Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Really Random Stuff

There's this great store on Main Street in Newark that sells all kinds of great stuff. One thing is this collection of buttons with witty messages on them. I can't help but buy a few almost every time I go in the store. I've given away many - you know, you see the perfect one for a friend or relative, you have to get it for them. It's also a treat for my kids, “Go ahead, pick out a button, I'll buy it for you.”

My main collection (the ones I kept for myself) is scattered around my computer screen at home - I figured I'd share with you the little messages I have hanging around my place:

“Another Deadline, Another Miracle”

“Power corrupts, Absolute power is kind of neat.”

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts”

“You people and your quaint little categories”

“Angst-Free Zone: no wallowing!”

“If you're going to walk on thin ice, you might as well DANCE”

“Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice”

“Tact is for people who aren't witty enough for sarcasm”

“If your coalition isn't driving you crazy, it isn't broad enough”

“I'm one of THEM, and I vote”

“Little chance of success, Certainty of death. What are we waiting for?”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This is what Redemption is all about...

NPR has this series called "This I Believe" which encourages people to submit essays about their core beliefs. I enjoy the vast majority of them. This one just stopped me in my tracks.

To listen to the essay read by the author or to learn more, click here.

I believe in the power of redemption.

I was an interrogator at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I don't have any torture stories to share. I think many people would be surprised at the civilized lifestyle I experienced in Guantanamo. The detainees I worked with were murderers and rapists. You never forgot for a moment that, given the chance, they'd kill you to get out. Some committed crimes so horrific that I lost sleep wondering what would happen if they were set free.

But that is not the only reason I could not sleep; I had spent 18 months in Iraq just before my arrival in Cuba. First I served as a soldier for a year, and then returned as a civilian contractor because I felt I hadn't done enough to make a difference the first time. After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, I left because I felt I could not make any difference anymore. Those events simply undermined all of our work.

I felt defeated and frightened and tired, and I hoped I could redeem myself by making a difference in Guantanamo. Still, I couldn't sleep. I was plagued with dreams of explosions and screaming. After being sleepless for more than 48 hours, I began to hallucinate. I thought people were planting bombs outside my house in Guantanamo. That was the night my roommate brought me to the hospital.

When I returned to work, I began to meet again with my clients, which is what I chose to call my detainees. We were all exhausted. Many of them came back from a war having lost friends, too. I wondered how many of them still heard screaming at night like I did.

My job was to obtain information that would help keep U.S. soldiers safe. We'd meet, play dominoes, I'd bring chocolate and we'd talk a lot. There was one detainee, Mustafa, who joked that I was his favorite interrogator in the world, and I joked back that he was my favorite terrorist — and he was. He'd committed murders and did things we all wished he could take back. He asked me one day, suddenly serious, "You know everything about me, but still you do not hate me. Why?"

His question stopped me cold. I said "Everyone has done things in their past that they're not proud of. I know I have, but I also know God still expects me to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. That means you."

Mustafa started to cry. "That's what my God says, too," he said.

Accepting Mustafa helped me accept myself again. My clients may never know this, but my year with them helped me to finally heal. My nightmares stopped.

I don't know what kind of a difference I made to the mission in Guantanamo. But I found redemption in caring for my clients, and I believe it saved my life — or at least my sanity. People say, "Hate the sin, not the sinner." That is easier said than done, but I learned that there is true freedom in accepting others unconditionally.

I believe we help to redeem each other through the power of acceptance. It is powerful to those who receive it and more powerful to those who give it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wrapping up 2007

Quick disclaimer:

I am fully aware that the calendar system we all use is pretty arbitrary, I am fully aware that the division of a year into 12 months and marking the point where we watch the numbers change on the year as January 1 has almost nothing to do with anything. For a comprehensive look at the whole measuring-time-calendar thing, I highly recommend the book "Questioning the Millennium" by Stephen Jay Gould -- it is incredible.

OK, now that that's out of the way, let me say this:

I love the whole concept of New Year's Day. This is something I actually mark in my own way for a couple of weeks.

I love spending time thinking about all that has occured in the year, I love everyone's year-end lists -- Best movies, best records (or CDs or whatever the kids are calling them these days), best books of the year, greatest triumphs, biggest embarassments, you name it, I love it!

I can tell you that 2007 has been an incredible year for me. From starting the year off on the unemployment line (well, actually had to wait until January 2 for that, the unemployment office wasn't open on Jan. 1) to spending the first half of the year wondering if I'd ever have a regular, full time job again to getting to spend some great time with family and friends to landing a job that turned out to be better than I ever could have imagined or hoped to getting to do some really neat side projects -- this year has been so much more than I ever could have dreamed a year ago.

Which leads to all kinds of thoughts about 2008!

Oh, one other thing -- I'm not big on New Year's Resolutions. I mean the new year is a great time to try something new, try to start a new ritual or something. But for Pete's sake, if you're going to eat less and exercise more, than just do it -- if you're going to quit smoking, just do it. Stop setting unrealistic expectations on a date, just do whatever you want to do -- really, do it, now!

So, how did 2007 treat you? What are your thoughts about 2008?

A kinder, gentler Christmas message

I think in most areas I can be diplomatic and tactful -- of course then there's the Christmas thing (see previous post).

Thankfully, I have some great people like Bill Barto willing to send along things that kind of carry the same message, but in a nicer way.

It appears that this is one of those e-mails someone created and has since made its rounds (in other words, I don't know who wrote it), but it seems to work. So, here's the nice version:

Dear Children,

It has come to my attention that many you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season.

Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival.

Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime. How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let Me go on . If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing George complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember : I LOVE YOU, JESUS