A Vacation Reset

Sharon, the kids (adult kids) and I just returned from a weeklong vacation in northern California, Santa Rosa and San Francisco to be specific. We spent time connecting and reconnecting with various branches of our extended family and seeing the sights. It was a relaxing and restful time. Now that we’re home, I’m reflecting on my experience, and here are some of my takeaways.

I worry too much. The trip took my attention away from all of my usual responsibilities. No thinking about home or work issues, just staying “in the now” as they say. I enjoyed visiting people and places, and he most critical daily issue usually was “what are we doing for lunch?” Life got simple and immediate. It was nice. How can I bring this simplicity and immediacy back home with me? I’m resolving to be more attuned to the present and spend less mental energy on the future.

My family is worth my time. Not just my immediate family but also the extended family. People are relational creatures,designed to be in community with one another, and that starts with our families. If all we do is “see the family” that alone is worth the trip. Seeing the sights is not as important as seeing the people. I’ve got to remember that.

Disconnecting from the media is a good idea. While gone, I didn’t read the morning newspapers and didn’t miss them. I didn’t watch the news, and I didn’t engage in much social media. Although, we remained aware of breaking news and current events through the internet, we didn’t put much energy into analysis or discussion of the latest “crisis.” That was refreshing.

I was still thinking about our media-driven, feverish culture on the way home. During a three-hour layover in DFW, watching many hundreds of people (of all shapes, sizes and colors) go by, I got to thinking about them. About how each one of them, like me, had a life to live, and perhaps a family to care for. And about how each of them needed to think about getting home, eating lunch, and also the larger issues in their lives. And finally, about how little that most of the “crisis news” has to do with that.

The well-lived life is mostly an internal affair. I need to keep working on myself. And, with God’s help, I shall.

Pete

 

More Compassion, Less Piling On

compassionnoun
sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Sharon was out of town last weekend, and I thought I’d relax and watch a late night movie. Perusing our small DVD collection I ran across MASH, a film I’ve preciously enjoyed, and thought “that’ll do.” Sometimes it’s nice to just go mindless for a while with a movie that I know already. So I hit the play button and settled in for the evening.

Twenty minutes later I was unsettled. The film wasn’t sitting well with me. The lead characters are arrogant and mean, and their meanness bothered me. I’ve seen MASH before, many times, but this time was different. I was uncomfortable trying to enjoy it. It didn’t seem like something that I should enjoy. Eventually I hit eject and went to bed.

Although this seems to mark some sort of internal shift for me, I have been thinking about meanness versus compassion for the last few months. My social media feeds have way too many mean spirited posts and comments about people suffering the consequences of drug addiction, criminal behavior, or just plain bad judgment. Some comments are shocking in their nastiness. Do the posters truly think that the foolish young man deserved to die (probably after torture) at the hands of North Korean officials? God help them.

In healthcare, and in life, we all see a lot of undeserved suffering. Disease and misfortune befall people for no reason other than “bad luck.” Knowing that we too are vulnerable, we can be moved to compassion. But just as often, or maybe more, people create their own mess. Smokers get lung cancer. The texting driver crashes and dies. Shall we be indifferent to their suffering, or even cruel, piling on with hurtful commentary? Apparently a lot of people believe we should.

I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. We are to be compassionate, and we should be able to see that “there, but for the grace of God go I.” That doesn’t mean endorsing bad or foolish behavior. Some things are simply wrong. Nor are we compelled to fix everything (even if we could) for those suffering harsh consequences of their behavior.  But we can be compassionate.

I don’t know if  anyone can summon compassion in every circumstance; some behavior is truly heinous, but ending the piling on in social media seems like a good place to start. God help all of us.

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“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” – Jesus, (Matthew 7:12 NLT)

Why is Loud “Background Music” Everywhere?

music, noun – vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion

noise, noun –
a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.

Seriously, what ever happened to quiet and calming spaces? I find myself being assaulted by blaring music in almost every public place. Restaurants, retail stores, parking lots, even at the gas pump, or in church before the service. At sporting events, I take earplugs – not for the actual sounds of the game, voice of the announcer or cheers of the fans – but rather for the loud music played during any small breaks in the action. Why is this happening? Who thinks this is a good idea? What is their rationale?

My belief is that most “background music” is simply noise; noise that isn’t healthy. This high volume surround sound prevents conversation and relaxation, keeping us all shouting and agitated. You shouldn’t be hoarse after dining out with friends. Being continually amped up simply isn’t good for us. It’s another form of stress.

It occurred to me that this is all very recent in human history. Sound recording only began in the late 1800’s and widespread amplification is a child of the 60’s or 70’s. Before that, one either played acoustic music oneself, or one attended a live performance specifically in order to enjoy the music. Other than that, there was no music. It was a special treat, for people’s enjoyment. Can we get back to that?

This seems to me to be typical of human progress. Our breakthrough technologies begin as blessings yet somehow morph into curses (or at least mixed blessings). And we know that with “progress” there is no going back.

For myself, I’m playing defense. As mentioned, I take earplugs to sporting events. If I walk into a store with very loud music, I walk right out again. In restaurants with music volume sufficient to inhibit conversation, I’ll typically ask my server if it can be turned down a bit. I’ll bet I do this at least seven or eight times a year. Perhaps surprisingly, I have never had any say no, and often the volume goes down considerably. (Maybe they don’t like it either.)

What do you think?

Pete

Finding the Essence of Things

My wife and I are recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Arizona. It started as a business trip to which we tacked on a week’s rest in Phoenix and Sedona, and it turned out great. We’d never been to Sedona, a strange and spectacular place to Florida folk; it was enjoyable seeing a very different landscape and learning more about the desert. Our schedule was pretty unstructured, and I appreciated being “off the clock.”

Moving from place to place, we experienced a variety of accommodations from a high-end resort to a much more basic hotel. Our meals spanned the spectrum as well. The most elegant was a 4-course Valentine’s Day dinner at an exclusive resort. The simplest was fruit and cheese in front of the television. In between was a home-cooked dinner with family and restaurant meals of course.

Now I’m back to work and we’re both back to our usual routines, but I feel rejuvenated and I’ve been thinking about what made the trip so great. It wasn’t the fancy hotel of the fancy meals, it was much more basic than that. I think the key elements were:
– getting away from my usual responsibilities,
– maintaining a relaxed, no-pressure attitude,
– experiencing a new place, and learning about it, and
– sharing time with my wife and family.
These are the things I should think about when planning our next getaway.

Too often I think we Americans miss the essence of things. We get focused on the sizzle more than the steak. Our culture relentlessly pushes us to covet the most exclusive experiences and the finest things. Selling and upselling drives the national economy, but it comes at a cost. Too many people live beyond their means, under constant pressure to keep up with the Joneses and keep up appearances. Consuming is not the essence of life.

I’m resolved to focus more on identifying the essence in all of my activities. What are the essential elements of my work, my hobbies, my home, and my relationships? They deserve more of my attention. The superficialities deserve less. I’m looking forward to seeing where that leads.

How about you?

Take care,

Pete

Pruning Facebook

I find controlling media exposure is important to my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Honestly, the media companies are not our friends. Their basic business model depends on selling advertising (and increasingly data on our media habits). Our attention drives their revenue streams, and nothing grabs people’s attention like exciting their emotions. Knowing that, we can begin to protect ourselves. At our house, we’ve lived without television service for over 15 years now, and cutting the cable has proved to be a very healthy decision.

But Facebook isn’t TV. Facebook isn’t controlled by media moguls trying to control me. No Facebook is my friends, my buddies, and my relatives. I like these guys and gals; they’re my “peeps.” But just even my peeps sometimes post things I find annoying or painful. Even friends can get into arguments and, as Americans are discovering, social media isn’t a good place to have nuanced discussions of important or highly charged issues.

Also, Facebook can be somewhat addicting. It sucks me in. I find myself checking it frequently, too frequently, during the day. That little red number calls out to me – Pete, I have things here just for you! It’s hard to resist. Yet, I do enjoy being in my Facebook community – seeing Jim enjoying his grandson, chatting with Becky about her new dogs, and keeping up with the relatives in Massachusetts. It’s nice. I want to keep my friends as friends.

So I’m taking some steps to control Facebook before it controls me. As you know, I like to garden and the image of pruning comes to mind. Uncontrolled growth of otherwise lovely shrubs can produce an unsightly tangled mess. Ignoring trees increases the potential for damage from large limbs dropping in the next big thunderstorm. Sensible pruning restores the beauty and eliminate the danger.

Here’s what I’m doing:

  1. No news/pundits needed

    Unfollowing all news media sites – I don’t need to get the news on Facebook. That’s not why I’m there. Goodbye to the local newspaper and TV channels.

  2. Unfollowing all political sites, pundits – Following politics seemed fun in 2015 when the presidential campaigns were just getting started, but it’s become more and more bitter and divisive. Once again, that’s not why I’m there.
  3. Curating my news feed – The good (and also disturbing) thing about Facebook is that it does learn your habits, and you can train it. Now when one of my friends posts something I find objectionable (mostly politics), I just hide it. With time, I should see less of that stuff from them while keeping the connection.

    a helpful menu 

  4.  Turning off notifications – I’ll go to Facebook when I want to, not because it’s calling out to me with sounds or the little red number. The content is still there. It can wait a bit.
  5. Moving the app off of my home screen – Like turning off the notifications, this helps avoid temptation. Facebook is distracting. I like it but I don’t want it distracting me. Out of sight, out of mind.  Having to swipe to get to the next screen is an easy way to have it at hand but not in constant sight.

I’ve only been at it for four days now, but so far so good. I can notice a difference already, and it feels good to have a plan and take action.

How about you? Do you find Facebook a blessing or a curse? How are you managing your use of Facebook and your emotional and spiritual health? If you’re like me, perhaps some pruning is indicated.

Be well,

Pete

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PS – More on pruning – At church we’re reading through the Gospel of John in some depth and Jesus words on pruning (below) suggest that we also need to be shaped, discarding unhelpful thoughts and activities. As I remain in Jesus longer, I increasingly appreciate his pruning of me.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 – Jesus (John 15:1-8 NIV)

Blogging for Peace and Harmony

I’m concerned about America. You probably are too. Trump’s President, and the country’s in a fighting mood. It seems half of us are happy while the other half are outraged, and the tenor of our national conversation (if you can call it that) is going from bad to worse. We’ve entered a “cycle of anger and outrage” similar to the “cycle of violence” described in the Middle East.  There has even been some violence.  Not much by world standards, but it’s definitely worrying.

It’s also wearying. I’m tired of being anxious or outraged or both, and I’ve been thinking about what I can do to break free of the nastiness. Disconnecting is one option, but that’s not my personality. More importantly, I don’t think God wants me to just punch out. First of all, the situation isn’t that extreme. Second, God chose to give me life here and now and he knows what he’s about.

In general, God expects us to be helpful to our fellow man. How am I capable of helping? What can I do to defuse stress and create a healing? I’m not very important. No one from Washington is going to call me to ask my advice on anything – not even on healthcare, about which I know a lot. How much less can I calm the popular culture?

One thing I can do is write. Another is reason. I enjoy thinking through situations and issues, coming to conclusions and expressing them on paper. God has gifted me here, and perhaps my thoughts can help people. Helpful thoughts don’t always have to be big ideas. Small insights together with a little encouragement can make big differences. They have in my life.

So I’ve decided to start blogging again. No schedule, no particular agenda except to honor God with my talents and try to be helpful. Ideally I’d like to foster peace and harmony. Not for the world, but rather for you and me. How can we be at peace despite the craziness that surrounds us? It is possible.

Are you also stressed over events? Consider asking yourself the question, “How can I help?” When the answer comes, get started.

It works. I’m only 400 words into the revived blog and I feel better already!

Thanks for reading,

Pete