I was out in the Christmas crowd shopping for my grandchildren. They don’t really need a thing. They have so much. They fortunately live within the amazing care of a dad and mom who adore and cherish and abundantly provide for them. I wanted to just package up some hugs and kisses and send those as my gifts. Wouldn’t that be enough? It would, for them. They would be perfectly fine with such gifts. But I followed the rest of the holiday legion to Target and elsewhere to lend my effort to our society’s commercial Christmas mania.
There is that line in Dr. Seuss’ famous “The Grinch That Stole Christmas” that nudges me this time of year: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
I realize we all make mistakes and that it often takes time for us learn so we don’t make the same hurtful mistakes again. It certainly took me time to appreciate the vital importance of being responsible for each of my thoughts, words and actions. However, I learned one crucial lesson the first time my words hurt someone, which I share in painful detail in my first book – Lead with Your Heart, Creating a Life of Love, Compassion and Purpose.
Briefly the lesson I learned is that gossip, slander and character assassination are completely irresponsible and were signs of my emotional and spiritual immaturity. Now, this is a lesson each of us needs to learn if we are to move ourselves toward a peaceful world and fix what is wrong in our politics and with society in general.
Each day we hear countless people tearing others down in an attempt to build themselves up. There are also people who listen to and allow themselves to be influenced by negative trash-talk, hate speech, and slanderous attacks on someone seen as a political or social rival. Then there are people who do not question the credibility of those who spread conspiracy theories, or racist, homophobic, divisive, xenophobic, propaganda.
Does anyone actually believe Jesus would think purveyors of gossip and slander offer something worth listening to? They offer nothing of value to our society. Their agenda is one of sowing discourse and distraction. And some get paid to spread their trash talk.
When I was a boy, I was loved by the sweetest women in the world. My Mom, of course, beautiful in every way was one. Smart, devoted, lovingly and fiercely protective of her family. But then also, on my Dad’s side, there was my grandmother, Maude, whom I called Nana. Quiet and reserved, small and lovely, she was a tender presence. By my Aunt Laura, who was fun and beautiful with a contagious laugh, generous and open hearted. By my Aunt Mary, tiny and petite, poised and gracious. By Aunt Florida, snow white hair and the most winsome smile, a deeply self-confident woman.
On my mother’s side, there was my grandmother, Ruby, whom I called Momo. Quite simply, a saint. I adored her. My great-grandmother, Joanna, whom I called Gammy. A gifted pianist, the first female American Indian graduate in the school of music at Bacone College. Her embrace was arms of love. And there were my Aunt Emerald and my Aunt Jackie, wonderful women of grace and affection.
This is a difficult topic for me to write about because it is not something that I consciously think of. I am certainly not an expert on “what it means to be a man” and I have made many mistakes like all the rest of us. For this reason, I do not want to promote myself as some sort of hero, saint, or model citizen. We are all flawed (men and women) and I believe that we are all on a continuous journey of learning from our mistakes and striving to be better.
With that in mind, we uncover the most important core principle of what it means to be a man which is a willingness to listen and change. It’s incredible to me that such a simple concept can be so difficult to follow. Men are often characterized as tough, macho, hard headed, and stubborn and there is good reason for this portrayal. Many guys dig their heels into the dirt when it comes to their opinions on politics, work, sports, and so on. We idolize stories of strong men who are unrelenting in their resolve, who persevere despite the pressures of the world around them. Historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln are all praised for this very trait. But it is a mistake to use the stories of these men as evidence for digging our own heels into the ground, ignoring the perspectives of others, and bulldozing our way forward. Instead, I believe that to be a man you need to be willing to admit you were wrong and to adjust your opinions accordingly. I am a big sports fan and I often listen to a popular sports talk show host, Collin Cowherd. Cowherd often uses this saying, “I don’t want to be right, I want to get it right.” So often sports fans state their opinion and look for any piece of evidence to support them being right, while ignoring any evidence to the contrary. The smart fan is the one who is willing to say they were wrong and to change his opinion to get it right.
We should extend this mantra beyond sports to all walks of life, especially to one of the most important social issues that our nation faces which has been brought to light by the “me too” movement. Women in our country are often objectified and this has resulted in an abundance of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Unfortunately, our society has perpetuated this objectification. For example, women are portrayed as sex symbols in movies, social media influencers are using provocative photos to sell more products, and who can ignore the impact of the pornography industry. As I mentioned earlier, I do not stand here and pretend that I am impervious to the effects of these influences on my own views of women. But, this is where the willingness of a man to listen and change becomes so important. Are we as men willing to listen to facts that are contradictory to what we want to believe, accept them, and adjust our perspective accordingly? Are we willing to get it right or do we just want to be right? If we want to truly be a man, if we want to get it right, then we need to be open to hearing the stories of women who have been mistreated and we need to change how we act and treat women to avoid making the same mistakes again.
When I think about what it means to be a man, something else comes to mind that needs to be acknowledged. Men feel the need to provide. The easiest way to measure our effectiveness at providing has been based on our salary and what that allows us to afford for our families. In this last year I have had to reevaluate this measuring stick of my ability to provide for my family. I went back to school to pursue a graduate degree, while my wife worked to support our family. Not being able to financially support our family was a huge challenge for me and has caused me to reevaluate what it means to “provide.” Since I cannot provide financially, I have found ways to provide emotionally by being an interested listener and a shoulder to cry on. I have provided tangibly by cleaning the house and preparing meals. Listening and changing does not just mean listening to others and changing for others. Over the last year I was forced to listen to my own need to provide and to change the way in which I was providing for my wife. Perhaps, by changing how we value our own contribution, we can change how we value women and their role in our society.
Dealing with physical pain over a long period of time wore me down. After a while, life was dull. I found less joy in daily activities, and the constant discomfort kept me on edge. Every day I woke up focused on the pain. Each evening I went to sleep wishing something would change.
When I received news that my twenty-nine-year-old cousin had been killed in an automobile accident, I experienced a dramatic shift in the way I viewed life. Physical pain turned into a positive sign that I was still alive. It was surprising to discover how much my pain decreased when my focus changed from living in pain to appreciating the life I had.
After being downsized from a job, I faced the daily temptation to just give
I saw a decal on the back of an SUV the other day. It read: “Not of this World” and had a Christian cross underneath it. I never have understood this concept. Years ago when I was a minister I used to wrestle with the idea Christians are somehow not supposed to be of this world. What are we supposed to be, aliens? As often happens I think those passages of scripture that mention that phrase are misunderstood. Jesus once said his kingdom was not of this world. But that was clearly a reference to how he dealt with life as opposed to how the Roman Empire handled it.
He came from love; they came from fear. His approach was acceptance; theirs was suspicion. His mission was peace; theirs was domination.
St. Paul used the phrase in one of his letters. He often spoke out of his harsh background of persecuting Christians. I think sometimes Paul pushed too hard. People who have had unhealthy, scarred, abused, intemperate pasts often use their religious beliefs in the extreme. They overcompensate for their previous behavior by trying to keep everything in the present, structured and under control. Paul had those moments.
My father is almost 95 years old. He went to the local grocery store. As he was leaving he found the flat crosswalk at the store entrance blocked by a huge pick-up truck that parked illegally right in front of the doors.
My dad saw a man get out of the truck and said to him, “Excuse me, this is a no parking zone. Can you please move your truck so we can safely go around?”
The guy responded, “You just take care of your groceries old man and I’ll take care of how I park.”
My fragile old father was forced to go over a big curb with his shopping cart because the man would not move his truck.
I know exactly what you’re thinking. My egocentric pride reactively thought the same thing. How dare the man treat my dad so rudely? Who does he think he is? How can anyone behave with such calloused entitlement and
I recently spent the weekend with my son, Luke, in southwest Oklahoma. He manages a large ranch there set in the hills of vast trees and rugged trails. I love going there because, for one thing, I get to spend time with him and his dogs, Maggie and Gus. And for another, I get to get out of the city and enjoy the peace and quiet of the country.
The ranch is a majestic spot set on nearly 3,000 acres and Luke has transformed it into a real paradise. The grounds around the ranch house, the barn, the shed, and the corral are immaculate. Big trees stand by the house and shade the nearby fire pit. It’s a perfect spot for morning coffee or friends around a fire at night.
There are cattle and horses that Luke tends to and across the rolling hills deer graze and raise their heads to stare if Luke and I pull up in the gator. Then they take off, running elegantly into the woods.
Today, I was reading an article on the website of a leading news organization written by a seasoned investigative journalist and decided to look at the string of comments. As a public figure and someone devoted to integrity and God I have been trolled on a few occasions over the years. But, I was taken aback at the number of hateful comments made against the man’s fact based reporting by people who voluntarily identified themselves as Christians.
Yet, I was not really surprised. Over the past several years I have noticed a growing incongruence within the political and religious arenas in the United States between some who call themselves Christians and behavior that is anything but Christ-like.
Maybe these people attend a congregation where the vilification of those