating it as some heretical or selfish notion:

  • It is not selfish, unkind, or “unchristian” to expect people of all ages to be responsible for themselves. Of course there are exceptions like the ill and elderly.
  • It is usually unkind and selfish and “unchristian” to expect others to bail us out of the consequences of our own irresponsible behavior.
  • Teaching personal responsibility is more modeled than it is taught, but it must also be taught and talked about.
  • The sooner a person assumes full responsibility for his or her life the better. The evolving plan, beginning at birth, will hopefully have children fully prepared to be responsible for their lives by age 15 or 16.
  • If we rescue and enable others (especially those whom we love) we deny them the joy of taking responsibility for their lives and endorse a message that they can’t get on without us.
  • Rescuing, saving, running interference for a sibling, parent, child teaches that person a way of life and sets the rescuer up for a lifetime of rescuing. Avoid behaviors you are unwilling to perpetuate.
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.

December 26, 2017

The doldrums are for planning…

by Rod Smith

I call these few days between Christmas and New Year the doldrums. They’re a breather: a time to drift between calendar high points. I get nostalgic. I experience strong elements of necessary regret as I wait for the promise of the new calendar year to kick in.

I am always reminded:

  • Integrity, honesty, kindness, forgiveness, and reconciliation – all captured by the word holiness, is local. By “local” I mean immediate and with the people with whom I share every day life.
  • If it (idea, principle, program) doesn’t work right here, now and with this family member, neighbor, colleague, it’s worthless.
  • All worthwhile positive change is first internal – the outward follows the inward. It may be convenient to switch this – thinking the inward follows the outward – but doing so is a waste of time.
  • It is possible for people to regard each other with deep, authentic respect but it is impossible without commitment to profound listening. All love begins and is demonstrated with listening and listening takes commitment and time.
  • Things are not fair or reasonable or kind while one party is gaining or advancing at the expense of another.

Please, let me know the things you think about as you prepare for your year ahead. I know we can learn from each other – it just takes a commitment to listening.

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.