Friday, December 28, 2007

Grump's Top Ten list for Husbands

Marriage is hard work. As with most cliches, that phrase has been uttered so many times, that it's ramification is often passed over. This is a shame, because the impact of the truth that led to this phrase becoming a cliche in the first place, is likewise passed over. Marriage is indeed hard work, but as with any difficult task, it can be made easier if you can identify smaller sub-tasks, learn to do them well, then put them into practice. As Martin Luther once said,"marriage is a school for character", so like school, in order to be a graduate of school, there is a sequence of learning that teaches us basic steps, goes on to put these basics into action by repetition, and adds additional more difficult skills as you go along. And as I recall my own school days, some of the most boring, trivial, or counter-intuitive steps, often turned out to be some of the most critical steps as well, so that my success as a student would have been radically different had I not taken the time to master the boring or seemingly insignificant steps all along the way.
After 7 years of marriage, it is beginning to dawn on me that marriage is very similar to the school process, and Mr.Luther's observation increasingly strikes me as one of the most profound statements I am aware of. Small, seemingly insignificant things that at first glance seemed counter-intuitive, now are beginning to sink in as the keys to marital happiness. I have distilled these ideas into a list of 10 Steps for Husbands. Yes, this is indeed directed at husbands, if for no other reason than as being a husband, I am more aware of why these steps seem trivial, but are powerfully important to my wife. And guys, I am an equal opportunity critic - I have some steps for wives too, but that will have to wait for another time. . This is by no means an exhaustive list, and in way of a disclaimer, as an Evangelical Christian, my worldview undoubtedly colours my view of marriage. However in this article I have endeavoured to make these principles as broadly applicable as I can, and will trust the reader to make of them what he will.
While I do not expect that my marriage or any marriage can be perfect in every respect - none can - nor do I expect that anyone can always apply these 10 principles consistently, but I wish I had started learning these principles and applying them years ago. And without further eloquence, here are Grumpamoose's Top Ten Husband Steps to a good marriage.

1 - Listen to your wife. And that does not mean merely hearing what she says, but actively paying attention to her when she speaks. This is the hardest step to do, if you are like most of us males, since we want to get to the point of what is being said, whereas for many women, what is being said is the point. Listening in this way to our wives is much more of an art that a learned skill, however it is most critical that we try and keep practicing to listen. I am aware that active listening will be difficult, but do it anyway.

2 - Learn what she likes and what truly makes her happy, and why. The why is as important as the what. And here is your first chance to practice step #1, since many times she may not know or know how to tell you the why.

3 - Regularly do things that make her happy, with no expectation that she reciprocate. (Although unless she is an unusually selfish individual, very likely you will be taken care of more often than not). This includes romantic gestures, so here is a chance to practice the second step.

4 - Get in shape. If you are already there - stay there. In a sense, your body also belongs to her, so take care of it.

5 - When she is telling you something that is hard to hear, stay calm and control your temper rather than immediately counter attacking. She may have a point. And if she does...

6 - Be Honest at all times and in all things, both with her and most importantly with yourself. And if she has a point, listen to her. If she honestly is mad at you, she is mad because you are a bonehead. So listen to why she thinks you are a bonehead, and stop being a bonehead. And if she is honestly out of line

7- Be willing to forgive her when she honestly is in the wrong. By no means does that excuse her, or erase the memory of what she may do, but once you grant her forgiveness, the file is closed. Don't reopen it.

8 - Don't say anything unless you mean it. And if you promise her to do something, don't promise it unless you can do it right then.

9 - Remember that every action you take, and every dime you spend, affects your wife in some way. It may be a wonderful way for her good, or a bad way that causes her pain, but it will affect her somehow. The only variable is to what extent one way or the other it goes.

10 - There is a reason why you married her. Try to remember what that reason or reasons where why you married her, and appreciate her for it.

Get busy living, or get busy dying

A few years ago I heard a song by Tim McGraw called "Live like you were dying". The man who the song was about was told that he did not have long to live, and decided to take what time he had left to really live. Every time I hear that song, I wonder why so many of us are like this man, just trying to make it to the next deal, or the next goal, or just to make it through the day, and how it often takes something like a sudden cancer diagnosis to shake us out of the every dayness of everyday, and start living life to the fullest. The reality is that every day we live; we are that much closer to dying. Whether it is 4 months or 40 years, we are all heading toward that distant shore.

As I live longer, I am learning most of the things that we spend most of the time and thought on, if you are really honest with ourselves, are not close to being as critical or as fulfilling as we often think. This is not to say we should neglect our responsibilities. We shouldn't, especially when our families depend on us. But it seems a tragedy that so often we find out too late that the things we have at times ignored, in our single minded pursuits for status or wealth or a new house or a bigger fancier car, are all too often the things that would bring us the most joy in life.

In the Biblical Gospel of John, you will see this phrase - "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10 English Standard Version) That passage is from where Jesus is describing himself as a good shepherd, who takes care of his sheep, which are us. Now any of you who have taken care of pets can understand. You want to make sure that all their needs are met in abundance, and they are well fed and cared for, so that they are then free to live and run and bark/meow/squeak, and enjoy living. While our pets may spend a great deal of effort in trying to please us, if their needs are met, they are content.

In the same way, I think what Jesus is saying here is that we have the ability in Him to relax. Our needs are met, if only we take the time to see it. There is great freedom in that. Freedom from constantly trying to prove ourselves to those that truly don't care about us, or to book the next deal, or to win the next account. Freedom to enjoy our families. To go on the mountain climbing vacation, or the ballgame with your kids, or to surprise your wife with a romantic weekend in San Diego. Freedom to laugh just for the sake of laughing. Freedom to live abundantly - to "live like you were dying."

Incidentally, the title of todays post is from a quote from on of my favorite films, The Shawshank Redemption. In that movie, the main character, Andy Dufresne, refuses to lose hope in the midst of an extremely dark and unjust place. In this film I see graphic reminders that it is the little, seemingly insignificant things, like cold beer shared with your friends on a hot day, or helping others with no expectation of reward, and having true friends, that make life worth living, even in the midst of extreme hardship.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

This has been a challenging December run-up to Christmas. Indeed the whole year has been a struggle, both maritally and financially. It has been particularly challenging in that this is the first Christmas since we married that Bungirl and I have not been able to get anything for each other. As much as I despise shopping in any form, one of my favourite things since we married has been to see how well (or how poorly) I was at selecting her gifts. And I will admit that 1A in the favourite things department is to also see what I was given.

But all this thinking about gifts, and the lack thereof in this house for 2007, my mind goes back to what for me and for many Christians is the core of what Christmas is about - the ultimate gift of Christ, and what the forgiveness he freely gives all who ask. It occurs to me, particularly as an American in 2007, with a life of significant wealth relative to the rest of the world, and enjoying a relative abundance of freedom, that my life does not reflect what is the usual state of humanity across the pages of history. Indeed, the vast majority of men have only known, and multitudes still only know, little more than oppression, war, poverty, misery, and despair. Yet it is in moments when we realize this condition, that the radical uniqueness of the Gift of Christ stands out clearest and starkest of all. Intellectually I realize that my life, as hard for me as it seems sometimes to be, is vastly better, wealthier and easier than that of a 1st century Judean shepherd, or a 12th Century English peasant, or a 21st century Iranian Christian. What oppression, pain, misery and despair I may know is that of a spoiled child not always getting his way, but even in that, the starkness and brightness of the Gift of Christmas stands radically apart from the everydayness of everyday.

If you are at all familiar with Handel's song "For Unto Us a Child is Born", part of this passage from Isaiah may be familiar to you as well, but I think particularly this year, the whole passage echoes deep in my heart, and as miniscule as my darkness and oppression is, I can gladly and joyfully praise the coming of the Child born to all of us.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Merry Christmas to all.

* Quick note - before playing the video, page down and pause the Christmas music tab. Otherwise you may get a rather bizarre sound*

Friday, December 14, 2007

If this is truly how the GOP leadership really thinks, why should I bother anymore

Alright Alright I dropped the ball on finishing the stream of consciousness postings I started a few days ago. I will come back to it.

What has got me angry over the last 48 hours is the recent peeling back of what the GOP Elite, or at least a large portion of it, really thinks about Southern, Evangelical conservatives, has made me wonder if there really is a place for me in the post George W Bush Republican party.

Let me start of by stipulating that Governor Mike Huckabee is not my first , second, or even third choice for the Republican nomination for President. He is far too willing to resort to using government power to force his personal preferences (a la federal ban on smoking - where the hell in the Constitution does the Federal Government have that authority?)

That said, it's one thing to point out Mike Huckabee's apparent statist tendencies, or question his judgment and/or his seemingly naive understanding of human nature in the Wayne Dumond case. That's politics. But this is not what is being said. Rather it's the snide remarks about his Baptist faith, usually from Catholics or Episcopals that scream "Religious bigot!" when it is the other way around, and ignorant stereotyping of Arkansas and the rest of the South, and the snarky comments about where he went to college. For the record, I studied for two years at Huckabee's university, Ouachita Baptist University, from 1990 to 1992, and I can assure you, OBU is far from a slouch academically. It is one of the top Liberal Arts colleges in the South and arguably in the top nationwide. This type of discourse is way way way out of line.

It isn't the questioning of Huckabee's record, but the almost gleeful tone of condescension on, and, and the out and out derision toward Southern evangelicals in associated reader comments on these, that make me wonder why I should even care anymore.

This is not the first time I have heard this attitude from a GOP Bigwig, nor are these two sites the only places I am reading this kind of garbage, but I was under the impression that such disparaging attitudes toward Evangelicals was isolated and generally condemned in the Republican mainstream. Well, apparently not. As the saying goes, it is better to have clarity than agreement.

So, since the Romney-ites and Guiliani'ers have nothing but disdain and contempt for my faith and region, why should I vote for them? Since is has become crystal clear that the New York-Washington GOP Elite see me and folks like me as "useful idiots", why would I want to waste any more time and effort in voting for GOP candidates?

At least the Democrats are honest about their hatred of Southern evangelicals.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Do you really want to be free - part 2

In yesterday's post, I said that the theme that has been floating around in my head for the last few months, has led to some interesting ramifications, and an emerging question. Namely if it is mostly universally conceded that Freedom is good, and slavery bad, then why do so many people continue to be drawn more to the siren song of slavery when Freedom's song gets discordant and muffled?

Or perhaps a a better question would be why do I see, more and more, evidence of how many people are almost afraid of what Freedom really means in practice, and almost prefer the known misery of servitude? And more personally, how is it that I see this phenomenon more and more in my own life?

What keyed me in to this idea is a post I read the other day on Fraters Libertas. While the author here is referring to the political ramifications of this question, my suspicion is that the more immediate, and underlying cause of this freedom paradox goes more to the individual characters of us as Americans, and in aggregate, as a society.

I will come back to this tomorrow...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Do you really want to be free?

Very likely this is my natural doom and gloom coming out, but I am not sure. Lately, when I look at what is going on in the country and the world today, something seems increasingly 0ut of whack, and I have had some difficulty in putting my finger on what may be behind it.

While it seems, and I can indeed see anecdotal evidence of economic struggles, overall the economy seems to be ok. Not Great, but not "the worst economy since Herbert Hoover.", aka the usual hyperbolic talking down of the economy that the MSM seems to spew every four years heading into a Presidential election. But that is not what is bothering me.

It could be the conduct of the Bush Administration on the "War on Terror" but again that is not what is on my mind. (With the stipulation that I wish the execution of the war was much more Sherman like from the get go. In other words, if you are going to fight a war - fight the damn war. This is not to disparage the efforts of the frontline soldier or Marine which is magnificent by and large, but to question the wisdom of a strategy of winning hearts and minds that was pursued for far too long. And 1 day of this strategy is too long)

However it seems to me that this sense of unease runs at a much deeper level that - and the only way I can think of to describe it is the apparent ease at which too many of my countrymen have traded their God given freedom for a mess of taxpayer paid pottage. Or at the very least have expressed a willingness to do so. And no, I am not talking about the accusations flying around the internet about how the President is shredding our Constitution. Rather the evidence of this willing slavery goes back much farther than November 2000, and it is much much deeper than the shallow political world.

This idea started germinating in my head in October of this year, at least to the point where I became aware of it doing so. See here and here. Since then, on several occasions, I have been mulling this train of thought over, and following where it leads, and I am coming back to one central theme, which is "Freedom good - slavery bad" .

Out of that theme I am coming to understand some unexpected ramifications.

More to come later.....