Darkness and Light

“Understanding death and life is not really so difficult. It is like darkness and light. Darkness is not the opposite of light; it is the absence of light. The way to be in the light is not by trying hard not to be in the dark. It is by coming into or turning on a light. Death is not the opposite of life; it is the absence of life. The way to have life is not by trying hard not to be dead. It is by coming to what can give life.” (Good News for the Chemically Dependent and Those Who Love Them by Jeff VanVonderen).

This quote got me thinking about how I often try to be less spiritually dark by trying harder to be good. When I don’t measure up, I feel like a total screwball and think that there is no way God could love me the way I am. So, I try harder to clean up my life and do my best to hide how messed up I am from my friends and family. I think that they would never accept me if they really knew me.

The truth is that the way to light is by turning on the light, not by trying harder to be less dark. So when I screw up… in fear and trembling… I tell my godly brothers about my screwed-up-ness. Inevitably, they say, “Hey me too!” We are all in this together. The truth is, that is why we need God.

It is only by taking off our masks and admitting that we are screwballs that we can come to the realization that we are in need of a savior. Yes, I am a screwball who is “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:14-21). I already have the light… in me. As I peel back the layers of Jim-ness that get in the way of God’s light, He shines through brightly. And in an ironic way, as I get out of the way, he uses me in my own Jimazing way to shine His light.

Go figure.

High School Reunion

Last weekend was my 30th High School Reunion and I don’t get it. None of my classmates showed up. Instead, they all sent their parents in their place!

Seriously it was a great time. It seemed to me that everyone was more relaxed than at previous reunions. Maybe we have finally gotten to a place in life where we are going to just be ourselves no matter what people think. Or maybe we just don’t really remember one another and we pretend that we do. Or maybe it was just me who doesn’t care any more and can’t remember anyone.

That’s not true though. While there were a few that I honestly don’t remember at all, there were a few who I would have recognized anywhere. In the middle of a conversation, I noticed Doug walk by and made a mental note to be sure to say hello to him.

As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I walked up to Doug, looked him in the eye and said with confidence, “I don’t remember a lot of people here, but I sure remember you.” Without looking at his nametag, I asked, “How are you, Mike?”

I thought he would burst with laughter as he pointed to his nametag and said, “I am Doug. Mike is my brother.”

I know my face was red, but it was way too funny for me to be embarrassed for long.

It was interesting to notice my feelings around my old friends. Thirty years ago, when we were together all the time, we were teenagers with all the hormones and emotional overload that goes with it. Talk about intense feelings! When I felt my stomach do the little flip thing, I asked myself what it was all about and realized that I was reliving some of those old feelings both good and bad. When I realized it, I gave the feelings a 48-year-old kick in the pants. No one knows what I’m feeling. No one can see inside me. And I am not the same person I was 30 years ago… and neither are they.

We have some special memories that only we can share and friendships that will remain for our whole lives. I am blessed!

Fathers Day Thoughts

Today is Fathers Day in the United States. I am proud to be the father of four wonderful young ladies. It feels good to be the dad. There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with being the dad, but there’s a whole dimension to life that I would miss, were it not for my daughters.I share something different with each of them and so we all connect on different levels. The cool thing is that we all connect, and that makes life sweet for me. We have been through good times and bad, and I am sure that there are good times and hard times to come. I aim to make the best of all of them. To squeeze every drop of goodness each moment has to offer.

My girls have taken me to the hard fundamental “why” questions that I never gave myself permission to ask. When I was a child, I didn’t ask those kind of questions because I needed to be accepted, to fit in. Whatever it took to “fit in the box”. When I became an adult, I stayed in my comfort zone; busy with learning how to make a living, and I still didn’t ask “those questions”. It was enough to assimilate to the group’s beliefs.

One by one, my ladies entered teenagerhood and pushed back hard on my box of beliefs. They were asking me the hard questions like: What do we believe? Why do we believe that? How do we know we are right? How can a loving God…? Oh boy! I was suddenly faced with the questions that I had ignored and pushed down deep inside me, except it wasn’t just about me anymore. It was the ones I love more than life itself. My love was bigger than my discomfort and I started searching for answers for them… encouraging them to ask the questions… and allowing my long-held beliefs to be put to the test. Some of my beliefs have come through unscathed, some have been discarded as somewhat less than true, others as lies. The jury is still out on the lion’s share of them. For every answer I get, there are usually three or more new questions that come with it… but I keep asking. And the asking is rich even when I don’t get the answers. It’s ok to be honest about that.

No one knows you like family. And it is not a given that you will be loved in spite of yourself… and yet that is where I find myself; loved in spite of my shortcomings. Thank you for pushing me. Thank you for loving me in spite of me. Thank you for hugging me and telling me that I am a good dad. I need that. (That feels very vulnerable to write. Will I have the courage to post it on the web?). Thank you for showing me that I don’t have to have all the answers in order to be a good dad.

I am a blessed and thankful man today because I am so proud to be your dad. Happy Fathers Day to me!

Free Stuff

I gotta tell you, I like free stuff. I am using several free software programs that are quite useful and I’d like to share them with you. Hope you find something useful… If you have some you would like to add, leave a comment. Here goes…Audacity is a very cool audio file editor. You can use it to edit wav files, mp3 files, probably more types too, but that’s all I’ve done with it. I now have a way to “rip” my old LP albums to wav files on the computer, then I can create mp3’s or burn them to CD. When I copy the music onto my hard drive it’s a big wav file, so I use audacity to break it into the individual tracks and to edit out some of the really bad pops and clicks. http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

CDex is a program that works well for ripping CD’s or converting audio wav files to mp3. http://cdexos.sourceforge.net

CutePDF is a program you can use to create PDF files. These are the files that open with Adobe Acrobat Reader. http://www.cutepdf.com/

Eraser is a utility that erases your hard drive completely by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns. http://www.heidi.ie/eraser/

FileZilla is for FTP access. If you don’t know what that means, you probably don’t need it. http://filezilla.sourceforge.net

Finale NotePad is a music writing program. The freebee version is pretty rudimentary, but you can fiddle around with it if you don’t do much music writing. http://www.finalemusic.com/

Firefox web browser is way cooler than Internet Explorer. http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/

KeePass is a password program. It’s like a safe that you keep all of your passwords in. It even generates secure passwords. All you have to do is remember the one password to get into your password file, or you are hosed! I used to signup for everything on the web using the same id and password (not a very good idea). Not anymore. Get a copy and give it a try… http://keepass.sourceforge.net/

Lavasoft Adaware finds spyware and adware on your computer and removes it. http://lavasoft.com/ – be sure to look for the word “Free”

Personal Ancestry File (PAF) is a genealogy program that is provided for free by the LDS (Morman church). I do not subscribe to their teachings, but they have a darned good genealogy program and the price is right. You have to give them your name and address in order to download it, but I’ve never been contacted by them. http://www.familysearch.org/

  • Click on “Order Download Products”
  • Then click on “Software Downloads – Free”
  • Choose “Personal Ancestral File 5.2.nn.n …”

Powertoys for Windows XP is a collection of XP addons that Microsoft wrote, but doesn’t bundle with XP, nor do they offer support… which begs the question, what do they support? My favorites are:

  • Image Resizer – Resizes images that you choose from Windows Explorer
  • Open Command Window Here – Opens a “cmd” window from Windows Explorer in the context of the current folder where you choose it.
  • Tweak UI – Let’s you change lots of user settings that are hidden otherwise

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx

The Panorama Factory is a program that allows you to stitch photographs together to make a single panoramic shot. Not bad for free. Wait a minute, I have version 1.6 that was free, but their web site no longer offers it. Looks like the latest version is $70. There are some cool samples that folks have uploaded. Worth the trip to the web site, I think http://www.panoramafactory.com/

WinDirStat is a program that shows you graphically what’s on your disk drives (or media cards). You can quickly see the files that are large, just click on the boxes to see the details. http://windirstat.sourceforge.net/

A mess

I was looking at a photo of my paternal grandparents this morning and wondering who they really were. Oh, I knew them (My grandmother just died last hear), but I didn’t really know them. I don’t think they even knew themselves.

I am full of feelings; joys, fears, doubts, questions. Sometimes I feel like I’m right where God wants me to be and doing just what he has for me… other times, I am paralyzed with fear for no apparent reason.

What

did

they

fear?

After going through the Great Depression, I am sure that having shelter and enough food was a driving fear. Frugal would be a great understatement. What else was there? Did they talk about their feelings to one another? They showed me that they had it all together. Being a child, I believed that. I believed that one day, I too would have it all together. I would know who I am, what I believe and where I am going.

It was a lie.

I don’t have it together and don’t believe they did either. They reduced life to a few simple rules. Follow those rules and you get a get-out-of-hell-free card at the end of your life. I think there is more to life than that. More to following God than that.

Do I sound disrespectful? I don’t mean to. They were who they were.

Now that sounds like a copout. I don’t mean it to. I guess I am resigned to the fact that I will never know what happened to them. What were their joys, their sorrows, their hurts and fears? What made them feel on top of the world? It would help me to know who I am. There’s something comforting in the thought that I’m not the first one to feel the things I feel, to struggle with the tendencies I struggle with, to fear the things I fear and to wrestle with the questions I do.

Dear Family and Friends,

I am a mess. I do not have all the answers and it seems like every time I wrestle with a big question and get an answer, it comes bundled with more questions I hadn’t even considered before. I am afraid. I fear failure. I fear success (does that sound weird?). I want more than anything to follow God… not some impersonal god idea… I want to follow the God of the Bible.

First and foremost I want to be identified as a follower of Christ, but I don’t like the baggage that comes with that label.

I am a mess. But Jesus loves me anyway. That is the good news. Although I cannot earn his love, I want to serve him because I do love him. I want to love in a revolutionary, radical way.

I want you to come along. Let’s explore this life together and help one another. I love you.

Accountability (on purpose)

Kids are totally accountable to their parents or guardian for everything they do. When they are really young, they do not get to decide anything for themselves. As they grow older, good parents allow them to make some decisions on their own or with limited input from the parents. These parents know that the goal is to work themselves out of a job.

The kids see adults as the decision-makers. In their childish view, adults don’t answer to anyone! “You get to do anything you want.” Of course that is not entirely true for anyone, but it is an easy jump for kids to make.

We were once kids. As kids, I’d guess that most of us made that leap. We were sure that when we grew up, we wouldn’t be have to answer to anyone.

We grew up.

What kind of grown-ups did that kind of thinking produce? Most adults (at least in my experience) live their lives in such a way as to avoid voluntary accountability. By that, I mean that we are accountable only where we have to be. I hate that phrase “have to”, but it really is the “have to” mindset that drives what I am talking about. I “have to” be accountable to someone at work, but that accountability is not a voluntary thing. It is the way work works. My boss tells me what to do and I do it. It is actually quite codependent.

If we voluntarily made ourselves accountable to some others, what might that look like?

What if I had a friend I could go to and say, “I totally screwed up. I did something I am not proud of and I wanted you to know.” What if that friend offered to help me stay accountable about that thing? What if he asked me first? Totally voluntary! On purpose! Radical! Accountability! James 5:16

What if I had a friend, who I trusted to take me aside and say to me, “Jim, I see potential in you, but I see you behaving as if you were clueless. As your friend, I think you can do better.” Proverbs 27:6

What if it cut both way? If my friends and I were accountable to one another? What if I was sometimes on the receiving end and sometimes on the giving end?

I have those kinds of friendships and these are three observations I would like to make about it tonight…

  1. I don’t have to be accountable. It is a choice I freely make.
  2. It is uncomfortable. It is never fun to confess my sins to a brother. It is never fun to be challenged that I’m not living up to my potential. It is never fun to confront a brother when I feel like he is not living up to his potential. It is never fun to listen to a brother tell me how he has “screwed up.”
  3. It is rich. It is only through the vulnerability that results from a life of voluntary accountability that any of us stands a chance at reaching anywhere close to our potential. It is only through the pain of confession that we come to realize that we are not the only ones who are a mess.

Thank you, God, for good friends.

The tract-rack

I am a follower of Christ. I have been a follower for most of my life and serious about it. I detest hypocrisy… especially when I see it in myself. In my younger years I was in people’s face about following Christ. I was the bible thumper you wanted to avoid. How many people did I turn off completely? When I was growing up, I can remember getting to the point where I wanted to grow in my faith. Just doing the Sunday morning and Wednesday night thing wasn’t enough for me. I was serious about following God.

Tract RackHere’s how I found my answer… The church I went to had a rack of tracts… a tract-rack, I guess. It had row after row of little compartments and they were filled with little spiritual tracts. Being as shy and reticent about asking questions as I was, I wanted to avoid drawing attention to myself, so I took my desire to the tract-rack. The tract-rack taught me that people who are serous about their faith know how to defend their faith against the Jehovah’s witnesses and the Mormons. They know the Four Spiritual Laws and why true baptism is by immersion. The tract-rack taught me that negros were the cursed sons of Ham in the Old Testament. I learned that Christians know that the Bible is God’s perfectly complete, holy and inerrant Word. The tract-rack taught me that speaking in tongues is of the devil and that when the Bible was completed, God stopped communicating in any other way. In other words, God shut up. Oh yeah and when Christians die, they can know they are going to heaven.

Tract RackThe tract-rack didn’t tell me Jack about how to develop a walk with Jesus. It didn’t teach me anything about the two greatest commandments; love God and love your neighbor. It told me that if I read my Bible and prayed every day, I would be doing all God requires. The tract-rack presented itself as complete and full of answers. What it gave me was not life, but death. It offered a life of following a set of rules and regulations that sucked the life out of me.

I am pretty sharp mentally and I have a fairly high emotional intelligence. I know how to get by and most people like me. That sounds arrogant and I don’t mean it to. (I invite my friends and family to challenge anything I write here that isn’t true). The reason I write those words is not to brag, but because my ability to rely on myself sometimes keeps me from the truth. The truth is, my value comes from God. It does not come from my abilities. Sometimes I think that would have been easier for me to learn if I had been a bit more obtuse about life.

I followed the rules and when I broke them, I hid it. I pretended that I had it all together. Again, the origins of that way of thinking goes way back to the tract-rack church I grew up in. In this church, I was taught that my good behavior was of paramount importance. I was the only Jesus many people would ever see. So, I needed to watch my behavior so I would not give Jesus a bad name. I took this message to heart. I pretended to have it all together and I defended the faith. The leaders of the church would have been proud. I was so spiritual. The people around me thought I was something else (they were right). The problem was I was living a lie. My intentions were good, but I was not the perfect person I pretended to be. In the absence of a guide to model how to truly follow God, I followed the tract-rack, and the tract-rack was a hard task master.

I learned that Good Christians were supposed to witness to people. In my mind, witnessing meant accosting people and saying in a real-fast-bible-thumping voice, “If you were to die tonight, do you know whether you would go to heaven? Unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you will go to hell.” No way I could do that. I was way too shy. My way of meeting the qualifications without having to use my voice was to leave tracts. So I raided the tract-rack and left tracts wherever I went. Who knew how many people might be saved by reading one of the tracts I left in a restaurant or gas station. I thought of myself as the next Billy Graham leading hundreds and thousands of souls to Jesus through my tract ministry. Jimmy-tract-rack! Truly, I cannot limit God. He may well have used one that someone picked up at just the right time, but I don’t believe they are all that effective. In any case, you can search me right now… I don’t have any tracts on me.

One time, my family was on vacation and we stopped for gas. I made a trip to the bathroom to take care of some business. While in there, I thought I’d leave a tract or two or three or ten. So when I was done with my business, I pulled out a few feet of toilet paper from the roll. I then carefully rolled it back up and stuffed tracts in the roll as I did. (I am laughing out loud as I remember this). I was proud of that little idea thinking, “Let’s see them ignore that!” I went back to the car and got settled in. A few minutes later, my dad came back to the car and let me know what he thought of my little stunt with the tracts. I honestly cannot remember what he said, but I don’t think I reached my target audience.

As I grew in my knowledge of the world and of God, my faith morphed from Jimmy-tract-rack to Jimmy-know-it-all. I had all the answers and was ready to give them to anyone who wanted to listen. I thought my job was to know God’s Word and to be able to answer all questions. I believed in the Bible and everything depended on my interpretation being the correct one. I must have been pretty obnoxious. I don’t think I would like Jimmy-know-it-all now.

So where am I today? My heart is still all about following God, but I realize that I cannot do it. I am going to mess up… but that is the point. If I could do it, I wouldn’t need God. I am learning that following God is not a solo act. I need mentors in my life and I need to be a mentor to others. The game is not learning all about God by sitting in a room reading the Bible. Reading the Bible and learning about the God we serve is important, but it isn’t everything. The part I missed was the “we”. I cannot do it alone. I need friends to help me. I need friends who can show me where I need to improve, friends to encourage me when I am down, friends to laugh with me, friends to put their arm around me and cry with me, friends who will be Jesus. And I need to be that sort of friend too.

Thanks be to God that He has led me out of the wilderness of the tract-rack and the know-it-all life. He has put friends in my life that help me see more of God and what it means to follow Him and serve Him.

Experiment

Sometimes my heart is full and my mind is full and yet I cannot think of a thing to write. This is an experiment to see what happens when I write whatever comes to mind.I just put on earphones and am listening to Pat Metheny. Normally, I want quiet when I am writing, but tonight the television is on and is playing mindless sitcom reruns. The noise is distracting. I just turned up the music because I could hear the TV over the music. I despise the TV. Especially commercials and the stupid laugh tracks on sitcoms. Actually, I think this show was recorded live, but it still annoys the heck out of me.

i have gotten spoiled by Microsoft Word’s autocorrect feature. i never type upper case I’s anymore. i expect the program to make them uppercase when i hit the spacebar. As you can see, this editor doesn’t do any correction at all. i guess i will have to keep backspacing and retyping my i’s.

At work I am programming again right now. It is fascinating for me to watch myself. It has been several years since I have written any “real” programs. My work has been more about creating and managing processes, reporting, teaching and training. The team I am on now has a need for some java programming and that was some of the last programming I did. So I am the java programmer.

I am in an endless pursuit of who I am. What are my strengths and weaknesses. What is it that I love to do. What do I hate doing? What is God trying to build into me? What is it that he wants to show me about myself?

As I am writing code, I find myself “head down” at the computer much more than I am normally. Normally, I am out and about talking with customers and coworkers or reading documentation. I spend a lot of time reading and responding to emails and dealing with “crises”. There is a part of me that likes the heads down nature of programming. It is a finite job. I can see the results of it and see how much I have accomplished.

One of my strengths is my ability to take something apart and see what makes it go. I used to take my toys apart when I was little. I remember the steel cars we had. They were almost always manufactured by putting the separate pieces together like so: One side had a slot and the part that matched it had a little tab that fit in the slot. Then the tab was bent over at a 90 degree angle. I would get a little screwdriver or a knife and pry up the tab and separate the parts. I wasn’t satisfied until I had all the parts separated. I don’t remember putting them back together again so much as I remember taking them apart.

The part of me that drove my taking things apart to see what makes them go is the same strength that drives me to understand whatever it is I am working with. It sometimes goes like this. I will be typing in Word and accidentally hit a key, like hitting Control+d when I meant to hit Control+s to save. Up pops the Font dialog window. Most people would say (or think) a dirty word, close the box and continue. I would close the box and try a few key combinations to make sure I remembered that combination just in case I might need it again sometime. Another time, I need a program to do something that I could get around, but I spend 5 or 10 minutes researching it. I want to know how to let the computer do the work. In the long-run it pays off for me. Lots of people come to me for help with Word or Outlook especially. There are so many obscure tasks that most people never learn how to do. I thrive on it. Those are some of my jimazing strengths. What are yours? Do you ever look at yourself and ask those kinds of questions? Maybe my asking those kinds of questions is just an extension of this strength in me.

Another observation about myself when I am writing programming code is that I can so easily get myopic and forget about the world around me. That one scares me. When I get like that, I am less aware of my surroundings and I risk neglecting the people and things that I hold dear. It is part of who I am. In fact it is happening right now. I want to call one of my daughters who is going through a rough time, and I’m spending too much time here writing… I guess my experiment was successful.

Homosexuality

Great post on a biblical view of homosexuality http://www.preachermike.com/2006/04/12/homosexuality. I don’t know “Preacher Mike”, but I have read a few of his blogs and I like the way he thinks and the way he expresses himself. It seems to me that we, the church, have earned a reputation for dogma over love. It is important that we understand that they heart of God is not about condemnation. It is about love. It is about saving us… many times from ourselves.
My friend, Chris, was telling me about a revelation he had about the passage of scripture that talks about our being “lifted out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire” (Psalm 40:2). Hold that thought for a moment and look at Genesis 19:19, where the Bible says that we came from the dirt. So, in a sense, the passage from Psalm 40, by lifting us out of the slimy dirty pit, it is talking about rescuing us from ourselves. That’s what I’m talking about.

May the Grace of God meet us all where we are at and help us move closer to himself.

A jimazing view of life