Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wondering About the True Meaning Of Love? – Read this.

A few times I’ve had brides joke when it came to the wedding vows, “for richer or ... for richer.”  Ha ha. Except it didn’t seem funny. As I thought about it more later, I realized that it’s not only the “poorer” that at some point will come upon every couple that stays together, but each of the other opposites – not only “better” but also “worse”, not only health, but also “sickness” – even death. All these things are the legacy of a couple that stays together “until death shall part” them. Many of us fail to keep these forever vows, but we never renounce their importance and value. If we plan to marry again, what we promise then will probably be about the same. An introspective person might at times wonder, “Do I really know what love is?”, “Can I live the kind of love called for in marriage?” It’s really the opposite end of the feeling/thinking scale from the starry-eyed couple that has never had a fight and knows they will always be best friends. Weddings should cause us to look within. Making a life-long pledge to someone ought to create some healthy introspection. It’s naive to think that we really understand our intented spouse, ourselves, what the world might throw at us - or what is required by real love. Are you wondering what true love is? Read this article, "When Wounded Vets Come Home" and see it in flesh and blood. This is the kind of love that the Apostle Paul says, “never fails.” It's so difficult. No wonder it's also so rare. (The photograph is by Erika Larsen/Redux.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Prayer for Families

"Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families. We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. ... Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents, and so rekindle forever charity amoung us all, that we may everymore be kindly affectioned to one another, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen." These words from the Book of Common Prayer take us back to another day, not only because we don’t say “affectioned” anymore, but with their sentiments. In a world where the behavior of children in the family mimics television characters as much as anything (Bart Simpson, the boys from South Park - even Zack and Cody with their suite life), and where adults have long ago given up on real leadership in the home in many ways - again often resembling T.V. (Three and a Half Men, Still Standing) we have, child and parent alike, become accustomed to home life at a level that in our more lucid moments we may be willing to admit is disappointing - and not helpful to its members. It’s in this context that I like the words of this ancient prayer. Like the famous prayer of Jesus (“Our Father...”) or the great confession of David in the Psalms (Psalm 23), these words can be savored and mulled over - and prayed every day with profit. They can remind us of a higher life, and kindle in us higher aspirations. Look around. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Hottest Sex Tip Ever

You can tell at the wedding rehearsal. The woman has been dreaming of her wedding, and planning out everything since she was ten years old. The guy still really isn't that into the details.  His attitude is usually, "Whatever you want is fine with me babe." The woman sees the wedding ceremony as the beginning - of life together, the start of family, etc. The guy may see this as the end, at least in some senses - of freedom, of multiple partners, etc. (Obviously, these are stereotypes, but admit it, they're often true.) It's in this context that the Men's Health article. “The Hottest Sex Tip Ever” chimes in – encouraging men to think of the chapel ceremony as a door to the best there is: “Your lifetime of great sex starts when you stroll the aisle.” The magazine gives mixed messages at times, but often something appears filled with real maturity and wisdom. This is one of those. Check it out men. It’s what your father would tell you if he were really wise.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ouch, that hurts! (on criticism)

I know if you know me, it may be hard for you to believe that I've been criticized! I bet though, that as great as you are, and as hard as you try, you've been criticized too. Over the years, I've gathered some thoughts I find helpful.

Dr. Robert Cook gently reminded us not to fight it, but to learn from criticism. Even to love our critics. He encouraged us to keep doing what we know we should, and to give God time to deal with our critics himself. (I don’t have to get even or defend myself to them.) Even his patented advice applies well, "Walk with the King today, and be a blessing.")

If you try to do anything at all in life of any significance, you will be criticized. Expect it. Everyone else who does anything important gets it too, not just you. Read the biographies of some great men - it doesn’t matter which ones, and you’ll see.

Pastor Chuck Swindoll warns that we'll never survive in ministry if we can't learn to receive and to ignore criticism. Most of us have probably seen people give up on something important because they couldn't handle criticism.

God above, and daily life here below, conspire together to take off our rough edges. You and I will be better for it.  I'm sure this is like what Joe Bayly meant when he said, "Criticism is the manure that makes the plants of the Lord grow strong." Being married has an advantage at this point, because, if you're lucky, you're spouse will point out things to you that you need to know - but that no one else cares enough to tell you. ("You can't wear those shoes with that!", "You need a different deodorant.")

It’s also important to consider the critic. Does he love you and have your back, or is she just a chronic PITA? Why pay any attention to someone who isn’t committed to you?

Abraham Lincoln’s remark that, "He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help." is also worth remembering. Lincoln knew something about being the target of criticism.

Finally, we also need to watch that we don't become grumblers and complainers ourselves.

The Bible says that "God hates ... the man who stirs up dissension among brethren", and the Apostle James writes that a man's religion is worthless unless he keeps "a tight rein on his tongue". (James 1:26) The Apostle John reminds us that "anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." (1 John 4)

As you may know, some of us are pacifiers and some are blamers. Obviously, both approaches fall short - but ask yourself, "Am I a blamer?" No ... really, ask yourself. If it’s a pattern or M.O., then that’s significant.

As for me, I tend to become defensive very easily when criticized. I guess that's why this topic appeals to me - and I’ve had my share of criticism. I hope I'm becoming wiser. I remind myself to look for the truth in it, to look for the love. I try to refuse to defend myself. I can leave it in God’s hands. I also remind myself that the truth is probably harder to take than the lies of any critic. I know my heart - and my life. A little criticism is certainly merited - to say the least. Remembering this helps me dial my response down a notch.

Well, I’m done. I hope you won’t think that this was too negative, too predictable, too shallow, too secular, too long, or poorly written. Instead, I hope, like me, you’ll be able to benefit and grow through loving criticism - that you won’t let it make you quit, that you won’t become a sourpuss, and perhaps most of all, that you’ll determine not to be a critic yourself.

Here’s to being there for each other and building each other up!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Marriage and Ego

In one of my wedding homilies, I remind everyone of the well known saying, "You can be right, or you can be happy.", and then I say, "It's never so true as in marriage. If you insist on keeping score, on being vindicated, on preserving your dignity - you very well may fail in love." This preaches well, but these behaviors seem second nature to most of us. After all, if we don’t keep score, won’t we leave ourselves in a weak position? And who among us doesn’t want to be vindicated and proven right? And why not at the very least determine to protect our dignity? And yet these behaviors stamp out love. Don’t get me wrong, marriage is not about being a pleaser, a pushover or a doormat. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I’m talking about being led around by the nose by my ego – which controls me by fear, so that whether I speak up or shut up, I’m doing it out of fear and not out of love. I like what Vincent Roazzi says in his book The Spirituality of Success, “If you do not have a plan for your ego, it will have a plan for you. You can be the master of your ego or you can be its slave. It’s your choice.” If I’m circling the wagons – either to protect myself, or in preparation for a fight – then I’m being dominated by my ego – by my innate desire not to be hurt. Let me lash out, let me withdraw into my cave – anything but speaking up or standing up in love. If I let the walls go up, I protect myself from hurt, but I also keep myself from love. The first course feels safe and familiar. The second course feels foreign and frightening. In choosing it, I determine to love without regard to how I may be hurt. I drop my defenses and refuse to play games. There is no guaranteed outcome, but what occurs is the possibility of a deeper human connection. I need this, and so does my partner or friend, but it’s counterintuitive and so very uncomfortable. In the Psalms it says of God’s compassions that “they are new every morning.” Among other things I take this to mean that with each new day I receive a clean slate to give this another try. That’s what I need. It’s a long learning curve. Maybe today I’ll do better.

Pastor Bill serves families in the Greater New York area including Long Island (Nassau County and Suffolk County), Queens, Brooklyn, New York City (Manhattan), and Westchester County. If you’re thinking of using a Judge for your wedding, or a Justice of the Peace – or if you’re thinking of going to city hall for your wedding – or perhaps you’re working on a last minute wedding plan – in any case, Pastor Bill would love to speak with you. Pastor Bill is also available for families that have suffered the loss of a loved one and are planning a funeral.

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