Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Retro Vision

It seems easier than ever to get lost in the reverie of yesteryear these days. I was looking at some old snapshots (remember those?) going back to the 70s. They were of my uncle Jim standing behind the counter of a neighborhood delicatessen he owned and operated on Chicago's South Side: Jim's Finer Foods. Together with my grandmother, they ran this store for years, living upstairs in a building that ranged from the questionable to the decrepit. One picture I saw had the photographer shooting out the store's front door. The photo was of the gas station across the street and some trees. The station and trees are long gone now. My uncle and grandma are too.

As you can imagine, that Chicago neighborhood has changed a bit over the years. Like my relatives and that streetscape, the store is gone, leveled to make way for two-story apartment buildings that are also showing their age and decay. A half century is a lot of water under the bridge when it comes to the march of civilization. Almost 50 years ago astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were bopping around on the lunar surface. If you're old enough, you remember the grainy black and white TV images of them near the lunar module, planting the U.S. flag, and becoming the first two men to set foot on the moon. And what about 50 years from now? Where will we be then? It's hard to say, but I bet we'll still be pining away (at least at times) for the good ole days of yesteryear.

I suppose that why retro TV is taking off around the country. Television programmers realized there's a huge market of 50-plus folks out there who still love the programs they grew up with and watched as young adults. Now, even without cable, viewers can watch shows like Mayberry R.F.D., Columbo, Perry Mason, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H, Mangum P.I. and a few dozen more, on stations wholly dedicated to these golden oldies. With the world in flux around us and times unsure as they are, it's nice to bask in the silly nonsense of Hawkeye and Trapper's latest gag on Frank Burns or tune in while Lt. Columbo outwits and unnerves his suspects in his grinding search for the truth.

Looking back can give us a chance to catch our mental breath during times of turmoil and uncertainty.

Where do you go when you need to step back from it all? Do you have a favorite retreat you retire to? How about a hobby? Is there something you engage in when you want to get away and refresh your perspective?

Have you received any sage advice from a mentor or peer you can pass along? If so, you can share your insights by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When the Brain Won't Do

"I can't wrap my mind around that." The first time I heard that phrase I didn't like it. I wondered what was wrong with the good old, tried-and-true admission: "That just doesn't make sense"? But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. It portrays the drive we humans feel to make sense of our lives and our world.

We don't like to pass by unsolved mysteries. Wise Solomon had it right when he wrote, "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out" (Proverbs 25:2). Most people want to know the reason things happen, and the more unclear the matter is, the more annoyed we feel, until we have a rational solution.

So often in life, especially in our relationship with God, that is what we are trying to do. We want to figure out why God has allowed difficulty, sorrow, loss or grief in our lives. We want to wrap our minds around something our minds aren't big enough to get wrapped around. I remember an eighth-grader in confirmation class who was bound and determined to figure out the Trinity. She wasn't satisfied with the glimpse of the three Persons in one God. She tried to shrink God down and fit Him into a nice, little box she could wrap her mind around. The trouble with that is if simple creatures like us can figure out God, He wouldn't be much of a God, would He?

I often hear people try to understand what God is doing in the events in their lives. They ask, "Why is God treating me this way?" or "What is God trying to tell me?" That's a really dangerous game to play, especially when we try to wrap our minds around things that are so complex, and we have such a limited point of view.

God put our mind-wrapping quest in perspective when He said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8). There are times when we need to put down the box, stop trying to stretch our minds, and simply trust Him like a child. Let God be God -- and praise Him that He is, and ask Him to remind us that we are not.

Humans are born to ask questions, it seems. From these we learn and navigate our way through life. What are some things you've tried to wrap your mind around? You can give us your comments by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Sweet Sound of ... Service?

With the turn of the year and the prospect of moving toward spring, there's a definite sound of service in the air. You know the sweet strain: the crackle and crunch of raked leaves put into trash bags; the splash of sudsy water tossed onto concrete surfaces to be cleaned; even the wispy sound (evident only to specially trained service ears) of paintbrushes laying down another coat to spruce up that garage or aging fence.

What do you have in mind as you set out in 2017 for service projects -- either for yourself or for your neighbor? The rationale behind the question is twofold: one, we're already amping up for the 2017 Men's NetWork WORK DAY and, two, we'll soon be releasing a new video Bible study focusing explicitly on the service we render as Christians -- and how we can do more of it. The study is called Live the Six: Living Life as an Everyday Missionary. The "six" in this case represents the six days of the week beyond Sunday: most people's standard church day.

From the responses we've received over the years from WORK DAY volunteers and from the interview comments you'll soon be hearing in Live the Six, doing stuff for others is a blessed thing, with plenty of benefits going to the doer as well as the receiver. And isn't that the way it is with God? After utilizing our meager service in the aid of another, He takes what we offer and turns the blessing back our way, filling us with all those wonderful intangibles such service-work brings: deep satisfaction at the wise use of our time; a sense of being vital in the life of another; a pleasant awareness that we're just plain doing the right thing, and an abiding happiness at knowing we're part of the solution to somebody's dilemma.

As 2017 unfolds before you, be sure to take time to help out -- around the house, around your workplace, around your neighborhood. After all, doesn't such real-time service speak the love and care of God to others in way that our words sometimes lack?

What is there about our doing that's so much louder than our speaking? Perhaps it's the tangible work we leave behind. Perhaps it's our willingness to step into people's lives.

You know what we're talking about.

Tell us about your experience(s) helping others and how good it makes feel. Send your comments to us by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Big Stage, Big Speech, Big Deal

Before you read the next Men's NetWork blog, there will be the no-small-matter of the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. On January 20, Donald John Trump -- real estate mogul, television reality star, and come-lately presidential candidate -- will take a solemn oath as our nation's chief executive at the U.S. Capitol Building.

Undoubtedly, Trump will have a few words to say.

Here are a few opening day remarks from days gone by:

"Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America" (Barack Obama, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009).

"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world" (George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 2005).

"Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America" (Bill Clinton, First Inaugural Address, January 21, 1993).

"The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man" (John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961).

"This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance" (Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933).

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations" (Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865).

"And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people" (George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789).

Words ... each and every one ... delivered at a time of hopeful anticipation that renews every four years in our nation's history. No matter the person in office, God is in charge. No matter the circumstances of our country or the world we live in, God is in control. Let us remember that as we move forward -- whether the candidate who assumes the Office of the Presidency on January 20 is your man or not.

Well, one thing's for sure. The days of overblown political hyperbole are behind us -- at least for a while. Let us know what you think about this passing of the baton. You can do so by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Got Them Re-solution Blues?

Ever notice how the coming new year's resolutions are reminiscent or, as is often the case, poorly disguised copies of last year's resolutions? While that might speak to the futility of making resolutions at all, I think it shows a certain tenacity in the human spirit to make things right, to get things right -- (i.e. the things we really find important) at least in our own worlds.

I know there are detractors who find the whole resolution thing a waste of time. Their thoughts, I would assume, stem in part from the seeming artificiality of picking a date like January 1 of the new year as the definitive moment to initiate some radical change. Why wait until the first of the year to engage in something you feel is so important? What's so special about the passage from one year to the next when it comes to major life decisions? Their questions are valid.

Well, in truth there's probably nothing inherently significant about picking New Year's Day as the day we shed our old selves to take the reins on what lies before us. Still, it seems a good time to keep our word, start exercising, stop procrastinating, eat better, read more, go to bed earlier, wake up earlier, meet new people, stop smoking, put the TV remote down, attend to our appearance, make more blog comments, drink less or not at all, start saving money, learn a new skill, volunteer, let go of grudges, get organized, learn how to cook, travel more, forgive others, curtail Internet usage, pay off debts, let go of bad relationships, take responsibility, learn some self defense, face down fears and insecurities, and/or keep a journal.

Maybe Cary Grant, the film superstar of years gone by, was on to something when he spoke to our making of resolutions and the way we so quickly let them go. His philosophy was "never to make a resolution which won't be as important on the ... tenth of July as it is on the first of January."

All the best to each of you as you consider the open slate of the year ahead -- and what you'd like to do with it.

You can share your radical resolution(s) or your anti-resolution philosophy with us by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Presence

This is the time of year when many in the world stop to share gifts, good deeds, and kindnesses with one another. Bell-ringers remind us to give from our plenty to those less fortunate; tantalizing price-cuts hold the promise of an even more gift-laden Christmas morning; joyous greetings between strangers bring smiles that warm the night. All seems right in the world.

Yes, it's Christmas time, and everything is a little brighter.

But there is a down side to this season too, especially when the desire to give loved ones all the "latest and greatest" leads to spending money not yet earned. It can make an otherwise bright season one that becomes an inane competition. Nerves frazzle as anxious shoppers wind through parking lots, searching for a spot, any spot. Empty store shelves remind last-minute shoppers that procrastination this time of year can backfire in a big way.

Yes, it's Christmas time, and everything is a little more stressful.

The familiar melodies of heartwarming Christmas carols remind us this season is about way more than presents. It's about family and friends sharing their lives -- breaking bread together, singing songs boldly and sometimes out of key, and laughing heartily with one another.

Yes, it's Christmas time, and it's time for family.

But we'd be kidding ourselves to think it's the same for everyone -- the good times, that is. There are those who know an empty spot on the floor where the tree should be. There's the beloved spouse who brought such life into the season and who now is gone. There are the children who've moved away with kids of their own. There are others -- the newly single -- who grapple with life as the one they loved and counted on has walked away, tearing apart their heart and their marriage.

Yes, it's Christmas, and it's a time for loneliness.

There is perhaps no greater gift we can give than our presence. With that in mind, let's gather our family around us and rejoice. Let's seek out those among us who are alone, those who struggle, and those who need a friend. Let us gather them into our family, for these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let's give them our time and remind them of God's presence in their life.

Yes, it's Christmas, and we can make it wonderful for someone else.

A few more days and Christmas will be here. Is this year just another replay of years gone by? Do you find yourself falling into all the predictable ways of doing things this time of year like you always do? Maybe there's more to Christmas than we realize. Maybe it's all about being there for someone else.

Take a moment to share what it is about Christmas that's most meaningful to you. You can do this by clicking here to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Holiday Driving Can Be Distracted Driving

With the coming of cell phones much has been written and discussed about distracted driving. Most of us have had the experience of the car next to us drifting into our lane, causing us to honk, brake, swerve and comment sharply on the driver's erratic moves, only to discover he or she was looking down at a cell phone -- presumably texting. This would be classified as distracted driving.

It's possible this will be an experience you have one time or another in the coming weeks.

We have also probably witnessed the driver in front of us engaged in an animated conversation on the phone, gesticulating passionately about the call. Soon the car seems to be following the gestures: weaving, bobbing and faking like an NBA guard. This too would be classified as distracted driving.

Not long ago I experienced a different kind of distracted driving. I was on a lengthy road trip and purchased an audio book for the cruise home. I was so engrossed in the book I failed to notice the gas gauge in my rented vehicle. When I finally did I pulled into the nearest gas station and put 11.49 gallons into a tank that holds 11.5. That was distracted driving.

Men, we all know what it's like to see others who are driving while distracted, but the truth is we may drive that way ourselves. We prove that it isn't always possible to give our full attention to two tasks at one time.

Thus I am advocating we give our full attention to the most important tasks at hand, especially those that involve our family.

When the woman in our life desires a conversation, it's not enough to mute the TV. Instead, we need to turn it off and give her our complete -- and undivided -- attention.

When our child asks for help with homework, we need to detach ourselves from our football game and give him or her our full consideration.

Let's show the most important people in our lives how much we value them and give them our full attention, especially now, during this time of year, when God gave so much attention to us.

What distracts you during the Christmas season? Is it any different than at other times of the year?

You can share your thoughts by clicking here.