Carved In Stone

IMG_3444I had been told all kinds of things about Mount Rushmore before I had the chance to visit. I had been told that it was in the middle of nowhere and that there just wasn’t much around or much to do. Most of the people who had gone before me, people who I trusted, told me that they were slightly disappointed in what they had seen.

Sometimes it’s better to go into a situation with low expectations, it usually means that there’s no place else to go but up. If you don’t have high expectations, chances of those expectations being dashed are fairly low.

So, when my family and I went to Mount Rushmore last month, I figured that we would be there for a few hours and then we would leave. I believed everything that had been told to me, that there would just not be any reason to hang out for any length of time. But, boy, was I wrong….or maybe the people who had gone before me were wrong.

As we drove up the mountain road that leads to the parking area at Mount Rushmore, the mountain face was visible from the car. My first thought was that it just didn’t seem to be as big as I thought that it would be, that I anticipated, that I thought it should be. Somehow or another, the pictures had made it look……smaller, somehow.

Once we found a parking place and made our way closer to the mountain face, it was captivating to me. I couldn’t help but just stand there and stare. No, it wasn’t as big as I had thought that it would be, but somehow, it drew me in, it kept me staring. I could see that there was something much more to this mountain than just some faces on stone.

But, there’s always something lying beneath the surface. Just as Gutzon Borglum had to test the rocks and explore beneath the surface to find out just how his sculpture could be carved into that mountain in the Black Hills, so we had to look deeper, beyond just what we saw on the surface.

As we made our way into the museum there at Mount Rushmore, I discovered the context that I needed. Looking at pictures, reading through descriptions, coming to an understanding of this mountain, it was so much more than just four faces carved into granite, it was a picture of hope, a picture of adventure, a picture of courage, a picture of freedom, and so much more than that. Each face carved into that stone was representative of something so much more and the sum of the parts were greater than the individual parts, which is saying quite a lot considering just how important and valuable each of those parts was.

As I walked through the exhibits in the museum, I encountered this paragraph on the wall:

“The Meaning of Mount Rushmore: The four American Presidents carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore were chosen by the sculptor to commemorate the founding, growth, preservation, and development of the United States. They symbolize the principles of liberty and freedom on which the nation was founded. George Washing signifies the struggle for independence and the birth of the Republic; Thomas Jefferson the territorial expansion of the country; Abraham Lincoln the permanent union of the States, and equality for all citizens, and Theodore Roosevelt, the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man.”

And then I knew why the urge to stare was so strong, why I was drawn to those faces and that mountain. There was a sense of patriotism there, a sense of liberty and freedom that somehow drew the casual observer in, inviting them to see beyond the stone to what it represented. These faces seemed to mean so much more, especially during this time in our country’s history.

In the midst of a political landscape where it seems buffoons and liars have somehow made their way up to the top, these faces carved in stone represent character and integrity that seems lost today. Carved there in stone to remind us just where we have come from and what we have gained, these figures stand in stark contrast to the characters that we have seen paraded before us on the political stage. Their word was their bond, they believed in something, they had principles, they had integrity, they were not so easily bought and one even gave his life, albeit unwillingly, for fighting a fight that he knew had to be won.

These faces, and more importantly the men behind them, are right where they need to be, standing as a symbol to the rest of us that there is hope, there is liberty, there is integrity. But maybe, just maybe, like this rock, it needs to be blasted and chiseled and carved, maybe it needs to be sought out, digging much deeper than we’ve dug before, prospecting beneath the surface. In the words of the sculptor himself, “Hence, let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain along shall wear them away.”

I was deeply impacted by what I saw and experienced at Mount Rushmore. As I stood there looking at these stone faces, I tried to think about the last president who was worthy of having his face carved into stone, and I found myself at a loss.


The Pursuit of Happiness

declaration of independenceAmericans are coming off of a weekend to celebrate. We celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s birth and we got an added bonus by celebrating the women’s soccer team winning the World Cup. As a friend of mine said on his newsfeed, “Finally, something that we can all agree on.” It was good to see everyone put away their differences for a while and celebrate with pride in something that pretty much everyone could get behind.

In thinking about July 4th, I thought about freedom and just what it means. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As many times as I’ve read the document before, that phrase, “the pursuit of happiness” jumped out at me.

There’s been a “rags to riches” movie with the same name starring Will Smith. We probably throw that phrase around all the time. Freedom, to most of us, means that anything that stands in the way of those three things (among many others) is an encroachment on our freedom. Should anyone keep us from enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they are keeping us from being free, right? We’re free to do what we want to do, however we want to do it, whenever we want to do it. That’s the pursuit of happiness, right?

The more that I thought about it, the more I began to mutter things under my breath about our founding fathers. The pursuit of happiness? Really? Happiness is such a suspicious word to me. When you look in the dictionary, one of the definitions given is, “good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.” I’m glad that the dictionary gives that definition, but I hardly believe that those last two words really describe happiness.

To me, happiness is different than contentment or joy. Happiness is based completely on our circumstances. If we’re happy and we know it, we’ll clap our hands, right? Happiness seems so experiential, so temporal, so fleeting. Happiness can be taken away with a moment.

Contentment and joy, on the other hand, are deeper, they’re based more on the long-term rather than the immediate. Contentment comes when we find satisfaction in what we have, who we are, where we are. Contentment is a place where we go or where we get to, a place that it’s hard for people to pull us from.

I wonder what we’re doing in our lives, whether we’re pursuing happiness or contentment. Are you happy or are you content?

The Way Ahead

It’s been days now since news spread that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of same sex marriage being the rule of the land. In the hours and days following the decision, social media was full of memes, pictures, and posts from everyone on every side. Both love and hate were prevalent on my walls. Harsh words were exchanged, lines were drawn, and there was both rejoicing and lamenting.

For those who were pleased by this decision, this was a decision that was a long time in the making. They were pleased at how it felt like the beginning of equality to them. They were glad to be recognized rather than marginalized. They were grateful to be able to share things together that had once been reserved for others.

Now, I get this, and to be honest, I am grateful that the way has opened up for people to share things and benefits together, primarily in difficult and stressful moments in life. In situations at end of life and other significant moments along the way, everyone deserves to be able to share moments together.

Aside from this, my heart was still heavy after the SCOTUS decision.

I have friends who are gay, I have friends who are straight, I have friends who are liberal, I have friends who are conservative, I have friends who are Christian, I have friends who are atheists. Somehow, through it all and despite our disagreements, I have managed to stay somewhat connected with all of them. With so many differences, there have been times that I have felt hate, from all sides. Chances are that there were times that I came across with a less than stellar and Christ-like attitude and approach. When there were points of misunderstanding, I did my best to address them with my friends personally, privately, and appropriately. In fact, some of the dialogues that came out of those disagreements stand among my favorite of the past few years.

Despite my friendships and associations, my beliefs and convictions stand in opposition to this decision. In this, I understand the anxiety and even fear that has risen up among many conservatives. You see, for some reason, my disagreement and division over the definition of marriage has always been labeled as hate, it has always been interpreted by those with whom we disagree as bigotry. This saddens me greatly. How is it that we have come to a place where anyone with whom I disagree is labeled a bigot, a racist, a hate-monger, or worse? How has this language arisen from a situation in which we simply don’t see eye to eye?

As I reluctantly continued to maneuver through the vast waters of social media, I began to realize just how deep of an issue we have. We have begun to operate in generalizations rather than in facts and real information. We have ceased to have dialogues and conversations and have exchanged them for digital hand grenades, hurling them at one another with no consideration for feelings and emotions other than our own. We have not sought to find out what lies behind the labels that we place on each other but rather have swallowed whole those generalizations, assuming that the ugliest and most extremes of those generalizations are representative of the entire group.

We assume that the labels we hold to and the labels which we use are all encompassing and that they define a person. But labels don’t define people, people define themselves, but they can only define themselves when they are given voice to express their beliefs, their opinions, and even their reasons for disagreement.

As we come to situations in which we find ourselves at odds with each other, in which we are in disagreement, we need to answer some fundamental questions. Is it possible to disagree with one another and to still love one another? I certainly hope so, otherwise, I would be at odds in every single one of my relationships in life. Can I disagree with you and not hate you? I certainly hope so, otherwise, this world would be an incredibly hateful place. Jesus disagreed with many people. He spoke his viewpoint and spoke truth and then let it go from there. He did not hate to the bitter end of his life on earth, even when those with whom he disagreed nailed him to the cross.

We need to ask ourselves how willing we are to engage in intelligent and respectful conversations with those with whom we disagree. Are we willing to engage in those conversations even when they’re messy, even when they’re tough, and even when we come to the end of them and still don’t agree?

There is still fear and anxiety over future possibilities. There is still fear among those of us who hold to specific religious convictions that the religious freedom on which this country was formed and created may be stripped away from us simply because we cannot agree. It will be stripped away from us as a freedom to be able to disagree. It will be stripped away unless there is compliance, removing that very freedom which has just been provided and afforded to so many others. There is fear that the freedoms in our country to voice our opinions and to hold to varying and diverse viewpoints will be stripped away in the name of freedom and justice. It’s not a guarantee, but it certainly stands in the minds of many who fear what may take place in the future.

Despite these fears, I still find hope and I still have faith. I don’t find my hope in people, in organizations, or in decisions, but rather in Christ and Christ alone. I find faith. Some of that faith is in humanity and my fellow human beings who, regardless of their beliefs or our disagreements, are created in the image of God. My faith remains in Christ and his promises.

My hope and my prayer is that we can, in this country, fully understand, appreciate, and practice the idea of bi-partisanship and that we can do it with grace. We need to find a way forward where it’s acceptable for us to disagree but we can do so while still loving each other and working on so many of the ills of society together. That is a fundamental ideal on which this country was founded, the ideal of freedom. Freedom to think. Freedom to choose. Freedom to disagree.

It seems possible to me, but it’s not going to happen if we continue to generalize, judge, and hurl digital hand grenades at one another. I’m hoping we can do this one conversation at a time.

Fans, Feedback, and Freedom

This blog has not exactly gone viral, which is fine for me. I didn’t start writing out of a need to be needed or a deep desire to become famous. While I would love to write a book at some point, writing is therapeutic for me, it helps me process and, for the last few years, grieve. Along the way, I’ve picked up some fans, or at least followers, who are fairly regular at reading my blog. I appreciate them greatly.

Feedback is an important part of writing as well, and I do my best to hear and listen to the feedback that I’ve gotten. More often than not, my blog gives me a place to process feedback that I have received in a more expansive format. I have had so many conversations which have turned into thoughts which have turned into blog posts. I appreciate feedback, especially from those who I know are looking at for my best interests. I’ve learned a ton from all of that feedback that I’ve received.

I’ve always tried to stay current and deal with current issues while also dealing with my own issues (of which there are probably a lot). There are some days that I write and I think that what I’ve written is brilliant, only to see that no one else agrees. Other days, when I write out of obligation rather than deep desire and emotion, it seems that I strike a chord and lots of people read. I’ll say this for blogging, it certainly keeps you humble. Anytime that you think that you’ve got it figured out, you better think again.

Part of the joy of this blog is the freedom that I have to share what I feel led to share. I have been so grateful for that freedom and grateful for all of those readers who have benefited from what I have shared. While I write book reviews on occasion and post them on this blog, I enjoy reading and love the fact that I can read and write about what I’ve just read. The freedom to share has been a great benefit of this blog for me.

Last year, a fellow blogger and friend of mine from seminary asked for those who were regular readers of his blog to offer up their favorite posts of his in order to revisit some reader’s favorites. I was one of the contributors as I have always watched and read his work with admiration for his level of brilliance and intellectuality. His pursuit sparked the idea in me and I have asked two faithful readers to contribute some of their thoughts and share their favorite blogs for me to share.

So, I will be reposting those blogs with their comments every Friday for the next few months. I hope that these posts and their insights will speak to you as they did to me. It’s always good to write, it’s even better to know that your writing is being read and used to speak to others. I am blessed to have had the opportunity that I have had and look forward to hearing more comments from those who read.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read. What I write comes from my heart and I am glad to share it, especially when what is shared connects to someplace deeper inside of you, the reader.


Losing It

I have a tendency to take things for granted while they are easily accessible to me. The moment that they are taken away, let the whines ensue as I begin to rant and rave that my rights have been violated, that someone has infringed upon me, and that I want things back to the way that they were before.

It’s not uncommon for children who abuse their freedoms to have those freedoms taken away by their parents. Parents will ground their children and take away their freedoms, hopefully creating a moment for them to better appreciate what they have. If we better appreciate what we have, we might be less apt to take it for granted in the future.

I wonder what would happen if we lost our freedom in this country…….for just one day. How would we react? How loud would be whine? How many things would we grow to appreciate after we’d lost them?

Today is a day to celebrate freedom, but I wonder how much we really appreciate that freedom. It’s harder to appreciate the things for which we paid nothing. When we’ve actually had to pay for something though, we may have a tendency to appreciate it more. I would venture to guess that the people who have paid for freedom with their lives and limbs or the families who have lost in order for freedom to survive have a deeper appreciation for just how costly freedom is.

Today is our independence day, it’s our day to be free and to celebrate that. I need to remind myself what my freedom cost……..frequently. How about you?

What’s Been Given

memorial-dayI grew up in a small town in southwestern Connecticut. It was far from Mayberry, but it had a small town feel in many ways. One of those ways was during Memorial Day weekend. In fact, some of my fondest memories as a kid were of Memorial Day and the parade that they had every year.

My father was the pastor of a small church that was located right in the middle of the town. For a stretch, there was a group from the church who would make floats for the parade to commemorate those who had given and sacrificed for our country. For as long as I can remember, my dad would march in the parade somewhere. The parade would begin at a shopping plaza on one side of town and end up at the cemetery on the other side of town where there were a number of veterans buried. There a service would be held and my father would generally sing “God Bless America” and another patriotic song.

That was my memory of Memorial Day, a day that had been set aside to remember those who had sacrificed and given all for freedom. How fortunate I am to have those memories, both of my dad and of the day.

When most people think of Memorial Day, I fear that they just see it as a day off from work, a day where they can barbecue or sit out by the pool or lake. It’s been harder for me as I’ve moved away from my hometown to find places where I can remember the same way that I did as a boy growing up. It doesn’t seem like there is the same emphasis on Memorial Day as I was used to, but greater than that is the fact that my stage of life has not always allowed me to take advantage of some of the events and activities that are offered.

As I spend time today thinking about those who I know who have served and all of those who remain nameless to me but who sacrificed, I have to force myself to remain quiet, even if for just a moment or two. I need to force myself to focus on the meaning of today so as to not let it get past me.

My family was not a military family, although I had an uncle who was a Marine and a cousin who was in the Coast Guard. My family was not as personally impacted by wars as others were, but the depth of gratitude is no less in us. I am grateful that others have served, have sacrificed, have given all they had.

Today is a day to remember. Take time to remember that many have given everything so that we might have something called freedom. I am grateful to all who have given.

No thoughts and words of sacrifice can be spoken in my hearing without reminding me of the greatest sacrifice ever given and the gift of freedom that we receive through the One who gave all that we might have life. For that sacrifice, I am eternally grateful.

Freedom is rarely free. To those who have given and paid the price to maintain that freedom, I salute you. Thank you for all that you have done.

Freedom and Independence

They say that freedom isn’t free.  Today we take time and set aside a whole day to celebrate the freedoms that we celebrate in our country.  237 years ago, we became a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.american-flag-sunset-1

The older that I get, the more emotional that I get when celebrating patriotism.  I think there are a number of reasons why that’s true.  Part of it is that every year that goes by, I seem to grow in knowledge and understanding of the gravity of what freedom costs.  When I stop to think about the sacrifices that have been made for freedom, it’s hard not to get emotional.  There are people who don’t know me who have fought for me to be free, and that’s a powerful thought.

I think that it also has to do with my children.  They are inheriting freedom in a way that others inherit poverty, abuse, and neglect.  They’ve done nothing to earn that freedom, they’ve done nothing to keep themselves from inheriting those other things, and it’s an incredibly humbling thought that I and they are so fortunate.  I must not take that for granted.

The spiritual parallels are great, at least to me.  Freedom isn’t free.  Sacrifices have been made for that freedom.  I have done nothing to earn that freedom.  I can’t help but make the correlation between one and the other.  As a flag is a symbol for the freedom that I enjoy as a citizen of America, so the cross is a symbol for the freedom that I enjoy as a child of God.  Both images are powerful.  Both symbols conjure up strong emotion with me every time that I lay my eyes upon them.

The price for freedom wasn’t paid so that I could squander it, but so that I could appreciate it and pass it on.  Our independence from a tyrannical government wasn’t sought in order that we might put ourselves under the authority of something or someone as bad or worse.  In the same way, my freedom from the tyrannical rule of sin was not given in order that I might continue to find my way back to it, regardless of the price paid for it.

It is for freedom that I was set free by Christ and I must seize that freedom and the opportunity that it affords me.  Independence is not so much what it has become for us in the West, the ability to do whatever we want, whenever and wherever we may want to, but instead it is the ability to be independent in our dealings and conscious of our freedom, to be dependent not on faulty foundations, but dependent on the only unshakeable and steady foundation that exists: Jesus Christ.dali christ on the cross

Today, I will take more than a moment to remember all of this and I hope that you will too.  We are free, no longer in bondage, no longer in chains.  We have been given the choice of whether or not to accept that freedom or to subject ourselves to the very thing from which we have been set free.  What choice will we make?  Freedom is not free for it comes at a costly and sacrificial price.  The moment that we forget that is the moment that we not only take it for granted, but also the moment that we begin to lose it.  I choose freedom.