Monday, April 27, 2015

Land Enough For Everyone

     Isn't it presumptuous of man to think he can own land? Or to think, “I own this property now and forevermore and no on can share any of it unless I say so 'cause it's mine! All mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine!” Or, “I have this piece of paper that proves my ownership rights...” I don't deny the legal authority or benefits of land ownership—I'd like to perhaps own a house myself someday if I feel that's God's desire for me, but come on, own land? What does that mean? 
     Ownership suggests permanence, yet nothing in this life is owned perpetually, not even the plot of land in which our remains are buried. Within hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands years it's inevitable that our burial plots will be destroyed, paved over, or turned over to some other use. Land is just too scarce to think otherwise.
     In terms of the big picture, I believe that God created this glorious, beautiful, wonderful life-sustaining orb that has a limited life span of a few billion years tops. And that he created us modern humans to thrive, multiply, enjoy, and live upon this orb for a little more than a hundred years tops, each. And it seems to me that the entirety of this earthy paradise belongs to God or perhaps to all his creation—not just man alone, or just certain countries, or just certain individuals or entities within each country. After all, man arrived on earth just recently compared to crocodiles, sharks, and tons of other of its long-term inhabitants.  
     Sure, some may claim that none of this is Biblical 'cause God gave Israel the Promised Land as their possession (which they later lost due to repeated disobedience to God, I might add). 
     But one of my favorite passages in the Bible that no one I know of likes to discuss, remember, or even acknowledge is in the Book of Acts in which all the followers sell all their possessions and give freely to everyone in need so that no one lacked anything. This spontaneous repudiation of private ownerships of land and all earthy possessions was one of the greatest miracles ever because the followers—real people—for perhaps one of the few times ever acknowledged that all belongs to God who gives freely to all, that God is sovereign, that God's Holy Spirit can be relied on to guide everyone in all righteousness, and that trusting first in His abundant provision, no one including the givers of all will ever be in want. 
     Whenever I share this with someone—even Godly Christians—I sense a tightening up as if to suggest “What? Just give away my house and years of hard earned savings to lazy scums, drug addicts, and dirt bags, who haven't lifted a finger to help themselves all their lives?”
     There's no easy answers to this, but picture life with the foreknowledge of an inevitable and shared catastrophic doom—perhaps a huge asteroid or comet slamming into earth. It could happen. Now if everyone knew this was going to happened a year, a month, or a week from now, how might people live differently? Would living lives in the obsessive pursuit of accumulating ever more wealth still remain paramount to so many—especially us Americans? Or Hawaii residents? Or my family and me at times?
     Rather, I think we'd all cash out all our discretionary assets and do those few last major things that must be done before we all die—visit loved ones, carry out commitments, seek forgiveness for past hurts committed, and everything else that has to be done because there just isn't enough time to waste doing anything else. And the excess of such liquidated assets would most certainly go not to loved ones with ample, who don't need anymore because there's no time left to spend it all, but to those in need—who never had and never will during this earthly existence have anything of worth other then life itself. 'Cause at that point why should anyone in need have to go without?
     Yet this science-fiction scenario is not so different from what we all face in everyday life, for we all do share a collective, sudden, certain catastrophic doom: death. For in the life of our universe, a million years is less than a blink of an eye. A thousands years is less than a thought. A hundred years is less than the tiniest increment perceptible on the most precise atomic clock. We're all on the verge of this shared sudden doom, yet we all too often act as if we're immortal. Especially when it comes to our own possessions, which I find puzzling at times. 
     It's easy to imagine how the first possession came into being. There was a caveman—a big, tough, selfish, greedy brute that favored a certain stick, stone, berry plant, cave corner, fishing spot, or watering hole perch. He saw someone else take that favored possession (new words and thoughts) for temporary usage and via a very strong physical effort or display—a shove, snatch, hit, tackle, roar, stare, or threatening movement got it back! And kept it evermore until the next tougher brute came along and took it away from him. 
     Is this God's best for man in a world of plenty but limited prime resources? 
     Antarctica, I think might be the model of sharing. No one country or individual owns or possesses it. It's shared by all for perpetual peaceful purposes. Stuck residents, inaccessible to incoming or outgoing vessels for months at a time, must share with others in need. And residents from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds, and speaking different native tongues do quite well cooperating, for the most part. 
     I'd love to live and see the day when the Book of Acts comes to life again. It would be fantastic to be part of, especially if such ready giving and sharing lasted beyond our lifetimes to our kids' and then some. It would have to be so freeing to not ever have to worry or think about or struggle for the continued accumulation of wealth again. Relying on fellow man at times can be a good thing. Anyone who has experienced a flat tire, empty gas tank, or lost cell phone or wallet and received the help of a kindly stranger knows this—it's a blessing both to giver and recipient. And always relying on God is even better.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Table Manners

     I read in a novel that it's the small day-to-day courtesies—the exchanged thank you's, you're welcomes, good mornings, good bye's, and have a great days, and the shared chores, errands, and responsibilities—that make for happy marriages. It seems like such a simple formula, but I think there's much truth to it, for nobody is perfect and everyone is flawed, so that it's not so much the person someone marries (since we're all filled at times with horrible, shameful, selfish, evil, and hurtful thoughts and feelings) but rather how a person treats his partner despite those shortcomings that matters most, for if a husband treats his wife well, she'll tend towards happiness; if he treats her bad, she'll tend towards sadness. Sort of like a sunflower that reaches toward sunlight when love and acceptance is offered, or droops and collapses when locked in a dark closet where nothing but moribund silence and disregard prevails. And of course the opposite's true whereby a husband will tend toward happiness or sadness depending on his wife's treatment of him. When both sides function well, there's usually ample happiness on both sides. (And there's seldom a glutton for punishment in marriage, at least not for long in happy ones.) 
     And I believe this simple formula also applies beyond marriage to immediate family life, for families, like couples thrive most when members help out, show consideration, and seldom take each other for granted. (It helps me when I struggle with selfish disregard to think that they won't always be here, that I won't always be here, and that I don't live alone anymore.)    
     Common courtesy for our family extends beyond exchanged pleasantries and shared chores to decent manners according to our customs. 
     This has been a struggle for our family and continues to be, for it's not always easy to mind our manners in the midst of hectic schedules, frazzled nerves, disappointments, and endless demands. In short, life's tough and we don't always feel up to it. Nonetheless, its worthwhile lest we neglect, hurt, demean, or offend another by our careless, thoughtless, or crass insensitivity as if no one's there or he or she doesn't matter much, for everyone wants and deserves dignity and respect 'cause no one's beneath another, slave-like, or sub-human. 
     The dinner table's a prime example. Sometimes ours reminds me (or used to) of The Simpsons for its Homer-like belches and burps without so much as an “Excuse me” or hand held over gaping mouth to obscure tongue and uvula. 
     “What do you say?” I ask with astonishment after such an outburst with no apology in the offing. 
     “Excuse me,” Deanne may say after a chuckle. 
     “Elbows off the table” is a common refrain to our kids or “Eat with your lips closed.”
     It may sound harsh, but my dad used to jab my cheek with his pointed index finger when I didn't “get it” and kept chewing open-mouthed after endless, repeated reminders—it even drew me to tears at times and I hated it!
     But I thank him now (Thanks Dad!) for teaching me civility so that I can eat anywhere with anyone with no apparent disapproval (that I'm aware of).
     And I did the same for my children when they didn't get it (especially Braden who was slow to learn), but now, they seldom need reminding even with words. 
     Other corrective reminders that we employ as necessary include:
     “Sit up straight”—no ducking head down to fork like a bird sipping water; no slouching. 
     “Put your plate in the middle”—not angled off to one side.
     “Wait your turn”—age before youth when self-serving; no interrupting when someone else is speaking.
     “Take your fair share.”
     “Eat civilized”—no noodles dangling from mouth to plate; put entire forkful of food into mouth; cut meats to size; no hasty eating.
     “Hands on your lap”—don't rest unused hands on table or gesture inappropriately with them.
     “Sit properly”—unused hand belongs outside the thigh, not crossed over creating closed body language to persons seated on that side of the table.
     “Hold your fork properly”—no hobo hand grips or flipping utensil upside down into mouth. 
     “Sit straight”—no half-turned body or errant leg placements.
     “Finish your vegetables first...” before asking for dessert or seconds.
     “Swallow before talking.” 
     “No more talking until you finish your dinner”—eat and don't just talk. 
     “I can't hear what you're saying”—no side conversations, whispers, or secrets; include everyone in conversational exchanges.
     “What do you say?”—receive permission to be excused before leaving or taking seconds; say please, thank you, I'm sorry, or excuse me.
     “I don't understand what you're saying” or “Does that make sense?”—think before speaking. 
     “I don't know, go look it up”—no endless annoying questions.
     “You don't know what you're talking about”—don't spout off false knowledge like a know-it-all or state wild speculation as fact. 
     “Let's change the topic” or “We'll discuss it later”—said to Deanne for inappropriate subject matter or when emotions run too high.
     It might sound harsh, as if everyone sits in a straight-jacket of formality at our family dinners, but it's quite the opposite: warm, friendly feelings, shared laughs, spontaneity, and positive reinforcements flow through ninety-five percent of most meals. And it's hard to imaging such shared conviviality sans decent manners. For by focusing first on others at our meals with everyone saying, “Can you please pass me the ______” and “Thank you” in turn, we all feel valued, welcome, and a part, and none is excluded or minimized. Good manners is just a nice, easy way to show caring. And as they say, over ninety percent of communications is non-verbal, tons of which include manners. 
     I've told my kids that manners are culturally determined, everywhere interprets good manners differently, and different families set their own standards. Nonetheless, the first time I witnessed uncivilized manners by high school classmates at a formal banquet, I was shocked. But I was also relieved that my parents had taught and trained me well. And I'm sure my kids will feel likewise when the same happens to them. Or when they dine with their girlfriend's or boyfriends' parents for the first time. 'Cause manners do matter and leave big, lasting impressions.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


     I read in a non-fiction, heavily researched book (that wasn't about parenting) that asking one's son certain difficult questions forces him to lie, therefore parents ought not to ask sons such questions because doing so only trains them to become adept liars.
     This struck me as so much dumb psycho-babble advice because if one's child has trouble with such a critical character-defining trait, one ought to instead drill him until he gets it right—before he leaves home and it's too late. 
     My mom, I'm convinced, did this very thing to me when I was in the habit (probably at around age seven or eight) of lying. 
     I find a dime on our hallway floor. Mom, materialized out of nowhere, asks, “Is that yours?”
     “Yes,” I say.
     A look of dismay shrouds her usually cheerful, pretty face and transforms it into a tragic dough ball of worry. And she says “I don't know what I'm going to do with you—growing up to become a liar.” 
     “I was just joking,” I say to reassure her.
     She shakes her head, says, “No, you were serious, I'm worried about you,” and walks away bent double, hand to mouth, as if I were the cause of all her worldly suffering. 
     Asian mothers have a knack for making their children feel guilty and small. Even over the smallest of things. Such as a dime planted on the floor to entrap a lying son. I never felt guiltier in my life. Lousy. Filthy. And unworthy. I couldn't have felt much worse had I raped, maimed, or murdered Lei Hamada—sweet, helpless two-year-old down the street from us. So I knew then for certain that I never wanted to feel that way ever again. Or to disappoint Mom again. And to avoid those feelings and Mom's reproach, I decided never, ever to lie again. 
     For the most part, I've kept that commitment. God has helped me in this, for whenever I tell a doozy, I almost invariably get busted and feel guilty. Or I don't get caught and I feel even worse because of it. Either way, guilt forces me to repent and redetermine to never, ever lie again for the rest of my life! I've got tons of character flaws, but dishonesty ranks low on the list—thanks, Mom and praise God.
     Like me, no kid has to lie. There's no gun to the head or waterboarding involved. It's sinful nature or Satan that tempts a kid to lie. It's the desire to get away with something wrong. Or to steal credit for something good. What innocent kid says, “I stole it”, or what helpful kid says, “I didn't do the dishes”? (In Shindler's List, a boy lies to a Nazi soldier in order to avert senseless killings—a rare good lie that seldom happens in real life.)
     Braden, a trustworthy, honest boy overall has of late become loose with the truth. A week ago on a Monday evening, I find a permission form on my home desk calendar for his end-of-the-year JROTC banquet that Deanne says is due tomorrow. I hate this 'cause I've told him countless times to give me at least two weeks advance notice for such things. I ask him, When did you get this? He says, He gave it to us on Friday. When's it due? I ask. Tomorrow, he says. Why didn't you give it to me on Friday, then? I ask. I forgot, he says. This irritates me even further since his delay tightens the already tight deadline. I decide to make him suffer the consequences of his delay (and figure since the deadline is unreasonable, why rush?) and blow it all off for a day. 
     While I peruse the form at work, its date—nearly a month prior to when Braden got it—pops out at me, as does the due date that's a day earlier than Braden mentioned.  
     I call the school's JROTC class and get put through to an upper classman teacher's assistant to whom I restate what Braden told me, and ask about the mismatched dates and if Braden was lying or was the form really distributed so late with a new due date?
     The guy, who sounds African American with a southern accent says in hurried, slurred speech (Is Braden imitating him when he speaks, I wonder?), “The form was distributed awhile ago and was due yesterday. One of the boys said he lost his form and asked for another...”
     I immediately like the guy for his formal manner, loyalty to cadets, and candor. He thrice apologizes—wholly unnecessary—that he can't answer my question—Is Braden on the list of awardees?—because they haven't yet gotten around to making the list. 
     Braden is already in the doghouse with Deanne and me for talking back, acting disrespectful, disobeying, and violating other rules, and I realize that further time outs, lectures, dinners alone outside in the carport, walks up and down the street, and doing all the chores are losing their effectiveness, so I decide to pull a Mom on him and make him feel guilty. 
     I say nothing, sign the form, ante up the $25, and leave them on his desk. After all, he deserves a treat for taking JROTC as an extra credit elective and following through with it every school morning, I reason. Maybe he'll feel guilty for getting away with the lie. 
     But he doesn't display much, if any, remorse, only apparent smugness for having duped me. So right before bedtime that day I snap at him, “I know you lied to me—get to bed!”
     Only, it's not over yet, 'cause only a few days later, he disobeys a direct command and lies about it.
     Because we live on an older, narrow street without sidewalks, I've told him for years to walk on the left side of the road toward oncoming traffic. When I see him walk on the wrong side to the bus stop one morning, I remind him via angry scoldings that evening.  
     Two days later, I see him do it again! I reprimand him and he mutters under his breath. What did you say? I ask. I was just crossing the street! he growls with a dismissive hand gesture that suggests, “What are you getting so worked up about? I didn't do anything wrong!” 
     I saw you walking up the street! I say.
     He curses me with his eyes.  Caught dead in a lie and confronted with the truth, he hasn little choice.
     Sometimes I get so exasperated by his continued bad attitude, defiance, and disrespectful attitudes, I feel like striking him.
     And sometimes I feel like sending him away.
     Mostly, I try to get him out of my sight when he's fuming about everything so I won't ruin his, mine, and everyone else's day. 
     But we still have to feed, clothe, teach, school, and house him, and provide him with a monthly bus pass. I suppose his lying, disobedience, rebellion, and arrogant disrespect wouldn't hurt so much if we didn't love him so. After all, if we didn't, would we even bother or care? 
     God help us and him! We need you so, God! (I often feel so utterly helpless when no matter what we do or try, it seems we're not getting anywhere with him. I suppose all parents of teens feel that way sometimes. Or frequently. Or always. God help and bless all parents of teens!)