Prayers of murderers & prostitutes

“It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying.  Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.”  Bonhoeffer

As I think on this quote, I’m puzzled and concerned.  Vanity is something that has enraptured our culture.  We obsess about clothes, cars, technology and accessories.  Anything that makes us stand out and be noticed.

I think about people who paint their bodies with tattoos.  Is there a deeper meaning to this art, or a silent cry, “Notice me, pay attention to me, I’m not worthless!”  Are piercings an expression of individuality when so many are following the growing crowd?

But often, those who the culture looks down upon are the same ones that pray the most.  Some may visit church regularly, or not at all.  Some may not even be particularly religious.  Yet, they pray to God.  Maybe they see him as the man upstairs, or Charlton Heston, or Morgan Freedman.  Maybe they see God as a woman, or the universe itself.  But they pray.

Something spurs them to pray to the one they cannot see, cannot hear, cannot touch.  Some may call this insanity.  Others say they’re hedging their bets, just in case there is a God out there.  Still, the murderer prays.  The prostitute too.  Even the homeless man says his prayers before he goes to bed.

They don’t have the luxury of vanity.  They are not fabulously dress, influential, wealthy, powerful.  The world walks by, as they live in the shadows, ignored, unloved.  But they pray.

If the murderer & prostitute prays to God, why don’t we?  With all of our wealth, beauty, and intelligence, we are not much different that them.  We hide our insecurities with witty conversations, lavish vacations, and lusty rendezvous.  And when we are alone, ignored by those who are supposed to praise us, will we pray too?

Time to hit the reset button?

As I watched this video, I have to admit I was not comfortable.

He could have written this rap for me.  How often have seen my family sitting on the couches, texting, surfing, anything but interacting.

And I’m guilty of it too.  Sure, my excuse is, “I’m researching…”, but it’s just that.  In an age where we can drink from the fire hydrant called the internet, we are losing the art of having a one on one conversation.

What do you do that helps you have real conversations?

Do you want to grow?

“When we go to the gym, we know that soreness & pain are part of growing. The troubles of life are part of our spiritual growth, if we are willing to get better & not bitter.”

As someone who is no longer in his 20s, I’m painfully aware that by body is not in the best of shape.  I wasn’t an athlete in high school, but I was thin, and in decent shape.  I used to be able to eat insane amounts of food and not gain weight, but now I struggle to pass the Twinkie boxes as they call out, “Just one bite, no one will ever know.”

So now, I’ve come to realize that no one is going to lose weight or get fit for me; if I want to be healthy, that’s my responsibility.  I have only myself to thank if I succeed, and only myself to blame if I fail.  Begrudgingly, I walk to the gym, even though I know from experience that I will feel better after the workout than when I started.

Taking care of our bodies is important, because we we’re only issued one, and replacement parts are hard to come by.  Now I’m not blind to the fact that one day this body will ultimately shut down; I just want to be able to be enjoy the beauty of life with as few obstacles as possible.

Too often, in the pursuit of excitement & pleasure, we punish our bodies with activities and substances that leave latent scars.  They are not noticeable at first, but the accumulation of damage will eventually reach its tipping point, and surface as a health crisis.  Think diabetes, cancer, heart attack, stroke, infections, you name it.  So what do we do, continue to sing “Turn down for what?” as we claw years off of our lives, or make a choice to live differently?

Taking care of your body is a good thing.  Of equal, if not greater importance, is our souls.  That non-material part of us that is made up of our mind, will and emotions.  The part of us that interacts with others, that dreams, that wakes up our sleepy bodies, and that reflects on the day’s events.  The part of us what will continue when our body breathes it’s last, and goes cold.

It’s easy to obsess over the physical side of us, and forget the spiritual side.  We may indulge in activity that exhilarating, but not consider what will happen when high fades.  Are we left with emotional scar, because the relationship we thought was growing is now discarded?  Are we in unhealthly relationships, where manipulation & abuse are the norm and shred our dignity?  Are we putting up with behavior that we find repulsive, annoying, or offensive, all in the name of “tolerance & getting along?”

As we take care of our bodies, we need to care for our souls.  This is precious cargo, and avoiding destructive scars is more productive than the long process of healing.  But just like our bodies stay strong through good eating and being active, our souls also need healthy interactions to grow and get stronger.

Relationships are the gym of our souls, and there are numerous opportunities to engage our souls in meaningful exercise.  Some relationships are like a great workout, and leave us charged up and exhilarated.  Think of a time when you had a barbeque with your friends, or a pool day, or a camping trip.  You had a great time, made some good memories, and there were (hopefully) no regrets in the morning.

Some relationships are like cigarettes, which promise much and take more than they give over time. Think of blind dates gone wrong, or that person you met who texts you incessantly.

Some relationships are like meth; debilitating, addictive, and leaving you with a host of consequences you never bargained for.  This is the dream, whose abuse and erratic behavior is turning your life into a nightmare.

Growth comes from conquering difficulties, and avoiding dangers.

Do you want to grow?  What are you doing to grow?

What’s your excuse?

As I type, I can think of so many reasons why I shouldn’t.

“It’s getting late”

“I need to get some sleep”

“There are so many other blogs out there.  Why would anyone want to read mine?”

They all seem to make sense.  Each one has just enough truth to make me want to stop.  But that’s the point of these thoughts.  To get me to stop.

So, why would I be my own saboteur?  Why short-circuit my own efforts?

Some would say that these thoughts are not my own, and I find some truth to this.  It doesn’t make any sense for someone to be their own worst enemy.  It would seem reasonable that negative thoughts would not have to come from ourselves, our past, or our interactions with others in every case.

Now I’m not saying that all negative thoughts come from without our minds.  Plenty of critical, hurtful, nasty words are hurled at us throughout our lives, by people who themselves have been hurt.  But when there is no good reason to explain why you are engaging in a pity party or a downward spiral of self-loathing, one has to ask where are those thoughts originating from, and if there is a person, a being, generating these thoughts.

A related question is this; where did the first negative thought come from?  If we had no prior reference of negative and positive, how do we now know the difference?  And for that matter, what do we measure thoughts against to determine which are good and which are bad?

But at the end of the day, we must deal with these negative thoughts.  Because if we don’t, we will be like the kid who’s always shying away from the bully.  Bullies get their power from our fears, and negative thoughts are the bullies of our minds.

Negative thoughts are like a cancer.  They grow and multiply, crowding out positive and healthy thoughts until they overcome their host.  To fight a cancer, one must use a combined strategy of offense and defense.

The offensive strategy is to foster relationships that affirm you and your worth as a living, thinking, feeling being.  This can come from family, friends, loved one, and the divine.  What has surprised me is that the best relationships are often few in numbers.  Deep relationships take time, and most people can only go deep with a small number of people.

The defensive strategy is to limit or eliminate relationships that diminish you and your worth.  Sadly, family, loved ones, pseudo-friend, as well as acquaintances, co-workers, and strangers can all bring negative baggage with them.  Shallow relationship can often foster the greatest negativity, because there is little cost to establishing or breaking them, and there is little to lose by hurting others.

So when you have a negative thought, ask yourself; why is this thought in my mind?  What value is this thought adding to my life?  Will this though make me wiser, wealthier, more compassionate?  If the answers are none and no, then the next step is to expel the though.

You make simply need to focus on the positive alternative to the thought.  Other times, you may need to examine the thought to determine it’s source, which may be other negative thoughts.

Either way, removing the negative requires uprooting and replacing.  Removing is not enough, because vacuums will be filled eventually.  Fill your thinking with thoughts that are beautiful, not ugly; loving, not hateful; generous, not selfish; joyful, not depressing.  Then let your positive thoughts fuel your emotions, and those emotions fuel your actions.

How do you deal with negative thoughts?  How do you fill your mind with joyful thoughts?  What tips can you offer me and others?

Let’s play a new game

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“Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections”

I have to say I’m a fan of John Legend’s All of Me.

I’m a closet romantic.  I don’t plan lavish weekends away, don’t cook candlelight dinners, the best my wife gets is me begrudgingly watching a chick flick with her.  At least that’s the way I see it.

“My head’s under water
But I’m breathing fine
You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind”

She tells people I’m getting better, which I guess is a compliment.  After 20+ years of marriage, I would hope I’ve made some progress.  But that’s not to say it was easy.

“Cards on the table, we’re both showing hearts
Risking it all, though it’s hard”

Whenever two people decide to engage in a relationships, it can take one of two paths.  Either the people are focused on what they can get or what they can give.  Their choices will impact not only the strength, but the duration of the relationship.

“What would I do without your smart mouth?
Drawing me in, and you kicking me out
You’ve got my head spinning, no kidding, I can’t pin you down”

If both are focused primarily on what they can get, the relationship is doomed.  It’s like finding out your partner is a vampire, and not the Edward kind.  One of you will die (emotionally, at least); the only question is who & when.

If one of you is focused on giving, and the other is focused on getting, this relationship is also doomed, but will last longer & be more painful for the giver.  This is because the giver will try to win the taker over with their gifts (cleaning up, giving in, taking abuse) in order to sustain the relationship.  This will feed the insatiable appetite of the taker, because they will have a willing pawn.  The taker will use guilt, manipulation, and many other tricks to keep a good thing going (for them at least).

“Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you”

But there is a better way.  You can almost make it into a game.  The rules are simple.

1)  Out-give your mate.  Do things for the other person that you know they will appreciate.

2)  Active participation is a requirement.  Being passive means you lose.

“You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
‘Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you”

If I’ve learned anything in watching relationships, mine as well as those around me, it when two givers are in a relationship, it’s a beautiful thing.  You can see something in the way they talk, the way they interact, a joy and happiness that is not forced.  They genuinely enjoy being together, doing together, living life together.

And the rest of us stare in awe, because that is what we want so desperately.  Some of us are on the path, getting better at giving.  Others walk away in despair, because they fear that their relationship will never get on the right track.

The good news is we are all capable of change.  Some takers are simply former givers who were hurt by another taker.  Others just never saw a good example of a giving relationship.

Givers have a source of love that is independent of the relationship, which fuels their love & giving.  Through family, friends, and a connection with Love itself, they have continuous supply of love flowing through their lives.

So what about you?  Are you a giver or a taker?  What is your partner? 

If your relationship is not one of mutual giving, are you willing to have the conversations necessary to begin a change?

What is the greatest love of all?

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I recently hosted a pool party for some friends.  It may seem a bit strange, considering my introvert tendencies, but I also like settings where lots of people are enjoying themselves. 

Laughter is infectious, and I have a great time when I’m with people who are just having fun.  We had no agenda, other than to spend time together having fun.

Most of us played in the pool, like little kids.  This was fun, just for the fact that our group spanned from teens to grandparents, with college students and newlyweds sprinkled in.

I found a pool table, and started playing with one of my friends.  A pair of grad students from India asked if they could join, and we played teams with them.  One of the students had only been in America for 4 days.  We hope to connect with them soon and show them around town.

The after-party moved to our apartment.  Though not huge, we squeezed about 15 people in there.  We played games and eventually fired up the karaoke machine.

Then it happened.  Someone picked “The Greatest Love of all” by Whitney Houston, and wanted me to sing a duet with them.  I obliged, but inwardly I felt conflicted.

Whitney died tragically of a drug overdose, so the love of self didn’t seem to help her in the end.  Then I started to think about Robin Williams, who recently committed suicide after losing the battle to depression.  He was an amazing actor, making people laugh all over the globe, yet his love of others was insufficient to keep on living.

We hear conflicting views on what the secret of ultimate fulfillment are.  Some say love yourself above all else.  But we see examples in Hollywood and everyday life of people who become bitter and angry, because their self love has no patience for those who don’t worship them or meet their every fleeting desires.

Others will say love others, and stop being so selfish.  But outward love unchecked can lead to despair and burnout, as the needs are greater than any one individual’s capacity to help.  These become bitter because they feel others should be sacrificing as much as they are, and anyone who doesn’t is self absorbed.

So what is the right response?  Is self love the right response, or is loving others?  Is there a balance between the two, or is something else needed?