Lighten Up!

The best advice I ever received came from an eighty-four year old spitfire named Helen Easterly.  We worked together in the summer of 1987 in northern Ontario near Hudson Bay.  We happened to be part of a team of missionaries bringing the Gospel to a remote region amongst the Cree people.

Grandma Easterly—as she became known to me after she “adopted” me—had terminal cancer at the time.  Yet, she had more energy than gals sixty years her junior as she worked amongst the Cree children.  She had lived an adventurous life ministering all over the world with lots of remarkable ministries.  She was vibrant, humorous and kinetic as she stared death in the face.

Some months later, I was about to get married.  Grandma Easterly sent Kath and I a very nice card with this advice:

“Don’t take yourselves too seriously.  Learn to laugh at yourselves.”

I’ve many besetting sins.  One of them is I tend to be way too serious.  (Kath doesn’t have this problem.) Those who know me well are no doubt chuckling, Wow Christian, you’re just now figuring that out?

Easy now.  Some of us are slow.

And thick.

So I thought I’d pass on a few tips to help my friends who trip over the same banana peel:

  • Listen to jazz.  Really.  Leonard Bernstein once said, “Jazz is real play.”  When I listen to jazz, I chill out. Always. Music affects the mood more than you can imagine.
  • Realize that you alone can’t fix the world.  You’re one in about seven billion inhabitants on this planet.  Do what you can where you can and then let it be.  If everybody just did a little in their own orbits, things would be a lot better in the world.
  • Exercise.  Free and legal high.  Endorphins.  You will feel better.  Trust me on this.
  • Watch films with Robin Williams in it.  For tougher cases, break out the Three Stooges.
  • Read Dilbert.  Just do it.
  • Smile.  It’s proven that deliberately smiling makes you feel better, not just those who look at your mug.

Now lighten up!

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Perspective and Its Healing Properties

“Life is difficult.”


Thus begins M. Scott Peck’s excellent book, The Road Less Traveled.  Peck then makes the strong point that a good deal of our unhappiness is rooted in an unrealistic expectation—namely, that life should be Heaven on Earth.  Utopia.  Grey Havens.  Shangri-la.  We tend to expect life to be problem-free and then are upended when life poses challenges.  Lots of them.

A wrong perspective about life in a fallen world is a setup for disillusionment and unhappiness.  Unrealistically, we expect life to be trouble-free.  But it need not be that way.

One of the things I love about flying is sitting 30,000 feet above the ground, looking out the window and realizing just how small we all are and how big the world is.  It puts things in perspective.  In the valley you don’t see the lay of the land the way you do from the mountain top.

I’m learning that a proper perspective about anything has a healing quality about it.  As a Christian, I believe we live in a world that was marred when man first chose to disobey his Creator.  A fallen world.  God essentially told Adam that, as a result of his disobedience, “life is going to be difficult from now on.”  You can read about that in Genesis 3.  But even in the difficulty, God promised meaning and His presence.

Perspective: Working in a sometimes tedious job may try your patience and sanity, but not having a job is far worse.  Just ask the millions of Americans out of work.

Perspective: Winter snow and cold may be inconvenient here in northern New York, but it does help insulate the ground and homes as well as replenish the water table.  That’s more important than you know.  Just ask people in states and countries ravaged by drought.

Perspective: Teenage drama may drive you at times to distraction but you at least have teenagers to drive you there.  Just ask the parents of an 18-year-old princess who died in a tragic car accident just miles from here a few months ago.  Her family and friends—my two daughters among them—grieve a beautiful, promising life cut short almost before it began.

In a few weeks, I will again get that sense of perspective as I will be on a plane headed west to see my youngest daughter.  I look forward to seeing once again how small we are.  It has a way of putting to bed things that won’t matter four months–or four years–from now.

The next time you’re tempted to despair and frustration, remember that life is difficult.  But it’s these difficulties that teach us to solve problems and have something really valuable to give to a world in pain.

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Creativity and Self-Discipline

I’ve been thinking about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative geniuses of our time and of history.

Father of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia used to practice five hours a day up until his death in 1987.  I saw him give a recital at the University of Michigan in 1986 and he was still performing like a virtuoso.  And he was 93 years old.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

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Every Behavior and Every Thought Has A Consequence

I was delighted to find Kristin Barton Cuthriell’s outstanding blog today. This post was so good, I had to reblog. If you read often here at The Upside, the concept of taking personal responsibility looms both large and often. Kristin takes this to fantastic levels. Check out her site:

The Heart Of The Sourdough

Like most fellow bloggers in the blogosphere, I like to monitor the traffic.  The longer I write, the more people stop by to read.  Oddly enough, I consistently get lots of hits from people who like poetry about the Yukon.

I’ve enjoyed the poetry of Robert Service ever since the late Jim Elliot, missionary and martyr to Equador’s Auca Indians, first introduced me to it in the late 1980’s via his biography, Shadow Of The Almighty: The Life And Testament Of Jim Elliot. Service’s poetry, like Jim Elliot himself, is rugged and adventurous, revealing the wildness and magnitude of God.

Anyway, here’s another Robert Service opus.  Enjoy!


The Heart of the Sourdough

There where the mighty mountains bare their fangs unto the moon,
There where the sullen sun-dogs glare in the snow-bright, bitter noon,
And the glacier-glutted streams sweep down at the clarion call of June.
There where the livid tundras keep their tryst with the tranquil snows;
There where the silences are spawned, and the light of hell-fire flows
Into the bowl of the midnight sky, violet, amber and rose.
There where the rapids churn and roar, and the ice-floes bellowing run;
Where the tortured, twisted rivers of blood rush to the setting sun —
I’ve packed my kit and I’m going, boys, ere another day is done.
* * * * *
I knew it would call, or soon or late, as it calls the whirring wings;
It’s the olden lure, it’s the golden lure, it’s the lure of the timeless things,
And to-night, oh, God of the trails untrod, how it whines in my heart-strings!
I’m sick to death of your well-groomed gods, your make believe and your show;
I long for a whiff of bacon and beans, a snug shakedown in the snow;
A trail to break, and a life at stake, and another bout with the foe.
With the raw-ribbed Wild that abhors all life, the Wild that would crush and rend,
I have clinched and closed with the naked North, I have learned to defy and defend;
Shoulder to shoulder we have fought it out — yet the Wild must win in the end.
I have flouted the Wild. I have followed its lure, fearless, familiar, alone;
By all that the battle means and makes I claim that land for mine own;
Yet the Wild must win, and a day will come when I shall be overthrown.
Then when as wolf-dogs fight we’ve fought, the lean wolf-land and I;
Fought and bled till the snows are red under the reeling sky;
Even as lean wolf-dog goes down will I go down and die.

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Hearing Both Sides

Kennedy-Nixon Debate (1960)

I served as a pastor in three different church staff positions over the course of about sixteen years.  One learns many different things in the pastoral role.  How to wear many hats.  How to multi-task.  How to inspire a volunteer work pool to assist the community of faith.

Frequently, as any pastor knows, you are called upon to mediate conflicts in one form or an other.  A lot of these are marital; some are between estranged friends; others involve attempts to resolve some dispute as peacefully and equitably as possible.

One core value you learn rapidly is this: There are always two sides to any story.  And it is part of fallen human nature to paint our own side of a matter in the rosiest hues possible.  We all have blind spots.  Knowing this reality and acting on it will save you lots of headache and frustration.

There’s a proverb in the Bible that goes like this: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)  There is a reason why cross-examination is foundational to our legal system, why rebuttal is a cornerstone of debate.  It’s simply this: Words are powerful and through their skillful or crafty use, you can make a logical case for lots of things—even reprehensible things.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, had a method for dealing with theological  propositions.  He’d state a thesis first.  Then he would amass every conceivable argument against the thesis he sought to prove.  Finally, he’d deliver his arguments in support of the thesis.

We face things daily that require the hard work of thinking thoroughly and soberly in order to come to the truth.  One of the most healthy things you can do is subject your cherished beliefs and convictions to the “devil’s advocate” test.  Are you bold enough to look at the arguments of the other side in order to see things differently?

Here’s a couple of teasers to think through:

  • How much do you really know about the Trayvon Williams shooting? Facts, not protests.
  • Compare the behavior of the Occupy Wall Street protesters versus that of the Tea Party protesters.  Which group came down as more civil and law-abiding?
  • Compare the behavior of media personalities Lawrence O’Donnell, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow with that of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck.  Any similarities? (Disclosure: I am not a fan of any of these people. Not even a little.)
  • Has the reporting of popular media outlets been equally balanced in the matters of the foul-mouthed controversial utterances of Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher toward Susan Fluke and Sarah Palin?
  • If executive competence were a prerequisite for the Presidency, of these three, who best met the requirement–Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton?

I’ve not given my own opinion on the above questions because the purpose of this post is to make you think.  (Don’t bother guessing where I’m at on these—you might be surprised!)

It takes hard work and brutal honesty to really come to a balanced understanding of so much that goes on in our world.  If you are lazy and want to believe a) mainstream news media outlets from MSNBC to FoxNews or b) your own untested and unexamined prior commitments, you will be in for a rough ride.  Simplistic thinking hurts you.  It just does.

A caveat:  Before you come down on one side or the other of some issue, take the advice of Chuck Missler.

Do your homework.

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Created To A Defined Purpose

John Henry Newman's desk

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
 I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.” (John Henry Cardinal Newman)

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