Monday, 31 October 2011

The Domino Effect

I know I promised you part II to our last message, and I will keep my word, but there is something more pressing right now and I hope you will find it as interesting as it has been helpful to me.

One of my favorite children’s movies is called “Robots”. I enjoy the dialogue between characters, the interaction and intertwining of their individual developing stories, the colors, the double entendres, and the music. I even like the evil characters because their deeds and intentions are so ludicrous and cause me to look at relationships between people more closely.

A favorite scene of mine is where the star robot Rodney enters the place where Mr. Bigweld, the big inventor (no pun intended) has been hiding from the world. Rodney discovers how Bigweld has been spending his time now that he no longer is the chief and boss of his own company: Bigweld created a mammoth work of art using only dominos. It’s an extraordinary sight and reveals his ability to dream and create with unlimited vision.

Well, if you know anything about dominos then you know what happened even without my telling you: domino creations are made for the excitement of watching them fall. Perhaps you’ve seen the competitions on television. It takes vision, creativity, time and more time, and a lot of dominos to build these creations, but in just one second they can and are “destroyed”. “We all fall down”.

Relationships are like domino creations – It takes time and energy, time and patience, time and kindness, time and love, time and . . . to build relationships in the home, the community, the workplace, the church, the world: which is what gives our relationships their value and importance – the time, effort and spirit we put into “loving” someone else. One songwriter wrote

“No man is an island, and no man stands alone . . . We need one another and so I will defend each man as my brother, each man as my friend.”

In the Old Testament book of Genesis God said it was not good for man to be alone, without other humans like himself with whom he could relate. God alone was not enough, and the animals were on a different level altogether. J Relationships are designed so that the members are in such close proximity that when one hurts the others hurt too. When one person feels joy, so do the others in the relationship.

What brought this domino “theory” to my mind this week was a situation in which I found myself. I was the front domino and what I did or did not do for better or for worse, would affect at least one other person that I knew directly. But in this case I knew several other dominos so this piece of domino art work was more intricate than linear. The choice I made would touch eight people directly and then indirectly to me (but directly to them) those with who they were in contact (or standing in front of, if you will). You can see this in the “Robots” movie too – the design Mr. Bigweld created showed how intricate his vision was and that in many areas one domino knocked over several dominos at once in different directions. It was phenomenal until a tidal wave of falling dominos became the epitome and rush of the entire design! It was wonderful to watch in that context, but in real life this is not always the case.

Now before I continue let me say that this is not a negative message by no means, and in doing so I want to say that we can touch each other for good too. This is the point of this message – to open our eyes and ears to our words and actions to and for others as well as against others, which cause a positive or negative domino effect. Let us realize that when we always do the right thing for the right motives and reasons, everyone involved will benefit either in the long and or short run. However, if either of these two variables is negative, then not everyone (domino) is going to “fall” in a positive way.

If I do the right thing for the wrong reasons, this means I’m just a puppet with no heart or spirit. Can you say “Tin Man”? (I need to see the Wizard.) I therefore have no love for others. I’m just following the rules and “just give me my paycheck please.” I have no real investment in the task, or in the people with whom I’m working, and neither do I care about those for whom I am working to “create” whatever I am doing to create. (Kind of wordy I know, but I think you will understand it better like that this time.) I might as well stay at home for as the song says “your body’s here with me, but your mind is on the other side of town.” If anything goes wrong I will take the attitude that “it’s not my problem” and the stance of “call me when things are up and running again.” I will not make the effort to understand the problem, its origins, or if maybe I have something to contribute to solve the problem.

God said it this way when speaking to the Hebrew people: (and I’m summarizing some of what He said) “I’m not interested in your animal sacrifices like you think I AM (even though I require them of you.)” Why not? Because they did not come to Him with their hearts. God is more interested in relationships of the heart. The prophet Jeremiah speaks for God in chapter 29:13 this way in the book that bears his name, “Then you will seek Me, inquire for, and require ME [as a vital necessity] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Ref. Deuteronomy 4:29-30, Amplified Bible)

If we do the wrong thing, I’m not sure we need to elaborate on that, however there will be consequences undesired, even if we do it for or with the right motives. I still love playing all the domino games – Dominos, Triominos, and Quadrominos, but after this incident and season in my life, I will forever be changed. I will never look at relationships, or dominos the same way again. J The Domino Effect is the main reason God commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The problem is most of us don’t know what real, pure love is, looks like feels like; it has never been a reality in our lives, thus we don’t know how to love ourselves. (Leviticus 19:18) We knock over other dominos (people) like we knock over ourselves. For whatever you are doing to others you are first doing it to yourself, whether positive or negative. Oooh, stop punching yourself in the face will ya? Do you hate yourself that much? How about a shoulder massage instead? Hmmm, something to think about isn’t it?

My prayer for myself this year has been a selfish one, but one I know that others who come in contact with me will be so glad I prayed this way, and it is this Father, teach me how to love myself and show me what that looks like, in Jesus’ name, Amen.” I cannot bless you until I have been blessed, for I will have nothing to give. I cannot “heal” you with words or deeds of love and encouragement until I have first been healed in this manner, for I must first experience good “health” (spirit, soul and body) to know what good health is, and can be for others. And since I know this is a prayer God will answer for me, then I know He will answer it for you too, whether I pray it for you, or you ask Him yourself.

For this is the problem with our world: we’ve not yet believed, received and conceived God’s love to and for us through His Son Jesus the Christ, and therefore we fail to embrace Him and allow His love to transform us into agents of love and change. (007? J I don’t think so.) So we do what we do whether right deeds for the right reasons, the right things with the wrong motives, the wrong acts with good intentions (is that an oxymoron?), or the wrong things with evil motives (two wrongs don’t make a right, neither do they make it right), and yet we still come up short because we are doing it, whatever “it” is we are doing, without real and true love. “Love does no harm to a neighbor”. (I Corinthians 13:1-13) “’Who is my neighbor’” a Pharisee asked Jesus? Hmmm, look in the mirror first. How you treat that person is how you will treat others, spirit, soul and body. You are practicing on you.

Every day, everywhere we go or don’t go, what we say or don’t say, what we do or don’t do – in some way we are affecting and effecting the life and lives of others in some way, positively or negatively. This is the Domino Effect. It is more important “how” we “fall” (“falling” is not necessarily a negative thing in the context of this blog message) than if we don’t fall at all. In the game of building dominos (and in the game of life and building up people and relationships, which is no game at all), the fun is in the building and the falling. Together. J

In “Robots”, after Rodney knocked over Mr. Bigweld’s domino creation, Bigweld did not get angry. He wanted them to join him in rebuilding it again. He kept such a positive attitude about it all even though it took forever for him to build it the first time. He built it for that very reason: for the rush of the tidal wave which they shared with him. Let’s do it again!


Friday, 14 October 2011

Living From the Inside Out Part I: The Art of Listening

A while back I wrote a blog topic about hearing and listening, communicating effectively with each other. For some reason I cannot seem to get away from this topic, and maybe it’s because every day of our lives we hear and listen (maybe), we speak and do, we communicate with others which requires that someone listens while the other one speaks.

While studying to become a psychologist I enrolled in a course titled “Techniques in Counseling”. This course was all about learning how to listen, and therefore we spent a lot of the time playacting to demonstrate good and bad listening skills. The best counselors are the best listeners, and it is probable that the best listeners can be great counselors. Maybe it should have been called a communications course, but that term is used differently in our contemporary times to describe interacting with others through the media and internet etc. What did we learn? Well, I wish everyone on God’s green earth could take a course like this one, or at least have a professor like the one we had.

We learned that to really be able to help others we first needed to hear what they are NOT saying as well as what they ARE saying. This required that we stop talking period, even in our own minds, so we could be THERE fully with the person, not trying to complete their sentences, not trying to tell them what they feel and mean, not trying to rush them along so we could fix their problems with our analyses. We learned that if ideas come to your mind while the other person is speaking, don’t interrupt them for you are the listener now. Respect them enough to allow them to finish their thoughts all the way through, no matter how long it may take for it’s THEIR story and their problem. Discreetly write your thoughts on a piece of paper in a few words so you may bring them up later, for maybe, just maybe if you let the speaker talk long enough, they may cover what you are thinking, for guess what? Counseling is 95% listening and 5% speaking. J So, if you don’t like to listen to others, and the only person you want to hear talk is yourself, then you need to become a stand-up comedian. But eventually you will want to know why no one is laughing when you’re speaking, or why are they laughing behind their hands with smirks in their eyes and faces, instead of laughing WITH you. Hmmmm. Maybe it’s time to do more listening than talking eh?

Can you hear me now? Can I hear you? Usually when we ask these questions we’re asking how good is the reception of our method of communicating like when talking through the telephone, walkie-talkie, or even through the computer. (Can you say “skype”? LOL!) When we go to a hearing specialist it is to test how well we can hear with our ears, how well is sound landing on the auditory organs in our head. Are we experiencing any blockages to sound? However, when we ask “are you listening?” we are asking a much deeper question. We are asking not only can you hear and understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, but do you understand what I mean? Do you understand where I’m coming from? (Ended that sentence in a preposition; But that’s the most popular way to ask that question n’est ce pas?) In order to understand where you’re coming from, I must learn the art of listening.

The catalyst that propelled me in this direction of thought this week is a popular verse of scripture in the Christian Holy Bible. I have heard it quoted and toted and I’ve even noted it and wrote it a zillion times; everyone helping the speaker to finish the sentence because we all “know” this verse so well. So many things in life are just like that: so popular, so natural and normal to everyone that we assume that we and everyone else truly understand what it means. But for my own life, (and I can say by observation that I am not the only one who has suffered from this same malaise) I must be honest to confess that I did not truly “understand” at the heart level what this scripture is truly saying, and thus what it really means. I struggled to live it according to the understanding I have had all these years of the English words used to translate this particular verse (as well as many others), just to end up in the land of frustration again and again, wondering why I’m not seeing and experiencing the desired changes for myself. Oh, I’ve not yet spilled the beans yet have I? Okay, here it is, found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7a, Amplified Bible). Hmmm, notice that the writer, King Solomon, the wisest man who has ever lived, did not say “For as he thinks in his mind. . .” neither did he write “For as he feels in his heart. . .” He said “For as he THINKS in his heart.” (This includes ladies too. We have not been left out, not by God anyway.) Very interesting. So exactly what IS he saying to us?

Well first of all, for the first time in all these years of reading this verse out of context, I decided to read it in its context to get all the meat and fat and skin on the chicken this time, and I was taught in my pastoral classes and other Bible courses that you must consider the verses around (before and after) the one verse you are studying – at least one complete verse (and if that verse is an incomplete thought, meaning it doesn’t end with a period, you must back up some more – or advance until you get to the first completed verse. This is how we keep Bible verses in their context and cut down on much confusion.). So let’s do that because I found the context of this verse also enlightening and very meaty for another blog topic. Yep! J

Proverbs 23:6-8 (Amplified Bible): “Eat not the bread of him (or her) who has a hard, grudging, and envious eye, neither desire his (her) dainty foods; For as he (she) thinks in his (her) heart, so is he (she). As one who reckons, he (she) says to you, eat and drink, yet his heart is not with you [but is grudging the cost]. The morsel which you have eaten you will vomit up, and your complimentary words will be wasted.” Ooooh, this is cutting like a knife. Can you imagine being close to someone who really is jealous, envious, angry and holding grudges against you, yet who invites you to eat in their home time and again? But because your heart is not like that, you in your na├»vete continue to fellowship with this person because your thoughts are pure and loving towards this person. Hmmm, so our focal statement of Proverbs 23:7a is true for both sides: “For as he (she) thinks in his heart, so is he (she).” I found it necessary and a lot of fun to do a word search so I could understand at least two words: “thinks”, “heart”, and “is”. Oh my bad, that’s three words. J See what I’m saying.

From the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the word “thinketh” (as recorded in the King James Version of the Bible, the basis for Strong’s) is from the Hebrew word (#8176) “sha’ar”, pronounced shaw-ar’ meaning: from a primitive root to split or open; to act as gatekeeper; to estimate – think. An opening, door or gate. Oh my goodness. At first glance these words to describe and define “thinks” don’t seem to make sense, but then if we realize that the original translation of Aramaic and Hebrew words are pictures/symbols, then maybe we can get clarity. We tend to think of “thinking” (no pun intended) to be the job description of the mind, but this verse is attributing it to the heart and is equating “thinking” to be a door, a gatekeeper. Which may be saying to us that what gets into our hearts through the gate, the doorway i.e. our thoughts, is what we become. It reminds me of the adage “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. Well the thoughts that rock our hearts rule our world/our lives.” Whoa Sally! Hmmmm.

The word “heart” is from the Hebrew word (#5315) “nephesh”, pronounced neh’fesh meaning: a breathing creature, i.e. animal or vitality; in a figurative sense (bodily or mental) – any appetite, beast, body, breath, creature, mind, soul. To breathe. Hmmmm again with four m’s this time. It seems that Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived is trying to tell us something very important, that our “heart” is our life, our very breath, existence, our vitality, and he is not referring to the physical beating heart. He is referring to the spirit of the heart, for we know that without a beating heart no creature can live, but only humans have been given a spirit by God. God did not breathe His spirit into the animals and insects, only into humans.

So what I’m getting so far is that the words that enter my ear gates and lodge into my mind as thoughts, and then become beliefs in the heart of my spirit and the spirit of my heart is/are what rocks my world for good or bad. I am ruled by what enters my spirit as facts and truth whether they are lies, or the truth. I therefore AM what I think. “We are what we eat physically” (too much beef can leave us with the rear end of a cow) can be applied to this as well – “we are what we ‘think’ i.e. believe, breathe in.” Our reality is created from the inside out, not from the outside in. Sure, people can cause us problems and people can help us solve our problems, but when the final verdict is in, everything we are comes from within, from our own beliefs and desires. We may live for years adjusting our beliefs and desires to accommodate or imitate those of others, but when the rubber meets the road, we become what’s inside of us. This is why we must be careful what we “breathe in” – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Secondhand cigarette smoke and vehicle emissions are not the only pollutants we must strive to avoid “inhaling”. We must guard the gateways to our hearts for we will look like our thoughts, sound like our thoughts, feel like our thoughts, spend our thoughts, BE our thoughts whether they be conscious thoughts, or residing on the subconscious level of our being.

The art of listening therefore is doing what Solomon’s mother advised her son in this verse of scripture: “Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, Amplified Bible) Again, to keep this in context you need to read the previous verses and the one after this one, but for the sake of time and space (the final frontier) I will just summarize them. Solomon’s mom (also a wise woman) admonished him to pay attention to her advice concerning life issues and to let them guide him through life and in dealing with people. She told him that her advice and the commandments from the Lord would help him to live a healthy life. And when we get to this 23rd verse I’m reminded of our verse of study above where our “thinking” is the gatekeeper to our very life’s force, for she told Solomon to ‘guard’ his heart. I can see security guards and bouncers and the guards of Queen Elizabeth’s palace standing around my heart to help me keep out all unsavory characters. Because I “is”, the third word in our study, what I think. This is a continual verb (and noun? hmmm), not one of a “has been”. It means that I am continuing to be whatever is playing at the theater of my heart. The only way to change the movie is to change my beliefs, and the only way to change my beliefs is to change my thoughts, and the only way to change my thoughts is to change what I am hearing and how I am hearing – mastering the art of listening.

If we want to live a healthy life, we cannot spend our time with those who have grudges against us for any reason, real or imagined, for if they have these “thoughts” and beliefs about us, then their actions will soon match their thoughts. Scary isn’t it? We cannot continue feeding ourselves information which disagrees with our values. We cannot leave ourselves empty waiting for others to fill us with what they want us to hear, do and be. We must open our “doors” (our thinking) only to whatever is “true, . . . worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, . . . just, . . . pure, . . . lovely and lovable, . . . kind and winsome and gracious, . . . virtuous and excellent, . . . praiseworthy . . .” (Philippians 4:8, Amplified Bible). (Please read this verse in its context when you have time. Philippians 4:6-9. It will be well worth your time.) We must master the art of listening – hearing not just with our ears but with our minds and hearts, so we may discern well whether what we are being fed is “food” fit for a king. See you soon for part II: The Art of Learning.